Matt Taibbi On The Sad State Of The Media
A lively chat with one of journalism's best dissidents.
The man himself. Taibbi is an investigative reporter in the Gonzo tradition who had a long career at Rolling Stone magazine, where he won the 2008 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. He’s written several bestselling books, including Griftopia and The Great Derangement, and now runs a wildly successful substack, TK News. Almost every less-talented hack hates him.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify doesn’t accept the paid feed unfortunately). For two clips of our convo — how the MSM condescends to its audience, and what the Twitter Files achieved — pop over to our YouTube page.
Other topics: Matt’s madcap stories reporting in Russia, him ditching a newspaper job to play pro basketball in Mongolia, the Substack refugees of 2020, being biased and balanced, woke-checking over fact-checking, reporting uncomfortable truths, the insularity of Ivy League journos, lauding Wayne Barrett and Mike Kinsley, dinging Jon Chait and Rachel Maddow, the misguided coverage of trans kids, the Atlanta spa shootings, the reckless overreactions to Trump, Russiagate, and taking psychedelics for a gay leather event. Good times.
Peruse the Dishcast archives for another episode you might enjoy — 102 and counting. On last week’s discussion, a listener writes: “I really enjoyed the Glenn Loury episode — disarmingly honest and very human.” Here’s a clip:
Another fan of the episode:
I enjoyed hearing about Glenn’s personal journey, something I hadn’t been aware of before. Thanks for that. My one wish would have been at the end of the interview, instead of the extended expressions of mutual admiration, I would have liked to hear you both talk about how we support those who do not have the intellects you have to heal and live full lives.
You both overcame great adversity and I do not discount your efforts. But you also had the brains to get to Harvard, and from there into a high-economic strata that allows you the benefits of good healthcare, vacations, good child care, etc — quality-of-life items that many of my neighbors in upstate New York will not have access to no matter how hard they work.
There are a lot of regular people in the world who have a lot of shitty things happen to them, burying them under economic catastrophe and opportunity disadvantage that they will never get out from under. They don’t have the intellect to reinvent themselves. It cannot be that pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is the only answer, as some don’t even have boots to pull on.
I often wonder how as a society we can have some kind of hybrid between letting individual intelligence, ambition, etc. flourish and be rewarded, and also something that makes the lives of ordinary people less grueling. That would have been something I’d have liked to hear you and Glenn talk about.
You were clairvoyant about my column this week! I agree with you. In fact, Charles Murray and I discussed those themes on the Dishcast two years ago, and here’s a key excerpt:
Similar themes cropped up during my discussion with David Goodhart, author of Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect. A snippet:
Back to the Glenn pod, another listener:
I can’t stop myself from adding to your discussion of the racial wealth gap the simple observation that we have for a century taxed the creation of wealth while subsidizing consumption — instead of doing the more common-sense opposite: get the boot off of the throat of wealth creation and use consumption taxes to fund collective objectives.
Political “reality” is oft cited as the reason we can’t reform this system, but technology and communication are getting closer to helping us change that reality. Plus, the transition from wealth taxes to consumption taxes can be made wealth-neutral, income-neutral, or progressive with Unconditional Basic Income algorithms. You would do well to have Andrew Yang and Scott Santens on the Dishcast to contemplate how we might come up with policy algorithms to, for example, help more pre-K kids get the sort of love and attention to prepare them to succeed where so many others are failing. (Just one upside of UBI.)
Here’s a reader on a previous thread related to race:
You published a revealing letter from someone who reads scripts in Hollywood. It was refreshing to see this insider acknowledge the strong taboo against portraying black characters in a negative light. Complicated characters offer far richer possibilities for dramatization than simplistic ones, and as another reader observed, it also undermines writers’ entertainment objectives.
Recently, I watched HBO’s The Undoing, which had the makings of an excellent whodunnit, at least until the fourth episode (out of six). That was when suspicion seemed to fall upon Fernando, a surly, tough-looking Puerto Rican from East Harlem. Any sentient viewer could see this was a misdirection. HBO was never going to make a show where the affluent white suspect was exonerated, and the underprivileged dark-skinned guy was the killer. So, that did it for The Undoing.
Is this too trivial an issue to draw attention to? I don’t think so. When I was younger, Hollywood had the reverse problem. Screenwriters and filmmakers failed to show the full spectrum of humanity. They tended to overlook African-Americans, or else they presented them simplistically or cartoonishly. Often enough, the portrayals were offensive.
But now, in Hollywood — as in so many other places — we’ve replaced one form of chauvinism (that disadvantaged African-Americans) with another (that elevates them). The point is simple and obvious, yet remarkable in its capacity for causing “offense.” To simply argue that people should be treated equally, as individuals, rather than on the basis of group identity, is to open oneself to torrents of bad-faith criticisms, gaslighting, and splenetic abuse. (I can hear the Dish’s critics in my mind’s eye: “Why are Andrew Sullivan’s readers so invested in wanting to seeing POC portrayed as rapists and murders?”)
Relatedly, I loved the conversation with Glenn Loury. I found myself chuckling as Glenn talked about his uncle, from the South Side of Chicago, who accidentally flirted with the trans economist and spit out his fancy hors d’oeuvres at the Harvard reception. It was a comic scene, expertly told, with mirth, warmth, and insight.
But it probably could not be portrayed in Hollywood.
Staying on popular culture, here’s another reader:
I’m writing in response to your piece “Why the Right is Losing the Young.” You wrote, “I suspect this kind of South Park conservatism has much more appeal to young men than to young women.” Earlier in the piece: “champion the dignity and success and humanity of trans adults.”
As it happens, when I came out as trans, my dad took me on a trip to New York for a psychoanalysis that was a big balderdash effort to talk me out of transitioning. The only good thing about the trip was we saw a performance of The Book of Mormon on Broadway. That was the first time I remember my dad ever laughing at religion. After that experience, South Park went from something I wouldn’t show my dad, to something I could show my dad. We still have a good relationship, and I’ve been comfortably transitioned for ten years now. I have also shifted from leftist politics to the center. I get called conservative sometimes.
This is a way of saying the kind of woman that the label “South Park conservative” could apply to is most likely a trans woman. If anybody else said this, there would be eggshells. Also, it should be emphasized that South Park is not suitable for children, but kids, being what they are, are going to watch it anyway. This metaphor extends to the dialogue about trans ideology and kids. Think about how South Park treats hysterical individuals, trans or otherwise, eager to perform in front of groups of children. It’s the easiest target in the world to hit as far as laughs go.
Exhibit A is Paris Hilton:
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