Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What Happened to Matt Taibbi?

By  New York Magazine

The former darling of the liberal media is now one of its loudest critics. He says he hasn’t changed.

bviously, I’m anxious about why I’m being profiled,” Matt Taibbi said at the end of our phone call this summer, which had already lasted an hour and a half. He was on vacation with his family. The day before, they went on a whale watch. “One thing that’s a little irksome, again, in my actual personal life, I could not be more the opposite of that …”

That could be, if you’ve read Taibbi over the last quarter-century, loaded with possibility: the acidic brilliance or the antic humor or, more recently, the savage scorn he has shown for “cancel culture.” There is a public Taibbi and a private Taibbi, and the more you speak with him and others who know him, the more you begin to understand the difference. The public self is not a lie or a performance — it’s just, in private, Taibbi is not going to punch you in the face, like his prose might suggest he would.

Not that Taibbi is apologizing for his combative posture. “I’m certainly not going to feel guilty for having success at Substack for saying things I believe are true. I’ve been very consistent over the years in saying the same things,” Taibbi said. “I feel pretty strongly that the only thing that’s changed is that the New York media world once agreed with the things I was saying, and now they don’t.”

If you follow the media and the internecine warfare that’s liable to consume any given afternoon on Twitter, you probably have an opinion about Matt Taibbi. Few journalists, in polarized 2021, divide the New York-D.C. nexus more. Taibbi is viewed in more liberal quarters with increasing suspicion bordering on outright disdain, a remarkable development for a magazine star once considered Rolling Stone’s successor to Hunter S. Thompson.

Taibbi is — or was, depending on your view — one of the most celebrated investigative journalists of his generation. In the 2000s, during the height of the financial crisis, he was lauded for his incisive, bilious takedowns of Wall Street — particularly Goldman Sachs as the infamous “vampire squid.” He won a National Magazine award and regularly appeared on cable television, grinning like an impish schoolboy even as his hair receded. In college journalism classes throughout the country, Taibbi was a rare hero, Bob Woodward shed of pomposity. He was the ultimate insider-outsider, a chronicler of presidential campaigns and corporate malfeasance who lost none of his edge even as his star burned brighter.

Today, Taibbi is flush. He is no longer affiliated with Rolling Stone, but his Substack newsletter, TK News, is one of the most popular on the site, boasting more than 30,000 paying subscribers. Which means, at $50 a pop, he easily can clear $1 million annually, making him a member of the one percent. In addition, he hosts a popular podcast, Useful Idiots, with the comedian and filmmaker Katie Halper, where the two debate hot-button media issues and interview unconventional leftists like Chris Hedges, Adolph Reed, and Dennis Kucinich.

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