This Podcast Will Polarize You – And It Should | Matt Taibbi | EP 392

This Podcast Will Polarize You – And It Should | Matt Taibbi | EP 392

Coming up (00:00:00)

  • The key topic discussed is how mainstream media, donors, and political parties lost control of selecting nominees when an outsider like Donald Trump disrupted their usual pattern. The talk suggests that Trump leveraged this disarray by appealing to wider demographics across the political spectrum.

Intro (00:00:32)

  • The interviewee is author and journalist Matt Taibbi, and the main topics of discussion include his early career in journalism and professional sports, his experience in the USSR, and his coverage of the subprime mortgage crisis. They also delve into the current state of the world, including Russia, the US military-industrial complex, the upcoming presidential election, and the need for alternative news sources.

Professional sports in Europe (00:01:21)

  • Taibbi shares his experiences playing for the Uzbek national baseball team. He also talks about his stint as a freelance reporter in Uzbekistan and playing basketball in the Mongolian Basketball Association. These experiences were a way for him to be active while awaiting story opportunities.

In the domiciles of the former Soviet Union (00:04:47)

  • Taibbi talks about his decision to move to the then Soviet Union in order to study Russian and appreciate Russian literature in its original language. He studied at the Leningrad Polytech.

The Moscow Times, the eXile (00:07:07)

  • Taibbi worked at the Moscow Times, which catered to the foreign community in Moscow. He then co-founded a newspaper called the Exile, a satirical nightlife guide that parodied the typical newspaper format. The paper became popular due to the wild and lawless nature of the city during the 1990s, but was eventually closed when taxation became stricter under Putin's regime.

Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Journalism (00:10:15)

  • The conversation then turns towards Gonzo Journalism and Hunter S Thompson, who Taibbi admires. Thompson's work, noted for its fearlessly eccentric approach to reporting, influenced Taibbi's own journalism.

The loss of the narratively-interesting journalist (00:11:47)

  • Taibbi laments the recent disappearance of narratives in modern journalism, which he describes as a transition from pathologically interesting journalism to an uninteresting, sometimes dishonest approach mostly seen in legacy media.

Noam Chomsky (00:13:45)

  • Taibbi recounts an interview with Noam Chomsky regarding criticisms of the New York Times in Chomsky's book 'Manufacturing Consent'. Chomsky admitted that despite its flaws, the news source includes a considerable amount of factual content and readers need to sift through biases to get to it.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, expansion of NATO

  • Matt Taibbi discusses his experiences living and studying in Russia from 1989 till 2002, giving him a unique perspective on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
  • He discusses how the situation is extremely complex, with historical elements that go beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union and involve US support for far-right elements in Ukraine.
  • He questions whether there was ever a real consideration of not expanding NATO to Russia's borders, as this gives the Russians a reason to feel surrounded and potentially threatened.
  • Compares the situation to conflicts during the Cold War where invasion of land was seen as threatening, yet certain people do not understand why Russians should react similarly to NATO expansion.

Who benefits from the proxy war?

  • Taibbi discusses how an opportunity to bring Russia into a peaceful relationship was potentially available in the 1990s, but was handled poorly and has resulted in the current conflict.
  • He points out that the conflict benefits mainly arms manufacturers and the military-industrial complex.
  • Taibbi proposes that a more positive outcome could have been if Russia and the West could have formed a stable alliance, presenting a united front against other potential threats.

If they’d given Trump the Nobel Peace Prize

  • Discusses the foreign policy situation with Russia and criticizes Western foreign policy towards Russia as "criminally negligent."
  • Mentions Trump's success with the Abraham Accords, suggesting that if Trump had been formally recognized for this, he might have been more content to step away from office.
  • Criticizes the Biden administration for not acknowledging Saudi Arabia's contributions to the Abraham Accords, resulting in the loss of potential access to Saudi oil.
  • Notes that there were peace talks planned for March 2022 which were cancelled by the US Administration.

The lack of an anti-war movement

  • Taibbi laments the lack of an anti-war movement in the US in the current political landscape.
  • Discusses the failure of a "peace letter" initiative in the US House of Representatives that suggested opening peace talks with Russia.
  • Stresses the stark lack of any anti-war coalition in American politics, whether left or right.

Campaign reporting, why Trump was such a disruptor (00:29:55)

  • After returning to the States from the former Soviet Union, the speaker started working for Rolling Stone as a campaign reporter.
  • He found the predictability of the American political system initially frustrating, where a tacit agreement between donors, campaign journalists and politicians controlled who could be considered a legitimate candidate.
  • The emergence of Trump disrupted this predictable system. His run for the presidency against journalists, donors and the two-party system resonated with people across the political spectrum.
  • The speaker suggests that established journalists, donors and parties were unable to comprehend Trump's disruption and attributed his success to illegitimate means.

Hilary Clinton, red flags for the singular pursuit of power (00:36:24)

  • Hillary Clinton's long-standing pursuit of power, dating back to her husband's presidency, raised suspicion and distrust, leading many to question her true motives.
  • Her decision to sacrifice the American working class in pursuit of her perceived moral virtue was perceived as a betrayal, which likely contributed to her loss in the election.
  • The speaker suggests that Clinton didn't so much lose the election due to Trump's victory, but because of her own missteps and the political persona she had established.

Why small business owners vote for big business candidates (00:38:33)

  • Trump, a brash billionaire, surprisingly appealed to the working-class people because they identified with his dream and ambition to scale his wealth and business.
  • Trump's ability to speak off the cuff and directly to working-class people was seen as a sign of respect towards their work, skills, and expertise.
  • This direct communication and respect could be attributed to Trump's hands-on experience in his construction business.

The degree of blindness was staggering, “the most experienced insider” (00:41:17)

  • Hillary Clinton previously played to the white working class during her campaign against Barack Obama, which was received positively.
  • However, in 2016, she attempted to position herself as the most experienced insider, a strategy that proved to be disastrous given the public's growing distrust towards Washington.
  • The speaker suggests that Clinton and her party were blinded by their pursuit of power and failed to recognize the changing public sentiment, leading to her loss in the election.

RFK Jr’s campaign manager, a groundswell of frustration (00:43:40)

  • Robert F Kennedy Jr. is running a campaign marked with a unique approach to the Democratic party structure and stands as a strong force within the Democrats.
  • Kennedy's campaign manager, Dennis Kucinich, is noted as an impressive character with an interesting history and a respected original thinker, attributes that are behind Kennedy's campaign.
  • There is an increasing groundswell of frustration in America towards mainstream political thought, as it is perceived as elitist and indifferent to ordinary Americans.
  • Kennedy's potential success is noted as linked to his deviation from mainstream politicians like Joe Biden. His controversial stance is seen as one of his strengths, recognized by Trump in 2016.

Heyday of the Rolling Stone, reporting on the economy (00:46:37)

  • Rolling Stone's prime periods were the late 60s and 70s, where it achieved high-quality music journalism and groundbreaking other forms of journalism.
  • The magazine allowed freedom to its reporters to explore unusual and weird areas and publish insightful and impactful stories.
  • After the 2008 election and the financial collapse, the author conducted investigative reporting on financial institutions for Rolling Stone, translating complex financial jargon for everyday people to understand.
  • The author wrote a book, Griftopia, about the financial collapse based on his reporting work over eight years.

The 2008 collapse explained (00:50:00)

  • The 2008 financial crisis was partly due to a rapid technological revolution, which allowed easier risk calculation and offset for home loans, thereby causing a financial revolution.
  • This initially led to improved home ownership and economic boom but also resulted in an indefinite market for high-risk mortgages.
  • Concurrently, a new financial instrument (mortgage-backed securities) was created that not only made junk-rated mortgages more attractive but also opened a gate to fraudulent practices since the mortgage companies were selling off the risk.
  • As defaults increased, the inflated housing market collapsed, leading to the 2008 financial crisis.

Should more people have been prosecuted after 2008? (00:56:43)

  • Post-2008 financial collapse, there were very few criminal prosecutions, an issue sparking criticism and conspiracy theories.
  • Unlike the prosecutions that followed prior accounting scandals, no significant action was taken to deter people from selling problematic mortgages that could default.
  • The absence of strong punitive measures led to widespread discontent, as many ordinary people lost their homes while corporate entities were bailed out.
  • There's a call for the 'power elite' to be held accountable, with an acknowledgment of the complexity of applying punitive measures to business enterprises as this could suppress innovation and risk-taking.

The rise of woke capitalism, false contrition? (01:00:20)

  • The rise of woke capitalism is viewed as a means for capitalists, whose methods of acquiring wealth might be questionable, to express false contrition without undergoing any significant moral evaluation. This trend emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Many people misunderstand criticisms of companies like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America as anti-capitalist sentiments. In reality, these criticisms stem from the companies allegedly subverting capitalism by cheating and relying on bailouts.
  • The lack of legal consequences for big banks undermines faith in the idea that the government is not a silent partner of these institutions, ready to support them in times of crisis.
  • The support given to big banks has led to a financial crisis among small regional banks.
  • Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) movements are viewed as variations of the same ratings agency scams seen with mortgages, using different terminology and political pull to manipulate the system.

Insane Clown President (01:04:53)

  • The book "Insane Clown President" is a compilation of writings from 2016 about the Trump campaign, detailing what happened during the campaign.
  • The book was successful and correctly predicted many aspects of the Trump campaign, including how it would be strengthened by misreporting by mainstream American pundits.
  • There was a section of the book that incorrectly predicted that Trump would have no chance of winning the election.

First impressions of Trump from the 2016 campaign trail (01:06:53)

  • Trump's ability to connect with crowds and direct their sentiment against specific institutions or groups was noticeable from the onset of his campaign.
  • This ability to fuel resentment about different issues was key to Trump's popularity.
  • Some of Trump's criticisms were viewed as sensible, while others were seen as outlandish and unnecessary.

Manipulation or leadership? (01:09:16)

  • The speaker expresses concerns about the ways leaders handle populist concerns, either addressing those concerns with policies or capitalising on them to foster resentment.
  • Donald Trump's populist approach and its potentially manipulative aspects are discussed. The speaker speculates on Trump's motivations and personality, suggesting he might be a salesperson at heart and was essentially "selling outrage".
  • Some policies and accomplishments under Trump's administration, such as the absence of wars, the Abraham Accords, and the economy's performance are acknowledged.
  • The comparison between Trump's approach and that of Bernie Sanders is made, with the latter perceived as being more policy-driven and less able to connect with people compared to Trump.
  • The conversation revolves around the idea that Trump may have been primarily driven by personal motivations like wanting to be liked, and his actions more about brand awareness expansion rather than instilling genuine reform.

The issue with cops, stats-based policing regimes, and ethnic relations (01:16:28)

  • The speaker discusses their book about Eric Garner, a man killed by police in Staten Island. They spent several years researching the incident, talking to drug dealers, spending time on the streets, and examining all the forces that lead to such fatal police encounters.
  • The issue with certain city police departments like New York's was their use of strategies like "broken windows" policy where officers were forced to artificially create contacts with the public, even when unnecessary. This strategy led to unnecessary stop-and-searches and gave rise to many police brutality cases.
  • The conversation brings up the fact that while rates of police using deadly force on Black people compared to white people might not be higher, incidents of harassment, investigation, and unnecessary stopping are substantially more prevalent in black communities.
  • The broken windows hypothesis, which is the idea that by managing minor infractions of the law, larger ones can be avoided, is discussed in the context of whether it led to reduced crime in places like New York City.
  • There's discussion about the discrepancy between police stops in different neighbourhoods, and the misdirection of resources which could lead to finding real crime.
  • The speaker brings up the role of the police in managing property values, and how this can lead to unfair harassment of individuals who are considered undesirable. The example of Garner, who was constantly moved from a corner for selling illegal cigarettes, is discussed.

Hate Inc. and audience optimization (01:23:03)

  • Hate Inc is a book addressing the unspoken pressures influencing editorial decisions, like which stories to cover and which to ignore.
  • The internet has precipitated a significant change in media, with media outlets now focusing on dominating demographics rather than trying to appeal to a large audience.
  • This technique, referred to as audience optimization, has led to a fractured media landscape where some outlets cater solely to left-leaning or right-leaning audiences.
  • It's a successful business formula but detrimental for news credibility, as it encourages outlets to primarily feed audiences what they want to hear.
  • The advent of the internet transformed the business model of news from scarcity to abundance, making the traditional methods of making money obsolete and forcing outlets to come up with new commercial strategies.
  • The new strategies often involve a focus on subscriptions, which are not always successful at supporting resource-intensive ventures such as investigative journalism or foreign bureaus.

The Munk Debates, facing Malcolm Gladwell (01:28:47)

  • The debate in question, part of the Munk Debates series, focused on the trustworthiness of mainstream media, with opposing views presented by different teams.
  • Despite an audience typically supportive of legacy media, the team arguing against mainstream media trustworthiness won the debate by a notable margin.
  • The affirmation team argued that legacy media still has trustworthy structures like fact-checking in place, while the negation team contended that these factors have largely disappeared.
  • The decrease in credibility of mainstream media and a rise in politicized perspectives in prominent outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post was also discussed.
  • Both sides agreed that a strong mainstream media is beneficial to all, but it must maintain high standards of factual accuracy and reliability to maintain its legacy status.

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