Taibbi, Twitter, And The Narrative-Makers
Hey from the middle of nowhere in Turkey, where I'm on a six-day press tour of the Seven Churches of Revelation -- that is, cities and towns whose local churches were addressed by Jesus through St. John the Theologian in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation. We started in Smyrna (called Izmir today), went to the ruins of ancient Ephesus, which was dazzling, and spent most of yestdrday on the acropolis of Pergamum. We made a quick stop at the only church ruin in what was once Thyatira, then made our way to the hotel. Went to Sardis this morning, and then Philadelphia. Lunch now, and then to Laodicea, for whose second-century church Jesus had harsh words, delivered through St. John. We're going to be in Myra on the Feast of St. Nicholas, that city's famed bishop. Then back home. Quite a trip! I'll be blogging about it soon.
I tell you this to explain why posting has been light. What a kick to get to the hotel last evening and see what Matt Taibbi has revealed on his Twitter, about how the social media giant suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story at a crucial point just before the 2020 election. Here's where Taibbi's tweetstorm starts; click on this to read the whole thing:
Basically, internal Twitter documents show that its senior executives suppressed commentary on the Hunter Biden laptop story, even as they knew (documents show) that they were on very shaky ground in doing so. Even Jack Dorsey wasn't full briefed on what they were doing.
After Taibbi dropped the information, some in the Liberal Media Industrial Complex rushed to denounce him. We conservatives by now are not surprised by the lack of professionalism and the extreme bias by many in our mainstream media, but now we're at the "I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused" stage. But nah, I can't really be amused, because the stakes are really high, and we are seeing Left elites going berserk with anger at Elon Musk, not because he is a conservative (he certainly isn't), but because he is trying to make the most important social media outlet on the planet slightly more fair and balanced. That tells you a lot about the class that rules us. They believe they have a right to control the Narrative, and wail and gnash their teeth when that power is threatened.
If you don't want to read the entire Taibbi thread, Reason magazine has a good summary. Reason points out that it's interesting to see all this, but:
But again, the informed public already knew that the mess had been made by some combination of incompetence and employees' anti-Republican biases.
The most interesting revelation in Taibbi's thread is that Twitter's top executives were warned, over and over again, that this decision was going to create a backlash like nothing they had ever seen before. Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.), a progressive lawmaker, repeatedly emailed a Twitter communications staffer to complain that the firm was violating "1st Amendment principles." (He raised some very valid points in his communications with the company, though strictly speaking the First Amendment does not apply in this situation.) NetChoice, a tech industry trade association, explicitly told Twitter that this would be the company's "Access Hollywood moment." (Unlike Twitter, both Khanna and NetChoice come off looking pretty good in all this.)
It's true that most of this stuff was known, but it's still important to have it confirmed. And it's important that more people know about this, and pressure Republican lawmakers to take some sort of action to level the playing field.
See, this is why I keep pointing to Viktor Orban as a potential model for aggressive conservative government. Orban knows very well that the establishment media are dead set against him, and have no intention of being fair. But he's not simply satisfied to stomp his feet and complain about it. In Britain, for example, the BBC is entirely captured by the political and cultural Left, but what do the Tories do about it? Nothing much, as far as I can tell (I'm open to correction). It's like they satisfy themselves with this as if it were part of the natural order.
Boy, if you missed seeing Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi beating the snot out of Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg in a televised Canadian debate about the trustworthiness of the Canadian mainstream media, do yourself a favor and watch Murray in this clip:
Most of the audience began the debate siding with Gladwell and Goldberg, who claimed that the mainstream media were, in fact, trustworthy. By the end of the debate, Taibbi and Murray had massively swung the audience to their side, changing the minds of 39 percent of those who heard the debate. I can't find a transcript (yet), but in his subscriber-only Substack, Taibbi says that Gladwell kept accusing Taibbi of wanting to go back to the fifties, when women and people of color weren't represented in the mainstream media. Taibbi writes that in the old days, journalists were considered to be somewhat disreputable, and had an adversarial relationship with the ruling class institutions they covered. Taibbi:
Now a corporate press pass is a status symbol, reporters tend socially to run in the same circles as the people they cover, and when presented with the growing mountain of evidence that they’ve lost the trust of the public (see this recent Gallup survey), the reflex is to declare the public defective. Toward the end of the debate, Gladwell made this exact argument. After one last time invoking my longing for the fifties, when the press was so exclusive that “people like Michelle and I wouldn’t have been on the stage,” he shifted without any hint of contradiction to question the current wisdom of having mainstream media institutions “perfectly match” the makeup of the rabble:
What would restore the trust of Matt and Doug in mainstream media? With Matt, the answer is obvious: he would like if the world resembled 1955 again. That will fill him with joy, like more stories on the Hunter Biden laptop…
I think that they would be happier if they felt that the composition of prestigious journalistic institutions more closely reflected the full range of ideological attitudes in American public issues. That is actually a serious proposition.
I don’t mean to make light of it at all, but it is one that makes me a little uncomfortable. Because I don’t think that you can ultimately say that trust in institutions is reserved solely for institutions that perfectly match the characteristics of the general population. It is like saying that we don’t trust kindergarten teachers, because kindergarten teachers are over-represented with people having an enormous amount of patience for the temper tantrums of four year olds… I mean they are an extraordinary and very specific subgroup of the population that performs very well in that particular task more generally…
I watched this performance with awe. If douchebaggery were an ice cream cone, the guy would be melting all over the stage. I almost felt bad.
When the results were announced, he scurried off stage, doubtless already carrying the germ of a new bestseller (thought the fifties-obsessed white male, acidly).
Here's a fun exchange from the Munk debate transcript (I've just read the whole thing -- link here, from Taibbi's Substack -- and Douglas Murray's bitch-slapping Malcolm Gladwell for an hour was delicious!):
I don't know what it will take to convince the mainstream media that it is failing itself and the society it is supposed to serve. Most of them are so het up on moralism and self-regard that they are ineducable. I've mentioned here before hearing a senior-level editor at a major US newspaper lament that people don't trust the media because they don't know what's good for them. She really said that. When I read the Gladwell quote from the Munk Debate, I hear that same voice. These people are so full of themselves!
Konstantin Kisin is a political centrist, but he is furious over the left-wing media's reaction to the Hunter Biden story. Read his Twitter thread, where he says, in part:
I mentioned Viktor Orban before. Let me drop this on you, because you're not going to read it in the US media, and it's a great example of the kind of thing Taibbi and Murray brought up over and over again in the Munk Debate. I've said here that living in Hungary for a few months in 2021, and again in early 2022, during the election campaign, taught me a hell of a lot about the distorted picture the American media give about foreign affairs. Most of them who came to Hungary to report on the campaign had their narrative made up before they arrived, it seems. They were sure that Orban would be defeated because he criticized the Ukraine war effort. They made no real effort to talk to ordinary Hungarians (versus Budapest liberals), who were on Orban's side regarding the war. They were sure that the only way Orban could win was to rig the election. I never saw in American reporting any acknowledgement that the left-wing opposition was and is a shambles. Over and over this past spring, I had conversations with people I would meet in bars, in taxis, at parties, and so forth, in which they would rail against the Orban government ... but then concluded by saying of course they were going to vote for Orban, because the country is in a crisis, and the Left can't govern. I can't recall if I ever saw, in all the reporting about what a big bad right-wing monster Orban is, reference to the fact that the Left-led opposition coalition had brought into it a party called Jobbik, which criticized Orban from the far right, in an effort to unseat Orban.
As Douglas Murray says in that clip of the Canadian mainstream media -- that it is a handmaiden of the government -- the US mainstream media, when it comes to Hungary, is that, plus the handmaiden of globalist institutions and NGOs. Here's a story that has been news in Hungary for the past week, but which has made not a peep in the Western media. Noah Carl of the Daily Sceptic reports:
Very few people outside Hungary speak Hungarian, so practically all of the day-to-day news from that country passes us by. But an interesting scandal has been developing there over the last few months, which arguably merits wider attention.
As you may remember, Hungary held an election earlier this year, which was won decisively by Viktor Orbán’s Fidez Party. Their main opposition was the Everybody’s Hungary Movement, led by Péter Márki-Zay.
Several organisations criticised the elections on the grounds that the incumbent, Viktor Orbán, used elements of the state apparatus to promote his own party. For example, the OSCE described the elections as “well-run” and “competitive”, while noting that they were “marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging”.
However, the scandal to which I referred actually concerns the opposition.
In a podcast discussion in August, opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay stated that his movement had recently received money “from America”, which was used to pay some of the campaign bills from the recent elections. The money, he explained, had come through an organisation called Action for Democracy, which was set up in February.
These comments sparked controversy, since Hungarian electoral law prohibits parties from receiving money from abroad. In Hungary, funding for election campaigns is provided to each party through the state budget. Donations from private citizens are also allowed; though above a certain amount, the donor’s name must be made public.
Carl goes on to report on results of a newly released Hungarian parliamentary investigation presenting evidence that the anti-Orban opposition was funded from abroad, in part by US government money. Here is a more detailed report from an English-language Hungarian site, which notes that opposition leader Peter Mark-Zay said this past August, after the election, that the Left had received millions in funding from abroad -- a possible violation of Hungarian and European Union law. Here's a chart produced by the parliamentary committee, showing the money connections to the Alliance For Democracy, which Marki-Zay said was the primary source of the funds (I wish the chart were entirely in English, but you can still get the point):
The gist of it is that the anti-Orban funding has been coming from the West, and it connected to prominent neoliberal NGOs. The National Endowment for Democracy is privately run but funded by Congress. If it has been pouring money into Hungarian opposition parties, then the US taxpayer has had its pocket picked to take sides in an election in a NATO ally. I remind you that the same American elite class represented in the photos above raised unshirted hell a few years ago about the idea that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election on the side of Donald Trump.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
But see, when we do it -- in Hungary in 2022, in Ukraine in 2014 -- it's noble and right and democratic. And the US media won't ask any questions about whether or not is was wise or ethical for American money, including US taxpayer dollars, to go towards undermining democracy abroad in countries governed by conservatives the Washington establishment doesn't like. I'm telling you, this is the kind of thing that makes people overseas hate Americans.
One thing about Viktor Orban: he knows what he's up against, and is not shy about fighting back. At some point, it would be really nice if conservative politicians in America would understand it too, and act in their own interests, and in the interests of tens of millions of American conservatives who are exploited by these narrative-runners. This is a fight worth having.
I would love to see Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi take their show on the road to roast the American mainstream media.