Friday, November 30, 2007

Taibbi Interview

A few years ago I had an epiphany, I realized that I didn't have a problem with the American Left, insomuch as I had a problem with Leftists. They were just so full it. Narrow down the axiom “all politics is local” to “all politics is personal”. This of course is unenlightened and tribalistic, but so is the nature of man.

Realizing this, I set out to find liberals who's books I could read without chewing a bottle of Tums. People who didn't give me a migraine and weren't constipated. One guy I found was Greg Palast, a corporate fraud investigator and forensic economist turned investigative reporter. Another, was Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and formerly The eXile. Both can crack and take a joke, hit you with the facts, and write in a entertaining and accessible manner. certainly is not a site I frequent, but it currently has an interview with Taibbi worth noting.

Taibbi on journalism:

You wrote a column in the New York Press a few years back referring to journalism as “shoveling coal for Satan.” I believe you also said that journalism as a career was worse than being a worker in a tampon factory. Should any sane young person consider a career in journalism?

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days. My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism.

What journalism really needs is more people who are reporting who actually know something. Instead of having a bunch of liberal arts grads who’ve read Siddhartha 50 times writing about health care, it would be really nice if some of the people who are writing about health care were doctors.

Are there any journalists working today who you look up to?

Seymour Hersh is the guy I really, really admire. I met him last year for the first time—I had to interview him for Rolling Stone and I was really nervous about it because I was told that he was this famously irascible character. When I called him up to schedule the interview, he was such an incredible prick on the telephone—he just cursed me out and everything, it was awful.

He cursed you out?

Oh yeah, totally. He was busy. He was like, “Go fuck yourself.” Then when I actually went to go meet him he was the nicest guy you could possibly imagine. I sat with him for four hours. He’s old school. He’s the kind of guy who sits and pores over the newsletters of all these minor government agencies to see who retired that week so he can approach that person to see if he’s got any stories to tell on his way out of service. There are a few guys like that who are still out there, but they’re all holdovers from a lost age. I’d like to say that I’m the continuation of that crop of journalists, but I’m totally not.

On the left:

You wrote an article for Adbusters on “The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex.” Some lefty blogs were pissed off about that piece.

Sure, yeah, I got so much hate mail about that.

I think your basic critique was that the left today sort of has its priorities out of place. Have you changed your view about that at all?

No. It’s not that I’m taking issue with anything that the American left stands for or how it behaves. It’s really a class issue more than anything else. The people who are the public face of the American left tend to be people like me. They’re upper class, liberal arts-educated white people, for the most part, who come from a certain background where the things that are important
to them are these mostly intellectual issues—like the environment, or social issues like abortion, feminism, that sort of thing. The historical basis for the American left, if you go back to Roosevelt, is sort of a patrician structure where you had these upper-class people advocating on behalf of a wider working class base. What’s happened now is that it’s kind of splintered and the upper-class portion is overemphasizing the things that are important to them and deemphasizing the things that are important to their base. That’s why the party orthodoxies right now aren’t things like free trade and credit policy, for instance—like the bankruptcy bill. You would never find a celebrated lefty politician who is pro-life but voted against NAFTA, for instance. It’s always the other way around. What’s happened because of that—because the orthodoxies are all backwards—is that the American left has alienated its natural constituency, which is this vast, middle-to-working class underclass that has been fucked over by modern global capitalism.

Instead of standing up and fighting for those people, the left has gotten bogged down in political correctness and the environment and stuff like that. They’ve lost touch with those people, who are now flocking en masse to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who are talking directly to them and who are actively courting their support. That’s all I was saying. It’s just a question of emphasis; it’s not that the stuff they stand for is bad.

His essay "The American Left's Silly Victim Complex" is excellent and worth checking out.

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