Matt Taibbi whiffs as he licks the boot

Matt Taibbi whiffs as he licks the boot
Source: Wikimedia commons

ON FRIDAY NIGHT around 6 p.m. Eastern Time, a period sometimes dubbed trash day by public relations professionals, Elon Musk hyped and apparently outsourced a set of internal Twitter emails to formerly celebrated journalist Matt Taibbi that he claimed would reveal the truth about Twitter's suppression of a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden's emails. The hype was heavy after a week of embarrassments for Musk. The delivery was anything but.

Before publishing a Twitter thread he dubbed "THE TWITTER FILES," Taibbi postured as if he was about to drop a bombshell regarding Twitter's actions against the NY Post's reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop files, sharing screenshots of emails that seem to have been delivered to him on a platter by the wealthiest man on Earth. Musk hyped Taibbi's revelations, even announcing the timing of his releases. It's clear that Musk has an editorial hand in what Taibbi is publishing.

But what Taibbi put out to the world was ultimately redundant and unsurprising. The "Biden team" shared tweets in October 2020 to Twitter staff and asked for them to be reviewed, he reported. Free Beacon reporter Andrew Kerr, who I will note is employed by a conservative outlet, dug up archives for those tweets and found they were "Hunter Biden porn and Hunter Biden dick pics." Other emails showed the Democratic National Committee complained to Twitter about some tweets, which anyone who uses Twitter could describe as a pastime. Twitter is the "hell site," after all.

We know political campaigns complain to social media companies, as does everyone else. What matters is how they react. Do they give them different treatment or grant them dictating powers? It would be alarming if so, but Taibbi offered no evidence that was the case. We already know that major social media companies debate internally about their moderation policies and are inconsistent with applying their decisions.

So, what is exactly new about Taibbi's revelations? I would argue almost nothing, so far. Taibbi seems to have conflated his access to of a trove of internal emails with newsworthiness, bending himself into shapes and committing myriad journalistic sins such as mind reading his subjects.

Taibbi is committing the original sin of the Hunter Biden laptop story: thinking that unveiling unfiltered communications is inherently a scandal. In that case, it was no secret Hunter Biden was battling his demons with drug addiction. In this same sense, it's no surprise that Twitter staff were conflicted on the application of their policies. Even the libertarians at Reason Magazine called the revelations "a tad disappointing," and those folks are certainly not fans of the monopolistic-like control big tech has over our discourse.

For all of the platform's faults, Twitter has been reasonably transparent about its belief that it over-corrected against the New York Post story, even if there was certainly more than enough reason to wonder about it at the time. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress in 2021 that its moderation action against the Post's story was "a mistake that we made, both in terms of the intention of the policy and also the enforcement action of not allowing people to share it publicly or privately."

Though Taibbi pitches his screenshots of emails between Twitter staff as a scandal, the actual dialogue shows a debate among staff - something I would argue is a sign of health in large company. Even if the company fell on the wrong side of the gavel, the back-and-forth between staff shows people within the company weren't afraid to challenge its judgements.

But Taibbi knows exactly what he's doing, evidenced by the preemptive apology he sent to his Substack readers. He says that he "had to agree to certain conditions" (which he has yet to clarify) regarding his access to the Twitter emails, which he calls "unique and explosive" for some reason. "There's a long story I hope to be able to tell soon, but can't, not quite anyway," he writes to his readers. That's a red flag if I've ever seen one.

Maybe Taibbi will drop an atomic bomb of a scoop in the days to come. If so, I'll gladly accept an egg on my face. But his apparent collusion with Musk and his unwillingness to explain its dynamics has him working as a mouthpiece for the wealthiest person on Earth. A guy who used to lament the right-wing powers that be has become their lackey, laundering nonsense into the discourse to protect a newly installed power structure that just so happens to be enabling the far-right, especially.

Taibbi did rake in more than 340,000 new Twitter followers though, and who knows how many new paid Substack subscriptions. Maybe it was worth it, for him, at least.

(Don't stop me now) I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball