This Podcast Will Polarize You – And It Should | Matt Taibbi | EP 392 | Transcription
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Coming up (00:00)
the journalists, the donors, and the parties got so used to being able to almost completely control who got to be the nominee that when someone came along and disrupted the whole pattern, they didn't know how to respond to it except with total rage and incomprehension. And they didn't realize that Trump was just being smart and running against the system. And it was scoring heavily with people all over the place across the political spectrum. Hello, everyone watching and listening. Today I'm speaking with author and journalist Matt Taibbi.
Journalism And Politics: Focus On Europe, Us And Russia
We discuss his early career, both in journalism and professional basketball, his time in the USSR learning Russian and publishing a successful Gonzo inspired newspaper, and his breaking coverage of the subprime mortgage bubble. We also examine the state of the world today with Russia and the US military industrial complex, the upcoming presidential election, and the dire necessity for alternative news sources. Matt, I have to know, what was it like playing for the Uzbek national baseball team?
Professional sports in Europe (01:21)
That was great, actually. At the time, I was trying to be a freelance reporter in Uzbekistan. I was really young in my 20s. And I walked by a university field and saw a bunch of Cubans playing baseball. So they were, I think, Cuban refrigeration students, and I was the only American on the team. We had a fun time playing against other central Asian teams. And we had one funny story. We had ground rules. If you hit a sheep at one field, it was a triple. If you hit a cow, it was a double. And if you knocked the cow out, was that a home run? Or was it a consequence of the degree of damage? I don't think we ever got that far. So your career plan was to be an independent journalist in Uzbekistan, and that didn't work out. So you turned to pro baseball. Well, at the time, I was more interested in being a writer, just generally than being a reporter. I thought I had been living in St. Petersburg, which was filled at the time with freelance journalists. And I thought, I'm not getting a lot of work. I'll move to a place where there are no reporters. So I moved to the middle of nowhere, basically waited for something to happen so that I could get a byline and a wire service or something like that. But I figured while I was there, maybe I could do something like write a book about, you know, playing baseball for the Uzbeks. And I ended up doing that kind of thing a lot. I moved to Mongolia later, played basketball on the Mongolian Basketball Association. Well, that was my next question. Okay, because that's obviously the logical career progression move for someone who's a journalist in Uzbekistan and then playing baseball is to go to Mongolia and play pro basketball. So tell me about that. Yeah, that happened because I was working in Moscow for an expat paper called the Moscow Times, which still exists. And I played a lot of street basketball back in those days at Moscow State University. You've probably seen pictures. It's got that beautiful, gigantic sort of wedding cake skyscraper building in the background. I used to go there in the afternoons and play hoops. And there was a kid there from Mongolia who told me they had a league in Mongolia called the NBA, which was the only basketball league in the world that played by NBA rules with a 24-second clock and everything. So I quit my job the next day, got in a train and got on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and went to Mongolia, had a tryout, played for a season in the Mongolian Basketball Association. So were you big among the Mongolian fangirls? A little bit. It was actually quite an experience. Mongolia at the time was very basketball crazy, and there's a long story about why. But basically every Mongolian kid was playing basketball in the same series. And my friends were big celebrities in the country. One of my teammates was considered the Mongolian Jordan. So everywhere I went, there were lots of people following us around. It was pretty cool. Well, that's all completely unexpected and crazy. Now, you also went to the Leningrad Polytechnic.
In the domiciles of the former Soviet Union (04:47)
Was it the St. Petersburg Polytechnic by then? And why did you end up in the domiciles of the Soviet Union? How did that all come about? And why did you decide to stay there for, well, a number of years? When I was a kid, I was fairly lonely and depressed and introverted. And the thing that I found that became my escape in life is that I fell in love with comic fiction. And my favorite writers were all Russian writers like Gogol and Bulgakov. And my decision as a very young man was to move to the then Soviet Union and learn Russian so that I could read those books in the original language. So when I studied originally, it was actually still Leningrad Polytechnic. I'm old enough to have gone to school in the Soviet Union. And I went there to study Russian, even though it was a polytechnical school, they had a Russian language faculty for all the new students. And that's what I did there. So did you read The Master and Margarita in the original Russian? I did. I did. That's a tough one. I'm not gonna lie. I bet. It's a tough book, man. Yes. Some of the Russian writers are easier than others to read. For a foreigner, I would say Tolstoy is easier. He's very clear. But there's a tradition of a different kind of writer, unfortunately, like my favorite Gogol. Dostoevsky is another one, Bulgakov, they use very, very convoluted long sentences. And but they're beautiful. I mean, Russians beautiful language. Yeah, well, The Master and Margarita, that's, I don't know, maybe is that the most complex dreamlike novel ever written? It might be. I've read it three times, you know, it's, it's a crazy book. I mean, it's got five or six things going on at the same time, all of which are preposterous and surreal. And it's very, very sophisticated, multi layered work. I mean, it's, it's really, it's really quite the piece of fiction. I can understand why you would be motivated to learn Russian, although that's a hell of a motivation to, to read it. And so now you also worked at a newspaper in Moscow, was that The Exile?
The Moscow Times, the eXile (07:07)
Was that what it was called? Originally, I worked at the Moscow Times, which was sort of the straight news newspaper for the big burgeoning expat community, which was quite large in the 90s in Moscow. And then I left that and ended up co-starting my own newspaper called The Exile, which was kind of a cross of Time Out and Screw Magazine. It's hard to explain, but it was sort of a satirical nightlife guide, let's put it that way. And it's gotten me in some trouble, you know, in my later years, but it was an experiment in, in extreme free speech, doing everything the way a normal newspaper would do it, but backwards. We had corrections for things that had never appeared in the paper. I mean, we tried to make it an absolute joke of the whole newspaper format. How did that go over in Moscow? I mean, it's not exactly known as a bastion of free speech. So how did that work out? It actually worked out brilliantly, believe it or not. The people who are in Moscow in the 90s, and especially the late 90s, that was a crazy city. It was a lot like the Wild West, or Chicago in the 1930s. This was a place where, you know, a superpower had just dissolved. The laws had not yet been built back up. People were making fortunes overnight. There was gunfire in the streets. People were being defenestrated left and right. It was not uncommon to see dead bodies. So a newspaper like ours actually fit right in with the tenor of that whole community. We were quite popular. Just, you know, we actually made money. We were profitable. It was a normal small business that made money, and it worked out quite well for a while. But, you know, eventually there came a time when Putin came to power where, you know, the paper was just not tolerated. And so what happened when it became not tolerated? Were you still around? I had left by that time. I already left in 2002, but shortly after that, the paper got a visit from the tax police. And, you know, whereas before we could always pay a bribe and make them go away, this time they weren't satisfied with that, and the paper ultimately got closed. Yeah, well you know a state is corrupt when you can't even bribe it. Right? Yeah, I mean that's what's an honest person to do in Russia at that point. Right, exactly. Well, at least when you're dealing with someone with whom you share a common language of greed, you can understand what they're up to. But once you're out in the moral hinterlands where that doesn't work, God only knows what's up their sleeves. So were you a fan of the gons of journalists like Hunter S. Thompson?
Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Journalism (10:15)
He's probably the canonical example. I was. I was a fan of Hunter Thompson. I read him actually later in life than some other journalists. I was probably more of a fan earlier of H.L. Mencken. But I loved Hunter Thompson. In fact, at one point I got hired by a publishing company to try to put together an anthology of Gonzo journalism, and that project ended up failing when I realized mid-project that Gonzo was a term that had no meaning other than Hunter Thompson. So unless we were going to put together just a whole book full of Hunter's articles, it wasn't going to actually work. But I was definitely a fan of his writing. Yeah, well he was definitely a singular creature. I mean, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is quite the piece of work. And he wrote one on the Hell's Angels and one about the campaign trail. They're all great books, right? Really iconic 60s works. And I also really like Tom Wolfe, especially The Electric Kool-Aid. No, no, no, no. The Electric Kool-Aid Asset Test. Yes, exactly. And Candy-Colored Tangerine Flake Baby. That's also a great collection of essays. He wasn't as much of a Gonzo journalist as Thompson, but man, he had an eye for the times, and he could sure write, man. Those articles are so brilliantly plotted in books. Yeah, he really nailed it. And Thompson is just, of course, a complete bloody scream. Absolutely. And it's interesting, up until pretty recently, there was always a very strong tradition in American journalism of the narratively interesting journalists.
The loss of the narratively-interesting journalist (11:47)
And that's kind of been driven out of modern journalism, unfortunately, I would say. Yes. Now we just have the pathologically uninteresting, mediocre, boring, lying journalist type, mostly in the legacy media. Yeah, it's so pathetic and appalling. The New York Times today reported on underground climate change. Yeah, I mean, it's not a good sign when you're writing in the old boring format of the New York Times, but it doesn't even have the upside of being semi-reliable like the New York Times. So, that's kind of a double whammy. That's for sure. That's for sure. Yeah, that's right. I mean, at least when those enterprises were, let's say, more conservative in the traditional sense, you could vaguely assume that some of what they were reporting bore some relationship to the facts. And so, that was quite a relief. And it's really quite a catastrophe to see these places fall apart, actually. You know, I mean, there's a satirical part of me, I suppose, and a somewhat cynical part that celebrates the demise of institutions like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, because for all its abysmal Canadian centralist niceness, it was at least a reliable purveyor of information and to some degree culture for, you know, 30 years, something like that. And, you know, in many ways, it did its job. And I think you could say the same thing, although the New York Times, you know, had some pretty bloody egregious sins on its conscience, at least some of the time what it was producing bore some resemblance to news instead of whatever the hell it is they're doing now, which is, you know, almost impossible to comprehend either conceptually or metaphysically. It's true. Yeah, it's funny. I interviewed Noam Chomsky at one point because I wanted to write a book that was going to be a rethink of Manufacturing Consent, which is his famous book of media criticism.
Noam Chomsky (13:45)
And that book is full of criticism of the New York Times. But when I asked him about the Times, he said, you know, people got the wrong idea about my book. You know, the New York Times is full of facts. It's just got lots of problems. You have to learn to read it and fight through the biases that are in it. And, you know, so I think, unfortunately, the lack of attention to the factual aspect has taken away some important value from those institutions. So when were you at the Polytechnic? What years were that?
The Russia-Ukraine conflict, expansion of NATO (14:29)
That would have been, I was in Russia studying in '89 and '90 primarily. Okay, so you really were there during the wild times in Russia. Yeah, and then I stayed in Russia. I went back after school and I stayed from 1991 till about 2002. There were some trips in between. So what do you think, so you have a real personal connection with that country, obviously, and pretty detailed knowledge of it. What do you have to say, if anything, and what are your thoughts on what's happening on there with regard to the Russia-Ukraine conflict? Well, first of all, that situation is extraordinarily complicated. It's been frustrating for me to watch the coverage of, you know, the Russia-Ukraine conflict. You know, people not understanding the history of places like Crimea or how far back some of these conflicts in places like Luhansk and Donbasko. I don't at all agree with the invasion, you know, by Vladimir Putin. In fact, we were very heavy critics of Putin from the start when he came to power. But, you know, there's a long backstory here with the United States' support of Ukraine and some pretty questionable kind of far-right elements in Ukraine as a way to sort of undermine – Pretty questionable. Yeah, exactly, yeah. So this goes back, you know, decades before even the collapse of the Soviet Union. And a lot of that background is left out of all this. It's kind of an open question in my mind whether we ever really entertained a situation where NATO wasn't going to expand all the way to Russia's borders. I think, you know, there's a reason why a lot of academics in 1997, pretty conservative ones, were signing an open letter urging the American authorities not to keep pushing NATO towards Russia. Well, Boris Johnson announced today that the expansion of NATO into Ukraine should be of no concern to the Russians. Yeah, I don't understand that. I mean, I keep seeing that – Well, I think he's trying to top his net-zero idiocy personally. Maybe. That's possible. But, you know, think of the legends in the United States, right? We have movies like 13 Days where, you know, the arrival of one missile or a couple of missiles in Cuba is grounds to, you know, start this awesome confrontation risking nuclear annihilation for the entire planet. But we think the Russians shouldn't object if they're surrounded on all sides by military bases. Should they respond by invading another country? I don't agree with that, but I certainly understand, knowing this just from talking to Russians while I was there, what their feelings are about NATO. They're very nervous about it. They've always been, since the early 90s, it's a situation they've been conscious of the whole time, and I think Americans don't understand that. Last month, the G20 announced a plan to impose digital currencies and digital IDs on their populations. Central bank digital currencies essentially allow the government to track every purchase you make. Officials can even prohibit you from purchasing certain products or easily freeze or seize part or all of your money. Concerned Americans are diversifying their assets into physical gold with the help of Birch Gold. If you want a physical asset held in a tax-sheltered retirement account, you should call Birch Gold. Text Jordan to 9-8-9-8-9-8, and they'll send you a free info kit on gold. The easiest way to become a Birch Gold customer is if you have an IRA or 401k from a previous employer just gathering dust. Birch Gold can help you convert it into an IRA in gold, and you don't pay a penny out of pocket. Text Jordan to 9-8-9-8-9-8, claim your free info kit on gold, then call them, because if digital currency becomes a reality, it'll be nice to have some gold to fall back on. Well, you know, I think we had a real opportunity to bring permanent peace, to put in place a permanent peace with the Russians, and that could have happened during the 90s, and we pretty much followed that up as badly as we possibly could have, and now we're paying the price, and God only knows how that pot brewing in Russia and Ukraine is going to, what the consequences of its continued bubbling way in the background are going to be.
Who benefits from the proxy war? (18:54)
It's very distressing, and the fact that more attention isn't paid to it, and the fact that there seems to be no real attempts to bring about anything that looks like a serious attempt at peace talks is really quite the staggering miracle to me. So, I don't know what the hell we think we're playing at exactly, and I can't understand for the life of me what the endgame is. You know, I've talked to a lot of hawks in Washington, and these are people whose views I generally respect, and you know, their sense was that if the West had to spend several tens of billions of dollars, although it's rocketed beyond that now, to weaken Russia's conventional military, that that might not be such a bad investment, you know, and I have some qualms about that theory because it isn't obvious to me that a weak nuclear armed country is less dangerous than a strong nuclear armed country, and I think you could have an intelligent discussion about that, but I also don't think that weakening Germany after the First World War turned out to be such a brilliant idea either, and so, and I guess I also think that like wouldn't it be better all things considered if Russia and the West were allied, let's say, and presented a stable unitary front in relationship, say, to the Chinese? I mean, just to throw that out there, and I think we could have had that, and it seems to me that it's a lot of leftover Cold War era thinking in some ways, and I suppose some real self-interest on the part of the military-industrial complex that's kept this war brewing, and I don't know, it seems to me that the primary beneficiaries of the current situation in the Ukraine are arms manufacturers and the self-same military-industrial complex, and they don't have Afghanistan anymore to keep things, keep the market hopping, but they've certainly got a war that could go on forever or expand quite nicely in Russia and the Ukraine. I mean, do you think I'm missing something in that analysis? Undoubtedly, right, because it's a complex situation, but... I think that's pretty much right. I think we had an opportunity to genuinely bring in the Russians at least as a strategic partner. You know, there was always going to be some friction there. The two countries both see themselves as superpowers. There's some resentment, some cultural resentment that's true in both places, where, you know, neither of them wants to concede that the other is more powerful. So there's always going to be some difficulty between those two countries, but they did agree on things like, you know, facing Islamic terrorism together, right? I think they demonstrated that that kind of cooperation was possible, but the people you referenced, the kind of hawkish contingent within the foreign policy elite in Washington, I think if you asked them deep down what the end game to all this, the answer they would come up with is regime change in Russia. I think they really believe that. Yeah, and so what's that going to be? What's that going to be? Hey man, we're going to get someone better than Putin, are we, given Russia's history? And then maybe we could have instead a fractured state. And so then what would we have? We'd have the control of nuclear weapons in the hands of essentially warlords if the state collapsed. Like what the hell would be the positive regime change here exactly? We'd get some real Democrat in Russia? It's like, I don't think so. That seems to me to be preposterously naive because where in Russia history, where in Russian history could you find one example of that that you could point to that's even vaguely credible? And if you want Russian leaders worse than Putin, that's a very, very long list. So I just don't understand that at all. And the danger of the breakup of the country, especially given our dependence on, I mean, the world's dependence on Russia for certain necessities, energy, for example, for the Europeans, or ammonia for food production, or edible wheat, there'd be another one. You know, it's like, for obviously, we're strategically aligned in many ways with Russia, and the idea that there's going to be some magical transformation of regime that's going to make them easier to get along with is like, why would you think that? I mean, dead seriously, I don't understand how anybody could possibly imagine that. Well, it's the same error of vision that we had going into Iraq, where we imagine that we could roll tanks into Baghdad and establish Switzerland overnight. It doesn't really work that way. There's history and a long cultural tradition that you have to take into account. But you know, that war was launched by people who didn't even know there was a difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. And you know, this war, I think, is being prosecuted by people who have no conception of Russian history, Far Eastern history, you know, the inability of democracy to really ever take hold in that part of the world. If you're sincerely hoping that somebody better than Putin is going to come along if you depose that person, you're not looking honestly, I think, at that country's past. Yeah, well, that's certainly how it seems to me. So, I don't know what the hell we're playing out. And I think that I really think that what's happening is that because I've been trying to account for the absolute idiocy of Western foreign policy in relationship to Russia for the last 30 years, criminally negligent, to say the least.
If they’d given Trump the Nobel Peace Prize (24:55)
And I think really what likely happened is that clueless people gave the foreign policy situation kind of a backseat. And so, it was never a pressing concern, like it might have been in the aftermath of the Cold War. And then there's constant pressure from the munitions manufacturers, etc., to keep a warlike hawk-like stance at hand. And I can understand that, you know, like if you're a munitions manufacturer, obviously, you're going to be somewhat paranoid with regard to the stability of foreign affairs in your public pronouncements and likely your beliefs. And since you have a pecuniary interest in the outcome, your ability to continually foster a pro-hawk, pro-paranoid, anti-Russian view, well, that's always going to be there, because why wouldn't it be? And if there isn't something to offset that that's continual, like a real effort to make peace, for example, then that's not going to happen, you know. And you think, well, peace with Russia is impossible. I would say, yeah, that's what people said about the Middle East too. And then some some relatively radical, non-professional diplomats decided they were going to do something about it, and hammered together the Abraham Accords in basically no time flat. And so the idea, and they just walked around the State Department to do that. And they did that with tremendous degree of success. And if the Biden administration hadn't been so juvenile and resentful, they would have patted Trump on the back for having accomplished that. I always thought, you know, they would have given Trump the bloody Nobel Prize or maybe a medal at the White House for his work on the Abraham Accords. He might have just ridden off into the sunset happy. Right, instead of hanging around. Well, absolutely, absolutely. And then the Saudis would have signed the Abraham Accords because they were basically chomping at the bit to do so. And then you Americans could have had access to Saudi oil instead of having Biden go cap and hand to them after insulting them terribly and not noting what they did, for example, behind the scenes for the Abraham Accords and walking away empty handed. You know, like, Jesus, you can't make this stuff up. You know, when I've talked to Democrats about this, I said, why the hell don't you celebrate Trump, at least for the bloody Abraham Accords? And their response to me is always, well, you know, they're not as good as they look. It's like, well, yeah, compared to what? Anything you guys managed for like 70 years? They're pretty damn good as a first step. I mean, there's real, there's actually peace breaking out between Israel and a variety of Arab states. And like, who the hell would have ever predicted that? The idea we couldn't do that with Russia, especially given our mutual apprehension, let's say of the Chinese and well warranted apprehension. I think that's utterly preposterous. So I also know from behind the scenes that, you know, there were peace talks in the offings in March of 2022. And they were scuttled by the US administration. And so, you know, that's pretty damn unforgivable, as far as I'm concerned. And we flag wave and hop up and down morally about supporting the Democrats, you know, and this desire for democracy in Ukraine, all the while, you know, conveniently ignoring the fact that Ukraine has just as totalitarian history as the rest of the former Soviet Union, and are hardly paragons of moral virtue by any stretch of the imagination, and are unlikely to overnight, to turn overnight into Switzerland, as was precisely the case in Iraq. So like, I don't understand it, man. I don't see what's going on at all. And it's a bloody dangerous game that we're playing. Yeah, even more disappointing from my point of view is, at least during the Iraq War, there was an anti-war movement that was visible in the United States.
The lack of an anti-war movement (28:49)
There was an incredible episode early in this whole situation where I think a handful of members of the House put together what they called the peace letter, which very generically suggested that maybe opening peace talks might be a good idea at some point. They weren't suggesting that Ukraine surrender or that, you know, they stopped fighting or anything along those lines. But even within that coalition, the idea collapsed, and they ended up kind of snitching on each other in the media, and there was no effort along those lines. So there's no longer an anti-war coalition of any kind anywhere in American politics, you know, that even does symbolic politics. Yeah, left or right, you know, and it's really quite something, it's quite the miracle to see. It's very, it's really incomprehensible in many ways. I can't wrap my head around it. All right, so you were in the former Soviet Union during the insane 90s.
Campaign reporting, why Trump was such a disruptor (29:55)
When did you come back to the States? Like, and I don't know what happened to you say between say, about the year 2000 and 2004. You started to work for Rolling Stone in 2004. So what did you do after you had completed whatever it was you were up to in these multiple adventures in the former Soviet Union? And how do we know where you're not a Russian spy, by the way? Well, the Russians would never hire somebody like me to be a spy. I think I'm the wrong type for them. But I see. So it's in, it's in, it's on the basis of your self perceived incompetence that we should trust you. Yeah, exactly. I'd be unable to keep quiet about it, I think is the problem. Right, right, right, right. Noisy journalists don't make the best spies. Exactly, exactly. Um, I had been in, you know, while I was at the exile, Rolling Stone had actually done a story about our newspaper in the late 90s. So I had some contact with the magazine before I came back to the States. I came back in 2002, I briefly tried to start a newspaper in Buffalo called The Beast, which was modeled out on the exile, but pretty quickly got a call from Rolling Stone from the editor there who remembered me, had been keeping an eye on me, and suggested that I go out and start covering the campaign that was just starting in 2003. So really, almost as soon as I came back to the United States, I started working for Rolling Stone, essentially as a campaign reporter to start, and eventually as more of a financial slash investigative reporter. So what did you learn? We were talking about Hunter S. Thompson earlier, and famously, he wrote a book called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, if I remember correctly, which is quite the riotous account. What did you learn about American? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it's a book. I mean, it's a very interesting piece of cultural history now. But it's certainly a book that stands on its own merits, as well as being an interesting journalistic account. What did you learn about the American political system that you didn't know and that was surprising serving as a campaign reporter? Well, my first complication in covering American politics having come from the former Soviet Union was that in post-communist Russia, everything was visible. You could see which mafia interests were supporting, which politician. You could see the real financial interests behind every contract that was given out by the government. The corruption was as clear as it would have been if you were taking one of those tours with a glass-bottom boat looking at the bottom of the ocean. In the United States, I went out on the campaign trail, and going out on the campaign trail and listening to these people give one speech after another where they said absolutely nothing. For a long time, I was really puzzled by it. I thought there had to be another layer of something to American politics that was more interesting than this. And for a long time, I was really very frustrated by the predictability of the American political system, the way there was kind of a conspiracy of interest, I would say, between the donors, the campaign journalists, and the political parties to really very strictly control who got to be considered a legitimate and serious candidate and who didn't. And they did this through a variety of means. They used sort of code words. You know, somebody like Dennis Kucinich would be dismissed as fringe or elfin, and Howard Dean would be called pointed and angry. But John Kerry was nuanced and warm, right? And this is how we signaled to audiences that this was the political – It's the climate change making him warm, by the way. Right, exactly. Otherwise, he wasn't terribly warm, I would say. But I think, you know, and this is all a preview to the Trump experience, because I think what happened was the journalists, the donors, and the parties got so used to being able to almost completely control who got to be the nominee that when someone came along and disrupted the whole pattern, they didn't know how to respond to it except with total rage and incomprehension. They thought something must be totally amiss, somebody must be cheating somehow, and they didn't realize that Trump was just being smart and running against the system. I mean, I recognized this pretty early in 2016, which was, he was running against the journalists, he was running against the donors, he was running against the fake two-party system, which was really a one-party system, and it was scoring heavily with people all over the – across the political spectrum. But nobody really wanted to admit that, they just wanted to make him out to be this very scary villain. And even though some of those things they said about him were true, they were kind of missing the point of what that campaign was about and why it succeeded. Starting a business can be tough, especially knowing how to run your online storefront. Thanks to Shopify, it's easier than ever. Shopify is the global commerce platform that helps you sell at every stage of your business. From the Launch Your Online Shop stage all the way to the Did We Just Hit a Million Orders stage, Shopify is there to help you grow. Our marketing team uses Shopify every day to sell our merchandise, and we love how easy it is to add more items, ship products, and track conversions. Shopify helps you turn browsers into buyers, with the internet's best converting checkout up to 36% better compared to other leading commerce platforms. No matter how big you want to grow, Shopify gives you everything you need to take control and take your business to the next level. Sign up for a $1 per month trial period at Shopify.com/JBP. Go to Shopify.com/JBP now to grow your business no matter what stage you're at. That's Shopify.com/JBP. Yeah, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a great book on Trump called The Case for Trump, which is the best thing I've read on that on that election cycle.
Insights Into Politics And Power Dynamics
Hilary Clinton, red flags for the singular pursuit of power (36:24)
And he points out something that seemed relatively obvious to me at the time watching from the outside was that, you know, Clinton and her crew, first of all, I don't think people trusted Hillary at all, because even though she had a lot of experience, because when someone aims at power that egregiously for like six decades, you really got to wonder what the hell's going on. It's like, is it, why is it that important to you, you know, and you might think, well, of course, being president would be that important. But, you know, it's not that obvious. Because if you, if you associate with people who are highly accomplished, many of them would have to set aside the concerns they're already engaged in, which are often large scale concerns to consider something like a political career. And so, if you're someone who has the chops to be president, which should mean that you're good at a lot of things, it isn't obvious that political power per se would dangle as the greatest possible opportunity, right? Maybe you could be coerced or enticed into running for leadership, because a lot of people come to you and say, you know, we really need someone like you, which is the best way to become a leader, by the way. But other than that, you know, you're sort of about your own business. Whereas Clinton was, she was making a beeline for the presidency, certainly even while her husband was president. And so, and then of course, her and her foolish and treacherous advisors, I would say decided that it was perfectly good thing to sacrifice the American working class on the altar of their purported moral virtue. And she sunk herself doing that. And it was it was an act of true hubris and foolishness, right? Because Trump didn't so much win that election, as Clinton lost it, because it was hers for the taking, had she not been who she was, I would say fundamentally, and especially had she not stabbed the American working class in the back. And of course, they turned to Trump for odd reasons, you know, because it isn't obvious that this sort of brash, flashy billionaire would, or at least multi millionaire would appeal to working class people. They're not of the same economic class, obviously. But, you know, I had a wise working class guy I once worked for, back in the 1970s.
Why small business owners vote for big business candidates (38:33)
He was a conservative and not a socialist. And I was at that time, I was about 14, I was pretty entranced by socialist ideas. And the Socialist Party in Alberta, by province had a pretty good small business platform. And I said, why the hell don't you vote for the socialists? They have a lot better platform for your endeavor than the conservatives who are a party of big business. And he said, small business owners don't want to be small business owners. They want to be big business owners and people vote their dreams, not their reality. And I thought, oh my God, that's so smart. And, you know, and then I thought too, with regards to Trump is that even though his wealth was unimaginably out of reach for the typical working class person, I think people could look at Trump and think, well, there are conceivable universes in which I could be Donald Trump. Right, or this is what I would do with that money. Yeah. Right, right, right, right. And then he also had this capacity to speak off the cuff and directly to people. You know, and I heard from people who were around Trump, especially when he was talking to military personnel, that he was actually very good at that. And the same people who made that comment had been around other politicians who were often flummoxed and intimidated when they were talking to real servicemen, you know, because, well, first of all, there was a cultural gap between them and second, you know, they felt morally intimidated in the face of people who'd actually put themselves on the line. But Trump seemed to have that ability to talk directly to working class people. And, you know, you have to be a certain kind of person to do that. What one kind of person you have to be is someone who actually regards the working class and what they're capable of doing, which is working with the degree of respect that's actually appropriate, you know. And I mean, I've worked with lots of working class people, contractors and so forth, and I have lots of working class jobs. And you're an absolute bloody fool if you don't have respect for, you know, electricians and plumbers and carpenters and people who keep everything going who are truly competent because that requires a high level of honesty and expertise and communicative ability and planning and real knowledge. And so Trump seemed to be able to deal with people like that, maybe because he had so much experience on the construction. Yeah, the irony of that is that Hillary Clinton tried to run, actually, she quite successfully ran a similar campaign towards the end of her duel with Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary.
The degree of blindness was staggering, “the most experienced insider” (41:17)
She ran as the avatar of the white working class. You might remember she had all these speeches about being the granddaughter of, you know, a worker in a lace factory. And she seemed to really enjoy that role. And in all the different personas that I've seen her try to play on the stump, and she has many of them, that was the one I thought she did best at. But she reverted in 2016 to trying to sell herself as the most experienced insider, which was a catastrophic strategic error in a year where there was an unprecedented level of distrust towards Washington. The degree to which they were blind to that was kind of amazing to me. And, you know, you brought up Hunter Thompson before, he actually had a metaphor that really described how that happens. He talked about how if you go hunting, in normal times, you can't get within a thousand yards of a bull elk that gets sensitive to the smallest sound in the forest that will never let you get near it. But when it's in heat, you know, you can drive right past it and, you know, it won't even know that you're there. It's so focused on its, you know, its goal of mating, right? And that's exactly what politicians who see the presidency are like. They become blind to just about everything but power. And they don't think strategically anymore. And I think that happened to the Democrats in 2016. They just were not paying attention to all the different signs that were so obvious to everybody. Yeah, well, you'd think with all their polling and all their hypothetical reliance on their idiot consultants that they would have been clued in to some degree. And of course, Clinton also allied herself with the progressive front of the Democrats. And that certainly wasn't something in keeping with the basic sentiments of the working class that she also stuck a shiv in. So she certainly deserved to lose. And whether we deserve to have Trump as president in consequence, well, that's a whole different question. But at least he was a bull in the China shop. Speaking of whom, what do you think? I kind of think Robert F. Kennedy is the same sort of force on the Democrat side.
RFK Jr’s campaign manager, a groundswell of frustration (43:40)
I mean, what do you think of Kennedy? Yeah, I like him. You know, and his campaign manager, Dennis Kucinich, is somebody who whom I've known for a long time. Going back to the first campaign I ever covered, he was somebody I always respected as an original thinker or a real intellectual, somebody who read two books a day and really thought about the future of this country and what possible solutions might work, might not work. You think he's an impressive character, eh, Kucinich? Kucinich, I do. Do you think he'd be a good podcast guest? I think he would be, yes. Dennis is brilliant. You know, his politics are controversial, but he's got an incredibly interesting history. He was mayor of Cleveland at a ridiculously young age. He was homeless when he was a kid. He lived in a car with his family. He won his first elections, literally going door to door with no financial backing. And so this is the kind of person who's behind RFK's campaign. I mean, obviously, I don't know Robert F. Kennedy as well. You know, I did some of his shows years ago. But I think he recognizes, as Trump did and as Bernie Sanders also did in 2016 to a lesser degree, that there was this groundswell of frustration building in America toward, I guess you would call it, some sort of mainstream political thought, which was increasingly elitist and indifferent to the fate of ordinary Americans on both the left and the right. Kennedy, I think, is going to succeed just because he's not Joe Biden, just because MSNBC doesn't like him and CNN doesn't like him. Those things are actually advertisements in the current day and age. Trump understood this very keenly in 2016. He embraced it, and that was one of the reasons why he did so well. And Kennedy, I think, also understands this. Unlike Bernie Sanders, who I think, deep within his heart, had a lot of affection for the Democratic Party, didn't want to see something bad happen to it. RFK, I think, is running a campaign where he's willing to go to the mattresses with, you know, the people within the Democratic Party structure, and that's going to be very appealing to a lot of voters and a lot of independents as well. Yeah, this is going to be some ridiculously, surreally interesting presidential campaign, man. I don't think we'll have ever seen the likes of it, so it'll be something to watch. So, what was it like working for Rolling Stone when you worked for them?
Heyday of the Rolling Stone, reporting on the economy (46:37)
It was great. When I worked for Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone had a couple of heydays, I would say, in the late '60s and the '70s. Obviously, the magazine did both great music journalism and some groundbreaking journalism of other types, including Hunter Thompson. But they also published people like Carl Bernstein. They eventually brought in P.G. O'Rourke. They kind of pioneered this formula of reporting that was serious, but it was also witty and readable. And then, you know, they regressed a little bit in the '90s, but when I came in in the early 2000s, they had just brought in some new editors, and they were fantastic. They let me do work that I know a lot of the senior people didn't agree with, but they were really encouraging. And they let me get into some areas that were really weird and unusual for a mainstream American news, a mainstream American magazine. And that was great. It was a great time for a long time, and then it got a little strange at the end. What was the most interesting area you delved into when you worked for Rolling Stone? Well, after the 2008 election, you know, I had covered Obama's win, and that was when the financial collapse happened. And they assigned me to do one story, basically, about what happened at AIG. They wanted me to explain in ordinary terms, you know, what that was. And we had one story that was called, I think, "The Big Takeover," and it just attempted to translate for ordinary people a lot of the verbiage that people used on Wall Street. And the response to that was so overwhelming, that I ended up doing that for eight years. And so, I got to cover all kinds of crazy things that you would never expect a music magazine to take on, like, you know, the ratings agencies, you know, bidding for municipal bond rigging, you know, foreclosure fraud, all kinds of stuff like that. And I got seven, eight thousand words a shot to do this, and lots of time. So, for an investigative reporter, I mean, at the time, there were maybe 10 jobs like that in all of journalism, and it was a great period to do it. And the only problem was -- Right, so that's a good deal. Yeah. It was a great deal, but unfortunately, the market has changed quite a lot in the last three or four years -- well, five or six years, I would say. Now, did "The Great Derangement" come out of that, your book? "The Great Derangement" came out of my earlier sort of campaign trail stuff for Rolling Stone and some other places. I did some writing for "The Nation" too, at that time. Where did you write in book form about the financial collapse? So, I wrote a book called "Griftopia." It's "Griftopia," okay. Yeah. Another one called "The Divide." Right, right. So, let me recap for a second or two. Part of what happened in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis, tell me if you think I've got this right and add anything that you feel would be useful.
The 2008 collapse explained (50:00)
So, my sense was that it was at least in part of a technological -- it was a consequence of a rapid technological revolution. I mean, so the idea, as far as I could tell, was that if you -- so there's -- you can assign mortgages a different risk of default. And that seems mathematically probable. You can look at the income and the credit history of the people who have the mortgages and you can calculate actuarially the probability of default. And then you can come up with a risk estimate. And then you offset the risk estimate by either not lending to the people who are at high risk or increasing the interest rate. Okay, so that's pretty straightforward and strikes me as highly probable that that can be done. And then the idea was, well, if you lumped enough mortgages together of a certain risk category, let's say relatively high risk, that you could average the risk across all the mortgages, that you could calculate exactly what that risk was statistically. And then you could define and offset that so that a large enough tranche aggregate of mortgages would now become a define an asset of definable security, right, which makes it a secure asset. And you know, that really is brilliant. That's really, really smart. Now, what happened, though, was that what often happens when there's a financial revolution of that sort is that the act of producing the instrument produced unexpected changes in the market. So now that you could sell clumps of low of high risk mortgages to like pension funds, because the risk was specified, you produced an almost indefinite market for high risk mortgages. And so the consequence of that was that financial institutions went out and sold increasingly high risk mortgages at a mad rate forever. And that was abetted by policies stemming from the Democrats and the Republicans alike, designed to foster homeownership among low income Americans, which, you know, sounds like a fine idea. But I suppose selling people houses they can't actually pay for is not a good idea. And so the consequence of that was a housing boom, a mortgage boom, increased malfeasance on the mortgage risk rating front, and then the eventual construction of correlated housing prices across the entire economy, which is something that never happened before, because these things had all now been linked together behind the scenes. And so then when housing prices started to collapse in one district, that spread very rapidly, and it collapsed everywhere. And that just took the whole game out. But to me, the initial initiator that was actually a technological revolution on the financial front, and not something corrupt in and of itself, like it led to a form of corruption, it led to a form of corruption, but it wasn't crooked right from the from get the get go. That's how I understood it. I mean, you've looked into this deeply. Yeah, no, that's exactly right. It started off as actually quite a brilliant idea. You know, what you were describing with mortgage backed securities is this process called tranching, right? Where you could pool a whole group of mortgages, let's say 1000, 2000 of them. And you could take a gigantic group of essentially junk rated mortgages, but peel them off, peel off a portion of it, and sell it as AAA. So it was a Rumpelstiltskin story. It was, you know, you take a whole bunch of straw, but you can get a little bit of gold out of it, right? And you can sell that gold, as you said, to pension funds, because they have requirements for, you know, they need to have at least a certain amount of AAA rated stuff in the portfolio. And this was earning a higher rate of return than traditional AAA investments. So now you had this booming market for essentially junk rated mortgages. And that started off as an idea that produced an awful lot of cash and capital that, you know, initially led to a boom in the economy, but... And it expanded housing ownership, which seemed to be a good thing. Exactly. Lots of people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to get houses got houses. But very quickly, you started to develop all kinds of fraud schemes that abetted this, where, you know, the mortgage companies, which were once incentivized to prevent you from getting a mortgage if they didn't think you could make your payments, now all of a sudden knew that as soon as you got into the pool that they were going to be selling your mortgage to the next person. So they overlooked all kinds of things. Did you have ID? Did you have a job? You know, were you a citizen? All that stuff would kind of be... Little details like that. Yeah, little details like that. They would forget to put that stuff in or check it. And, you know, you would have these big banks, which would be representing to their customers, like pension funds that, "Oh, yeah, we checked all these mortgages that are in this pool. They're all great. And they're everything that we say they are." And next thing you knew, people started to default at a high rate and couldn't make their payments anymore. And, you know, the whole house of cards fell. So it's not like a lot of other financial booms in history. It's just the particular form of this was that it all happened within the confines of this system of mortgage-backed securities. And there was an additional complicating factor, which was that this came alongside the invention of another financial instrument, type of financial instrument, the credit default swap, that allowed financial companies to bet on the success of these instruments. So you might have a mortgage, and if it failed, you might have a cascading series of losses that resulted from that because people were essentially trading on whether or not that mortgage was going to succeed. So it was a way of basically punching a black hole into the economy, you know, beyond the limits of, you know, how much money there actually was in circulation. It was fascinating to learn about that. Yeah. Steve McLaughlin It's attractive to be cynical about what happened in 2008. And it's also attractive to be conspiratorial and to note that, you know, there were very, there was almost no criminal prosecution in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse.
Explorations On Aftermath Of 2008 Financial Crisis, Rise Of Trump And Policing
Should more people have been prosecuted after 2008? (56:43)
But, you know, I'm not unwilling to assume the utility of punishment where it's due. But it's never really been obvious to me that the, except in, you know, a relatively small number of egregious cases, that the criminal case for, that the case for criminal conduct could be easily made, given the complexity of the financial innovations that were also part and parcel of this. Now, you have focused on, you know, the old boys club, so to speak, that governs political conduct in the United States across both parties, and the entrenchment of the power elite, let's say, that keeps that system going. And you could say the same thing on the financial side. And you've looked deeply into financial corruption and the collapse in 2008. What was your sense about what should have been done in the aftermath of that catastrophe? Steve McLaughlin Well, I think, just as there were a series of basically symbolic prosecutions after the accounting control scandals of the early 2000s, like, you know, Enron, Adelphia, Rite Aid, you know, that sort of thing, that were designed to send a message to the markets like, "Hey, you can't do this." There were some obvious cases they could have taken up that would have similarly sent a message that it's not a good idea to, you know, sell gigantic pools of mortgages that you know have problems with them, that you know are in AAA, that you know are likely to default as soon as you sell them. And they could have done that, didn't do that. And I think that engendered a lot of problems. And frankly, that was something that Trump picked up on, again, in 2016, that there was anger in the population. There were an awful lot of people who got thrown out of their homes after 2008. You know, you're talking like five million people. Yeah, well, there are a lot of ordinary people who suffered, and a lot of extraordinary people who didn't. And there was an awful lot of corporate bailout and socialization of risk and privatization of profit. Right, that was really, that was really a dismal outcome. Now, you know, I think it is hard to keep enterprises on the hook financially, because with a big company, partly because the executive leadership and even the ownership of the company can switch quite dramatically. It's not like you can hold a company to the same standards of responsibility that you can hold an individual to. It's slippery and tricky. And it isn't obviously the case too that you should be too punitive with regards to your business class, if they engage in ventures that don't work out well, because then you suppress innovation and risk taking. I mean, that's one of the advantages of having bankruptcy laws, right? It means you get to fail without dying. And that's really useful, given that you have to fail quite a bit often before you can succeed. But it still did seem to me that, you know, the chickens didn't come home to roost as thoroughly as they might have in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. I also wonder, too, tell me what you think about this, you know, we've seen the rise of woke capitalism to a great degree in the last, well, let's say since 2008.
The rise of woke capitalism, false contrition? (01:00:20)
Um, it seems to me that, you know, there's a fair bit of unrequited and maybe deserving guilt on the part of high flying capitalists who made their money in manners that might be a little bit more crooked than necessary. And that one of the ways they can pay the piper, hypothetically, without actually having to go through any serious moral revaluation is to beat the ESG drum, for example, on the climate side, or to pretend to be in accordance with whatever the newest woke delusion is on the civil rights front. And so it's a false contrition. And I think that's emerged in the aftermath of unpunished malfeasance, let's say on the corporate front with regard to the financial crisis of 2008. So I don't know what you think about that theory. That's interesting. Yeah, I mean, so I often get people who are confused about my take on all this because they think that because I wrote very critically about companies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase and, you know, Bank of America, that, you know, a communist or anti capitalist, actually, nearly all of my sources during that time period, were people who worked on Wall Street, they were, you know, other rich people, basically. And their complaint about these companies was not that they were being too arch capitalist, but that rather they were subverting capitalism by cheating and relying on bailouts. And, you know, in manipulating markets in ways that were unfair to, you know, sort of the smaller sized competitor. And I think that was a consistent theme of what happened. There were cases they could have made. And that would have been, you know, I think important to the markets would have sent a message that no matter how big you are, you're not outside the reach of the law. And it would have restored faith in this idea that, you know, that the government isn't basically a silent partner of these gigantic banks. Which it was, clearly. Yes, that will always backstop them in times of trouble and won't look into, you know, money laundering and other problems. And that's why we're having this crisis with small regional banks now, among other things, because the markets know that it's cheaper for big banks to borrow money because everybody knows they'll always get bailed out. That's an inherent advantage that they shouldn't have, I don't think, in capitalism. So, all of that is a hangover of 2008. The ESG thing is, I think, just another version of the same ratings agency scam that we saw with mortgages. It's just that they're playing around with different terminology and insider, you know, sort of rigging of the game. This time it's more political. Doesn't seem to be working out so well for Disney. Right, exactly. You know, I think these schemes always, whenever they try to game the system too much that way, it always ends up seeming to backfire, I think. Yeah, well that does backfire if the market, if a well-regulated market actually retains its dominance. Because as you pointed out, too, you know, the people who are playing the capitalist game honestly, and that's the majority of people who are conducting business in the US, because otherwise the US would not be as filthy rich as it is and so unbelievably stable and productive, right? Because things actually get done and they work. And that means that people who actually get things done and work are doing those things. Now, there's a handful of bad actors on the capitalist side. And it's definitely not in the interest of honest capitalists to let the dishonest crooks game the whole system and get away with it on the regulatory capture side, etc. You know, that's really a place where the left and the right could come together, you know, within their insistence that, yeah, okay, okay. So let's talk about your last three books briefly.
Insane Clown President (01:04:53)
And then I want to cover the debate you had with Douglas Murray, Michelle Goldberg, and Malcolm Gladwell. It was you and Douglas on the same team, and a little bit on the Twitter files. But let's go through Insane Clown President, I Can't Breathe and Hate Inc. If you could just say a little bit about each of those books, I think that would be very interesting. Let's start with Insane Clown President. Yeah, so Insane Clown President is basically just a compilation of all the stuff that I wrote in 2016, mainly for Rolling Stone, about the Trump campaign. We decided after Trump won that there was probably enough of an appetite out there for reading about what happened during the campaign that people would buy that book. And, you know, it turned out to be true. It was a bestseller. But the thing that I like about that book, when I go back and look at it, and I don't like all my books, but I think that one, early on, you know, I think I called a lot of what happened with the Trump campaign correctly. You know, my early impressions of his campaign was that he was onto something that if sort of mainstream American pundits didn't wake up, they were going to find out very quickly that, you know, they were making him stronger by misreporting things about him. And then, you know, there is a section of that book where I was convinced by a pollster that he had absolutely no chance of winning. And so, I kind of got the wrong impression that his campaign was really going to result historically just in the destruction of the Republican Party. But I think there were a lot of things about that book that captured 2016 correctly. And it was, you know, it's a funny book to read, too, because there was a lot of odd stuff that happened on the campaign trail. So, yeah. So, what did you come to make of Trump, both in terms of his, like, strengths and weaknesses?
First impressions of Trump from the 2016 campaign trail (01:06:53)
What's your assessment of Donald Trump? Well, one of the first times I saw Trump in person was in New Hampshire. I think I was in Plymouth, New Hampshire. I was at Plymouth State University, I think was the locale. And, you know, the press is always on a riser. We always look ridiculous standing in the middle of a political event. And Trump started to talk about us. He, you know, he feels the crowds out like a comedian. He looked at us and he said, "You see these people over here? You see these bloodsuckers? You know, they've never come so far for an event. They hate me. They want me to lose so bad. They want all you to lose." And I watched as the crowd kind of turned toward us and started hissing and they were throwing bits of paper at us and everything. And I immediately recognized this is going to work, you know. And the reason I knew it was going to work is because who doesn't hate journalists? Like, you know, just look at us, you know. And there were a lot of people who were – No, you and your Mongolian basketball career. Well, yeah, they don't know. The average person probably doesn't know about that. But the ordinary journalist, you know, a political journalist who covers presidential campaigns is a very specific type of character. That person is always wearing a gingham shirt, a tie, and khakis and asks you one question that he already knows the answer that he wants and then goes back to, you know, and then writes a story they've already pre-written. People hate that person, you know, and I recognize – Yeah, and for good reason. Right? And so Trump picked up on that. And then he started to move not just from the press, but to other institutions, you know, NATO, the Fed, you know, Congress, obviously. But what he was doing, he was feeling in his crowds that there was this enormous amount of resentment out there about all kinds of issues. And he was feeding it, I think, in many cases with very sensible and real criticisms. Some of the things he said I totally disagreed with, and I thought were outlandish and crazy and unnecessary. But he was – So to what degree, to what degree do you think that the thing that concerns me, let's say, about figures such as Trump, even though he's singular in many ways, is that when you're attempting to redress populist concerns, you can go in two directions, right? You can listen to the concerns, and you can honestly try to formulate responses and policies that would deal with those concerns.
Manipulation or leadership? (01:09:16)
Or you can capitalize on that resentment and foster it. And that's a very, very dangerous road to walk down. Now, I'm not making a categorical judgment that Trump did one or the other of those. I'm curious about what you thought. Because of course, his populist front was what, in principle, terrified his – the people who became incredibly paranoid about him. But what was your sense? You watched him and you watched his handling of the crowd. You said that he would do things like single out the journalists and turn the crowd against them, you know, for better or for worse. Was your sense that he was – was he manipulating the crowds? Was he manipulating the crowds and himself at the same time? Was he playing a relatively straight game? You know, what do you think he was up to? And you kind of – you also compared him to a comedian, right, that could read the crowd. And a leader can do that, but you can be led astray by the darkest impulses of the crowd too. Yeah, so it was interesting because I was covering Trump and Bernie Sanders at the same time. And Sanders was picking up on a lot of the same things. But his answer to those grievances, he had a long list of policy solutions that he was really, really anxious to implement. Trump, on the other hand, I think, at heart, Donald Trump is a salesperson. Like, that's who he is. He's always selling something, right? And it was funny to watch the reporters because they were all carrying around, you know, books about fascism and, you know, like, you know, the 1930s, whereas they should have been reading books about sales culture because that was the key to understanding Donald Trump. And I thought Trump basically was selling outrage. He was selling the experience of feeling solidarity with other people who'd been screwed over. And he was – so he was fostering those feelings in people, I think, you know, to answer your question. Yeah, yeah. Did you detect a danger in that? Did you get – did you detect a danger in that? I mean, because look, there are times being frustrated and wanting justice, those two things aren't that easy to distinguish, right? And being resentful and wanting justice, those two things aren't always that easy to distinguish either, right? I mean, it's a tricky business. Because, you know, you say, well, you should forgive and forget, and people think that's the highest possible dictum. But justice has its place as well. And if you have been screwed over, and I think the American working class has been screwed over in many ways, although whether that was planned or just incidental is a different question, they had their reasons to be outraged. Now, Trump obviously appealed to that outrage. You're intimating that you believe that he capitalized on it as well, though, in a way that you didn't see characteristic of Bernie Sanders. Now, of course, Bernie also didn't – wasn't burdened with the delusion that he was likely to win. No, and Bernie didn't really – he didn't have the same ability to connect with people that Trump had. Right, right, right. Yeah. Yeah. You know, that's a difficult question, right? Because it gets to the question of motivation. I would say, I never got the sense that Donald Trump was honestly a reformer, that that was really his motivation was to, you know, change the system and that he was up at night reading policy proposals. That wasn't my impression. I think Donald Trump, you know, over time, I got the idea, basically – and this is in part from talking to people who knew him – which was that he was insecure, but mostly just wanted to be liked. I didn't find that, you know, the core of him was terribly scary. Maybe I was wrong in perceiving it that way. But – Well, I don't think the evidence is clear that you were wrong. I mean, look, under Trump, we had no wars. You know, that wasn't such a bad thing. And we did get the Abraham Accords and the economy did quite nicely. And I don't think the culture wars were raging as intently under Trump, even though they raged away quite madly as they are now. So, you know, for all of Trump's purported dangers, he was much less of a threat, certainly on the international stage than he might have been and that everybody had been afraid he would be. And I do think also that he generated a certain degree of respect and apprehension from, you know, the more authoritarian types around the world. And I certainly don't think that's the case with Biden at all, because I think Biden, like Trudeau, I think is beneath contempt in relationship to people like the president of China. So, and I don't think that was true for Trump, because at least he was unpredictable or had that appearance. So, I don't think you were out of line in your failure to see anything truly malevolent in Trump. Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I mean, my impression of him was that he was doing this for a lot of reasons that it was complicated. He has a mischievous streak in him. It was clear watching his family early in the campaign, that they wanted no part of any idea that he might win. But and I wasn't exactly sure that he wanted to win. But, right. Yeah, well, I thought it was an exercise in brand awareness expansion, at least, and quite a brilliant one in some ways, if you're thinking purely from the perspective of sales. Right. And he was selling himself the entire time, and he was doing a great job at it. I mean, you know, with the tools that were available to him, he was a pioneer in many respects, bypassing the media and going straight to people using Twitter and that sort of thing. All that was very interesting. And I think that was something that if people had looked honestly at the situation, they would have found really compelling to study. Instead, you know, the establishment press just settled on a narrative about him about halfway through the campaign. And from there, it was just attack, attack, attack. And it became, I would say, a sort of ongoing, uninteresting diatribe from that point forward. Yeah, well, it would have been a lot more compelling had there been real journalists covering the Trump phenomenon, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, because at minimum, it was insanely interesting and not predictable in the least and, and mysterious, and it would have been good to get to the bottom of it. Like I said, I think Victor Davis Hanson did a nice job in his book, The Case for Trump. I think it's a very even handed treatment of without the kind of crazy gonzo journalism style that, you know, might have added something quite compelling to the to the overall analysis of Trump. What did you do with I Can't Breathe and Hate in the other two books, 2017 and 2019?
The issue with cops, stats-based policing regimes, and ethnic relations (01:16:28)
Yeah, I lived very close to where Eric Garner was killed in Staten Island. I was in New Jersey, just a short drive away. So I decided to do a book about what happened there. And I just on a lark, I went to the neighborhood, hung out in the street for a little bit, talked to some of his friends. And found that he was, I thought, a very interesting person. So I thought, it might be cool to write a book about this guy. And, you know, so I spent a couple of years really just talking to drug dealers and hang out in the street and ended up with a portrait of what happened to garner all the different forces that converge to cause, you know, that incident and, you know, left with an understanding of police brutality that was a lot more complicated than people made it out after the George Floyd incident, which is I think is, was unfortunate. Well, complicated in in in what ways? What did you learn? Well, I think a lot of what happened with cops in cities like New York, especially after the implementation of programs like broken windows, was that they were forced by these new stats-based policing regimes to create artificially engender contacts with the population when they weren't necessary. You know, the court case Ohio v. Terry, which is from 1968 in the United States, allowed police to randomly stop and search people on the street. And police departments clued into the idea that if they did enough of those stops, they would find people who were who had warrants on them that they would probably grab a lot of guns that people were carrying and or stop people from carrying them in the first place. So they did hundreds of thousands of these stops. And on the surface, that might sound like a good idea, but what ended up happening was a lot of people got frustrated being stopped and searched. And a lot of those incidents went wrong. And that's how a lot of these police brutality cases happen. They happen because they begin with some really stupid reason for stopping somebody on the street. Somebody gets mad, and it ends up in a melee, and somebody dies. And that's, that unfortunately is the backdrop for a lot of these cases. - Right. Okay, okay. Well, I read recently that there's no real evidence that the police are more likely to use deadly force, for example, on black people compared to white people. In fact, I think the stats show slightly the reverse, but that that's not true at all when it comes to arguably, well, more minor in some ways acts of harassment, let's say, or of continual investigation and stopping. And so, you know, it would be nice if we could have a sensible discussion about that and actually get to the bottom of what's going on. Do you think that those more frequent stopping programs promoted by that, say, broken window hypothesis, and that hypothesis is, by the way, for those of you who are watching and listening is that you have to attend to minor infractions of the law to set a tenor that stops more major infractions of the law, which is the reverse, for example, of what they seem to be doing now in places like California. Do you think there's any credibility to the claim that the implementation of those policies did in fact lead to the radical reductions in crime rate, for example, in places like New York City? What was your sense of that when you looked into it? Well, there's a couple of problems with the way they implemented broken windows in New York. One is that they overtly, in many cases, told the officers to do more of those stops in certain neighborhoods than in others. One of the reasons stop and frisk was overturned in New York is because they had one of the captains on tape basically telling, you know, a whole bunch of patrol cops, you know, I'm looking for black males aged 18 to 21. You know, he's like, he says that openly, right? So, there was a mass, I think, and this goes to your point earlier, there may not be a discrepancy about deadly force, but there's a huge discrepancy in terms of the more minor stops, right? And especially about things like drug arrests. Are you really going to get fewer drug arrests if you stop everybody on Wall Street and look through their stuff? Then you might if you, you know, stop everybody in Bushwick or Brownsville or someplace like that. I think it'd be closer than most people would think. And so, that engenders hostility. They used it as a way to kind of keep property values high in some places by basically using police to clear out undesirable looking people. That was the narrative with Garner. Garner was kind of a slovenly dressed, obese guy who sat in the corner selling illegal cigarettes. And there was a condo complex across the street that didn't like it. And so, he kept getting moved off the corner and got tired of it. And, you know, some of those things that you mentioned, the broken windows theory, it wasn't just minor things that are against the law. It's what they call odor maintenance. So, it's things that were, things that were maybe not against the law, right? That they were also cleaning up. - Yeah, well, there's always going to be tremendous dispute about exactly where to draw the line in situations like that. I mean, which is why you need a variety of different approaches, I guess, to try to find out what actually works because it seems to me that places like Portland and Vancouver in Canada, increasingly Toronto and San Francisco have gone far too far in the opposite direction. And you have just, you know, absolute chaos reigning in places where that shouldn't be happening. But then by the same token... - You can't just stop enforcing the law either. I mean, that doesn't work either. - Right, right, right. No penalty for shoplifting under $1,000 just doesn't seem like a very good solution, for example. All right, and so let's turn to the last book that you finished.
Modern Reporting And Audience Engagement
Hate Inc. and audience optimization (01:23:03)
I believe it's the last one, Hate, Inc. 2019. - Yeah. - I want to say a few words about that, and then we'll talk about the debate you had recently with Douglas Murray and... - Sure. So, Hate, Inc. I had always loved when I was a kid, the book, as I mentioned before, Manufacturing Consent. I grew up in a family of journalists. My father was a television reporter, and that book was very eye-opening to me, even though I had been around the media my whole life, because it was about the unspoken pressures that go into editorial decisions before they get to the reporter. You know, why are some stories assigned and not others, right? Why do people at ABC or CBS, why do they freak out about the assassination of a Catholic priest in Poland but not in El Salvador? You know, it's that kind of thing. I always thought that book was interesting, so I wanted to do basically a new version of that for the internet age and see if anything had changed. And I talked to Chomsky before I started writing the book. I said, "Are you okay with me doing this project?" And he sort of said, "Okay." And the premise of the book that I came up with is that the internet had changed the game significantly and that, really for financial reasons, the media business had evolved in this new direction where instead of trying to go for the whole audience, which is how ABC, CBS, NBC made their money in the old days, now they were using the new model, which was what you might call audience optimization, where you pick a demographic and try to dominate it. And that's how we get this basically stratified, fractured media landscape where you have some companies that are selling only to blue leading audiences and then some that are only selling to the right. And it's a very successful commercial formula, but as news, it's really bad because what ends up happening is that you're just giving your audience what they want to hear most of the time, usually about the people on the other side. And that formula, that commercial formula of doing news, I think has been a major driver, a whole lot of kind of culture war division in this country. - You think, how much of that do you think is inevitable consequence of, again, of technological transformation? Because I mean, ABC, CBS, NBC, they dominated when television bandwidth was, well, almost infinitely expensive and every second that you were speaking on video was unbelievably financially demanding. And the audiences were huge and in some ways homogenous. Now, especially with YouTube, video is basically free. And so, and that means an infinite number of channels because of course, there is a virtually infinite number of channels on YouTube. And it isn't obvious to me at all that in a landscape like that, you can have anything other than fracturing. And I think the primary driver of the disintegration of the legacy media isn't so much their transformation into woke ideologues, although that hasn't helped and it's been abetted by the idiot universities, but the fact that there's just no bloody way they can compete. You know, I mean, you have your own sub stack, and I believe that's doing quite well. And like people who are talented journalists, like well, and Barry Weiss is a good example. There's just no reason for her not to go out on her own, and to start her own newspaper for all intents and purposes. So, I mean, I don't see any way back from that, essentially. Yeah, you're absolutely right. In fact, you nailed the main thing about it. You know, I remember I interviewed the former publisher of the newspaper in Dallas, and he said that up until the 80s, the news business was a scarcity business. There were only so many slots in the newspaper to sell want ads. There were only so many hours on TV. There were only so many hours on radio. And those slots basically had limitless value, because there was no other way to reach audiences for advertising. You put the internet into the mix. Suddenly, it goes from scarcity to, you know, infinity. You know, all those things that were immensely valuable before are now essentially worthless, and you have to find a new commercial strategy for making money. It's evolved to this place where selling subscriptions is the only way to go, but the problem with that is that it doesn't pay for things like investigative journalism as well. It doesn't pay for foreign bureaus in, you know, Jakarta and Moscow. It doesn't pay for an awful lot of things. So, you know, the news business has suffered. I think it's lost its way trying to navigate this new terrain where money is so scarce, not knowing whether to chase after clickbait or whether to stick to journalistic principles or what to do exactly. And so, all those brands have been irrevocably damaged, I think, and, you know, nothing has stepped up to replace it yet. Well, and speaking of that, you were just in Toronto not so long ago at the increasingly famous monk debates.
The Munk Debates, facing Malcolm Gladwell (01:28:47)
They apparently seem to be doing something right, and you and Douglas Murray faced off against Michelle Goldberg and Malcolm Gladwell. And I believe that you and Douglas won the debate by the biggest margin that had ever occurred at the monk debates and actually speaking to an audience that in principle shouldn't have been particularly favorable to your claims, right? Because the monk debate audience is Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, glitterati, such as, you know, such as we produce in Canada, our equivalent of people who think they're celebrities, let's say. That might be a good way of thinking about it. And the probability that they would be both beholden to and fundamental supporters of the legacy media was extremely high. And yet, by all accounts, you mop the floor with both Michelle and Malcolm. So, do you want to walk through that a little bit? Tell everybody what the debate was about first and tell me your impressions of the whole enterprise. First of all, I had an amazing time. It was a great event. I think anybody who has the opportunity to attend the monk debates should definitely do it. The resolution was be it resolved, do not trust the mainstream media. And so, Michelle and Malcolm were arguing the nay portion and Douglas and I were arguing the EA portion. And you said that we mop the floor with them, really Douglas mop the floor with them and I was kind of there. But the, you know, he's very impressive as an orator and as a stage performer and he was very quick. Yeah, and as a fighter. Yeah, yeah. As a fighter. And he actually enjoys it. And so, yeah, you mess with Douglas at your peril. Exactly, exactly. But another thing I think that really turned the tide with that debate was kind of the superior attitude, I would say, of a couple of the participants, Malcolm in particular. I don't have anything in particular against him, but I made the observation at one point that Walter Cronkite had twice been voted the most trusted person in America in the 70s and 80s. And Malcolm wouldn't let that go. He kept implying that by saying that I was longing for the days of Jim Crow in America and that I had forgotten that when those votes were taken, by the way, he was wrong about this, when those votes were taken that, you know, lots of people didn't have it so great in America, you know, implying that this was the 50s or the 40s when, you know, women, gays, and African Americans had a tough time in the States. Again, actually – How poor people were doing a hell of a lot better on the marital front back then than they are now, by a large margin, and there were a lot fewer children who were fatherless. So, you know, some things have improved, but there's lots of things that haven't improved. So, we might not want to be too smug and superior about how well we're doing on the moral front compared to 40 years ago. I mean, lots of things have changed for the better, but it's by no means a universal panacea, let's say. And that's especially true for poor people who are nonetheless, on average, richer. But I would put that at the feet of capitalism, you know, rather than of any, you know, well-meaning government programs or ideologies. So, anyways, you said he adopted a mien of superiority on what basis? Well, essentially, he was calling me a racist for making that observation. So, and he went back to it five times. And by the fifth time, there were actually sort of audible gasps in the audience. So, I think that had something to do with what happened with the debate. Well, that sort of thing actually doesn't play very well in Canada. You know, yeah, the people who I debated at the monk debates, they played that same mistake too. They played the racial card and racist card. Yeah, and Canadian audiences, they don't like that much because that hasn't really been part of our parlance, part of the tenor of our public discussions, not nearly as much as in the US. I mean, we're trying hard to get there. And we might be successful in this country, but generally, it's not a good strategy. So, yeah, yeah. So, did you learn, did you think that Goldberg and Gladwell made any points in relationship to why the legacy media might still be worthy of support and trust? Well, their basic argument was that the procedures of the legacy media are still good procedures, you know, fact checking, that sort of thing. And we countered with, yes, those are good things. Unfortunately, they're mostly gone from legacy media organizations. And that's one of the reasons that you have problems like the Russiagate case, where, you know, one story after the other goes sideways, and you guys don't catch it. And that's, I think, there's still a failure of vision. I still know a lot of people who work in legacy media. And there's a slowness to recognize that audiences no longer, I think, really believe what they're reading in a lot of these organizations in the New York Times, Washington Post, they see it as politicized, not terribly reliable factually. And I think that's a shame, even as an independent, I think the mainstream media needs to be good, right? Like, I think it's everybody benefits when it is. But they haven't figured out that in order to have that respect that they think they deserve, that they just can't get this many things wrong. And that's been the pattern. They don't get to be the legacy media without maintaining a genuine respectability. Right, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So let me close here with a question about the Twitter file revelation. So, you know, since you were instrumental in the process that led to the release of the so-called Twitter files, the first response from the legacy media was, there's, what would you say, there's nothing to be seen there.
Discussion On Social Media Presence
The Twitter Files (01:35:09)
And the second response was, well, there was something to be seen, but we knew it all along. And that's really where the story has settled. Now, you know, I was reading your Wikipedia page, for example, while preparing for this interview. And some of the criticisms about the Twitter files were, well, you know, nothing that we didn't know already was revealed. And so there's nothing to see here, folks. And so what do you think about that? What's your sense of, tell us about participating in the release of the Twitter files and what you think the cultural consequence really was? Well, first of all, interesting, what's interesting about it is that time wise, it happened, I learned that I was going to be doing that right before the monk debate. We actually got asked the question about Elon Musk maybe opening up the Twitter files during the debate, and I had to pretend that I didn't know the answer to that question. So I flew to San Francisco right from Toronto. And, you know, the first batch of the Twitter files, which was about the suppression of the Hunter Biden story was interesting, but I wouldn't say that it was groundbreaking. There was there was stuff in there that was worth publishing. But it wasn't until we started to see this organized system of communication between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and all these platforms, that there was this sort of highway of content moderation request that was flowing to all of these companies. I don't know that anybody knew that that was happening. I certainly didn't know that that was happening. And, you know, the Twitter itself was denying that it even engaged in shadow banning before the Twitter files. And we got rid of that the first day. And, you know, I think what happened was, the argument eventually became, well, this is going on, but it's not illegal. It's not technically a First Amendment violation, because they're not ordering. No, it's just it's just behind the scenes collusion between government and big media hidden from the public. Nothing to see here, you know, and whether or not something is technically illegal. That's a pretty damn shaky moral argument. It's not a bad legal argument. Brian Yeah, and it's funny, because I got a lot of criticism about that. And my response was always, well, I don't care what it is that, you know, that's, that's a matter for judges to decide or juries to decide. I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna worry about that. But I can tell you that showing this to audiences, what it looks like in practice, that not only Americans, but a lot of people all over the world thought this was crazy, and they really didn't like it. And they and it scared them. And I think we can see that with, you know, lawsuits like the Missouri v. Biden lawsuit now, where a judge is ordered at all to stop. You know, this, it's a big issue in America, and around the world, frankly, because you really can't have, you know, a free culture without free speech. And this is a very organized assault on the entire concept. And I think we need to have a big debate about how we're going to go forward on the internet, and not do it in secret the way they were trying to do it. Yeah, yeah. Well, it looks to it looked to me, you know, watching that from the outside that I found the documentation revelatory and the exposure of what I think of as fascist collusion at the highest levels of government and media, appalling beyond the belief, especially when allied with the fact that it was really put in the hands of a very tiny number of extremely radical people at Twitter who are making these wide scale decisions with absolutely no right whatsoever, or training or competence, or moral guidance to be doing so. And so I thought you guys did a great service. And I thought it was a good bang off beginning to Elon Musk's revolutionary takeover of Twitter. And, you know, he reinstated me pretty quickly after he purchased the company, and I was happy about that because, well, happy and unhappy, because then I was back on Twitter, and you know, it's a snake pit, but, but an attractive one. So anyways, I certainly found that it was useful. And the fact that you are exposing this high level collusion designed to take out free speech in a manner that was extraordinarily dangerous, obviously, you know, the way we communicated about everything during the pandemic lockdown, which was an outbreak of authoritarianism far greater than the Dean with a far greater danger than any danger posed by the bloody virus. I think the fact that that that all came to light was absolutely necessary. So, well, so thank you for that, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad to hear it. Also for coming up to Canada, you know, delivering a good trouncing to the... Yeah, yeah, yeah. Any excuse to come to Toronto, I know that's one of my favorite cities in the world. So my wife... Yeah, well, we're gonna we're gonna do something about that real soon now that we've elected a very far left mayor. So I'm going to continue talking to Matt on the Daily Wire plus side of these interviews. He said something interesting to me during the YouTube conversation that I want to follow up on. He said that as a kid, he was very introverted. And he's obviously dealt with that problem to a large degree. And I'd like to delve into exactly how and why that transformation occurred. And to track the development of Matt's interest in his career, which are obviously multi dimensional across the span of his life. So we're going to do that on the Daily Wire plus side. Join us there if you're inclined to. Otherwise, thank you all for watching and listening. Your attention is much appreciated. And to the film crew here in Northern Ontario, to the Daily Wire plus people for facilitating these conversations, and professionalizing them on the production side. And to Matt, thank you all very much for talking to me today. I appreciate everything you said. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. I'm glad to finally meet you.