Matt Taibbi | The News Media and Manufacturing Consent in the 21st Century
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Matt Taibbi | The News Media and Manufacturing Consent in the 21st Century

Today’s episode of Hidden Forces is made possible
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Podcast app, remember you can give us a review. Each review helps more people find the show
and join our amazing community. With that, please enjoy this week’s episode. What’s up, everybody? I am very excited to share this week’s episode
with all of you. My guest, Matt Taibbi, truly needs no introduction. He is someone whose work I’ve long admired
and whose polemical but also highly illustrative and expository commentary has had an important
influence on my own development as a writer. His contribution to the public debate during
the 2008 financial crisis cannot be understated. He served as an interpreter for what was,
in his own words, “a crime story that most people mistakenly thought of as an economic
story.” His attacks on those he identified as being
chiefly responsible for the crisis were relentless. In a media environment tenanted and owned
by government apologists and banking sychophants, they were noticeably ruthless and unforgiving. In an article he penned in the spring of 2010
titled “The Great American Bubble Machine,” Taibbi referred to the invest bank Goldman
Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming
its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. Fortunately for Goldman, Matt has since turned
his attention towards the media itself, embarking on an ambitious project to update Edward Herman
and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent for the 21st century, as a serialized book that
he’s been releasing through Sub-stack. The majority of this conversation deals with
the subject of that book, which is a sort of operational manual for those looking to
understand how journalists and the media shape social reality. When Manufacturing Consent was first published
in 1988, the media landscape was still largely dominated by print and broadcast television. We’ve gone through two major technological
disruptions since, first with cable and now with the internet. I wanted to use this opportunity with Matt
to discuss how these changes have altered the traditional pathways through which governments
and big business try to shape and control public opinion. Finally, for those of you who are subscribers
to our overtime segments, Matt and I discuss the circus that is the media’s political coverage,
including some amazing stories from his time on the 2016 campaign trail, as well as a scathing
critique of his old buddies at Goldman, who are back in the news over their role in a
scheme to defraud the Malaysian government and its citizens of billions of dollars through
the use of a state-owned investment fund known as 1MDB. If you want access to that conversation, as
well as a transcript of the full episode along with this week’s 14-page rundown, which includes
an updated outline of the propaganda model and a timeline of important events in the
evolution of the news business, with charts and links to material reference during my
two-hour long recording with Matt, head over to or subscribe directly through
our Patreon page at With that, let’s get right into my conversation
with Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi, welcome to Hidden Forces. Thank you for having me on. I’ve wanted to have you on my program for
a very long time. The podcast has only been around for two years,
but I used to have a television show, and I had desperately wanted you on back then. Really? I’m sure I had reached out to you. But, as I said, this was a period where you
were a financial rock star. You were writing the most vicious, cutting-edge
critiques, particularly of Goldman. You had the famous vampire squid. Vampire squid. Yeah, that’s going to be on my gravestone,
unfortunately. Unfortunately? I will get into this a little bit later because
I want to start with your book, Hate, INC., and the propaganda model and Manufacturing
Consent, Herman and Chomsky, etc. But…what was that like? It was very strange. It was totally accidental. I was covering the presidential campaign in
’08. I was on the road with Obama, and McCain,
too, to a lesser degree. As the campaign was winding up, or winding
down, my editors assigned me a story about the causes of AIG’s collapse. They basically wanted me to do one hit on
what happened in the crisis. The idea was basically to do a story that
stoned college kids could understand about what caused the financial crisis. We’re talking about, like, October here, before
the election? Yeah, it was just before the election. When McCain had already gone to Washington
in a panic. Yeah, exactly, because I already had this
really weird experience of being at the Republican Convention in the middle of AIG’s collapse. I think it was AIG. No, it was Lehman’s collapse. Lehman’s collapse. And nobody in the press core knew anything
about what had caused it. I was polling everybody in the room, like,
“Does anybody have a clue about what any of this stuff is?” None of the political reporters knew. No. We’re talking about the cream of the political
crop. These are the top reporters in the country. Not one person could write a sentence that
was coherent about what had happened. Fascinating. I was interested in that. Because I didn’t want to be ignorant in writing
about the crash while I was covering the campaign, I started calling people up before I got assigned
that stuff. Then after the election, basically, they put
me on that story. I did one story about it, and what we found
out is that nobody had ever tried to translate how Wall Street works for ordinary audiences. There isn’t a book like that. I mean Liar’s Poker is a good book for people. Michael Lewis. By Michael Lewis. But on an ordinary day-to-day basis, the financial
crisis is for people in the business. We got such a response from it that I ended
up on that beat for eight years after that. AIG was an interesting one because Lehman
was popularized, AIG just died, like literally just died and they just resurrected it as
a dead body. A carcass that they just used to funnel money
basically out on the insurance contracts and make sense of the mess that primarily Joe
Cassano’s unit created over at AIG FP, right? Yeah. It’s like three people in London basically
destroyed the universe. And he got all those bonuses paid out because
he was integral to figure out what happened. Right. He didn’t have to repay anything. He’s still living in this massive townhouse. He made something like $200 million over the
course of … He was selling credit default swaps to everybody on the street and was basically
Wall Street’s bookie at that time. Everybody was buying swaps against subprime
mortgage deals. AIG basically, their senior leadership, they’re
all insurance people, they’re not financial people. They didn’t really understand a lot of the
derivative products that Cassano was making. When all these other companies started asking
for collateral calls like Goldman, they didn’t understand what’s going on. The senior leadership didn’t understand that
they owed all this money, and so AIG went into collapse. The whole purpose of the AIG bailout was to
bailout their customers and counterparties. That was all really interesting. That took me forever to figure it out. But what was so fascinating about it is that
just no one has really ever done that kind of work before, and it was a bizarre experience. I feel like one of the challenges … And
then we’ll get into it later because, like I said, I want to start off with your book. But I feel like one of the challenges would
also be, and this just struck me now, it’s hard to know what to write this as. Is it a comedy or is it a tragedy? It feels like it’s just in limbo between those
two in this Neverland. Yeah. Well, the whole question of approach was so
central to that story because I was really, really struggling in the beginning because
I didn’t particularly know a whole lot about economics. I didn’t study it in college. That helped you. Yeah, it did actually ended up helping because
I think there’s a point of view issue with this story that comes into play for a lot
of reporters. Finally, I ended up talking to a guy who used
to work for Credit Suisse. He sat me down and he said, “Your problem
is you’re trying to understand this isn’t an economic story, it’s a crime story. When you get that it’s a crime story, it’ll
make more sense to you.” That actually turns out to be the case because
what you find out is that most of this was about they were making a lot of easy money
basically selling really bad mortgages to institutional customers that didn’t know what
they were buying. That’s really all it was. Once you got through that, it was really like
a black comedy basically, and just a whole bunch of shysters who … And they’re entertainingly
loathsome people, too. That was another aspect to the story. Yeah. We’ll get into it because I also want to maybe
bring that up-to-date a little bit also. Sure. But speaking of bringing up-to-date, what
you have done with your book, Hate, INC., which you’ll have to describe to me and to
our audience exactly what genre this falls into, because you’re writing it in real time
and you’re releasing chapter-by-chapter. I’ve read what will end up being what percentage
of the book? Probably 90%. Okay. I’m pretty close. The book is, as I understand it, an update
to Manufacturing Consent, which is a book written by Herman and Chomsky back in 1988. Most people think of it as Chomsky’s book. Right. It was actually Herman’s idea. Herman. That’s the thing I did not realize until you
interviewed Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky, of course, is the famous linguist
from MIT, also a very prolific writer and a prolific thinker. You have this amazing quote in your … I
don’t know if I’ve got it here somewhere. Oh, here it is. I’ve got to say this. This felt so much like Noam Chomsky. You wrote that, “He has a deadpan, dry sense
of humor. If you asked him to sum up all of human history,
and now that I think about it, I should have done this, he would probably say something
like, ‘Unsurprisingly horrible.'” That is him Yeah, he’s very concise and he does have a
sense of humor. He’s often mistaken for being somebody who’s
completely humorless, but actually, like a lot of people who put on that front, I’ll
put Bill Belichick in this category, too- That’s right. … like there’s just enough there that if
you are paying attention, he’s actually quite funny. He’s dry, he’s monotone, but there is this
sort of unrelenting honesty. Yeah, with a tinge of absurdity, too. Yeah. But that brings us back to this problem of
how do you write about this in-between tragedy and comedy, what is it? So much of what he writes about deals with
that. Yeah, this is an update to Manufactured Consent,
which you read when you were in college or shortly out of college you said. I was in college. I was probably 18 or 19, right when the book
came out. Right before. So ’88, ’89. Right before the Berlin Wall fell and after
which you went to- Russia. To Russia, which is very interesting. Maybe we can talk about that as well. I read the second version, the updated edition,
when I was I think in my last year in college. I also found it profound for many of the reasons
that you laid out. I would love for you to maybe start. Why did you want to write this sort of a book
that’s an update of Manufactured Consent? What did you feel needed to be updated? Well, first of all, I should back up. The media is so central to my life. My father’s a reporter. I grew up in a family of reporters. Everybody I knew growing up was in the press. I’d been very sensitive over the years to
how the business has evolved and changed. One of the reasons that Manufacturing Consent
was such a big deal for me was that it completely changed how I looked at something that I actually
hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to my whole life. I mean I went to work with my father from
the time I was four years old. You were inside of television broadcast studios
and news studios in the early ’70s. Yeah. Oh, yeah. My childhood, I say this in the book, was
a lot like the movie Anchorman. My dad was one of those guys. He had big mutton chops and he was on TV. But Manufacturing Consent is a really eye-opening
book about how we don’t have direct censorship in America. There’s no political commissar who comes in
and red-pencils your copy when you submit it, but there is propaganda, and it’s almost
all unconscious and it’s bureaucratic. What it does is you’re artificially narrowing
the polls of opinion by carefully monitoring who gets promoted and what kind of material
gets on air and does not. As a result, people only see a range of opinion
on the big broadcast networks and in the newspapers. That was really eye-opening to me. Because I watch reporters work, I know that
they’re, for the most part, very honest and diligent and they really care about their
jobs. The issue is which reporters get the most
space, who’s getting assigned to cover what, how big the headline is for X story versus
Y story. All of those editorial decisions are the ones
that are important, and I just had never paid attention to that before. It was fascinating and that’s why I wanted
to revisit it because, among other things, the business has changed so much since they
wrote that book, mainly because of the internet but because of some other things as well. He had five filters to his propaganda model,
I believe, if I remember correctly. I look back at them, some of those don’t seem
to have materially changed. Right, right. Some of them have. But the media is still private. That was one of the filters, that the size
and ownership and the fact that it’s private. Yeah, exactly. If anything, those forces have become, I think- More concentrated. … more concentrated and also there’s no
longer a taboo in the United States around media news as a source of profit-making, as
there used to be perhaps. Absolutely. That is a big change. That’s a huge change. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to
write the book actually, because when he wrote Manufacturing Consent, the profit motive was
far more concealed than in the background of big media. There was actually a taboo in the business
about even interacting with salespeople. You hear all these stories about the New Yorker,
for instance, down the street. There was a legendary tale that almost every
reporter’s heard that if you were in the sales force, you weren’t even allowed on the editorial
floor. I can confirm that. You never saw advertising people in the ’70s
and ’80s. But then suddenly, with the advent of the
24-hour news cycle and Fox and all these channels, suddenly it became a thing that was totally
normal to trying to make money with news. That radically changed everything about reporting
because, in the old days, the idea was we told the truth in so far as we understood
it, and it was okay if we lost money, because the whole idea behind the original Telecommunications
Act or the Communications Act of 1934 was that you lease the public airwaves in exchange
for providing a public service. That’s all out the window now. That’s another big change. CNN was founded, I think, in 1980, correct? Right, yeah. But the doors didn’t really fling open until
the late ’80s, pretty much after Noam Chomsky wrote his book. Right, yeah. Exactly. A lot of that had to do also with some of
the deregulation that happened in the telecommunications industry. Yeah, there was deregulatory act in 1996,
too, that Clinton passed that massively opened the doors for companies to buy each other
up. We went from having 35 major media companies
in the country to six or something like that. But the CNN innovation was really important
because what they originally did was basically one broadcast that they repeated 24 times
or they repeated 12 times. It wasn’t traditionally what we would think
of as 24-hour news cycle today. What they ended up doing is they ended up
realizing that we can make a lot more money if we emphasize the immediacy of what we’re
doing, like if we change things constantly. The best way to do that, they obviously had
to radically change what kind of material they covered because you can’t have enough
people to script 24 hours of content every day. They started looking for stories that had
visual elements or breaking element, so like baby down a well, the cursed disaster or something
like- Does babies even fall down wells anymore? I don’t know. That used to be a thing. That used to be a thing all the time, you
know, one-day massacres. Now it’s a dog because we care more about
animals than humans now. Right, exactly. Beached whale, are we going to get it back
in the water before it dies, that kind of thing. Those were all great news stories. Then they figured out that all of that stuff
cost money still. You still had to send a crew out. Even if you’re renting it from AP TV or something
like that, it still has production value. The production overhead was tremendous back
then. It’s much less today. It’s expensive for legacy companies, but if
we’re just strictly talking about the production cost of doing competitive type media today,
they’ve dropped tremendously. Oh, yeah, to the floor. You’re not hiring union labor to do it all
the time and all the technology, obviously, has made it considerably easier than it used
to be. You used to have to have a satellite truck
everywhere you went. Now the internet’s everywhere. It’s all different. But they figured out that if you don’t have
an action story that you can put on air, the next best thing is just to have two idiots
on TV arguing with each other, and arguing is a form of action. That became really the template for a lot
of modern media, was this Crossfire thing. It was Crossfire that started that. When did Crossfire begin? In the mid-’80s. It was probably CNN’s answer to a PBS show,
The McLaughlin Group. Which is still on PBS, isn’t it? Yeah. Pat Buchanan is on that. Yeah, exactly. I’ve seen him on it. Wow! I’ve seen him on it. He’s still around. He’s like a living fossil or something like
that. He’s still around. He’s still around. Yeah, yeah. Crossfire was the original template, and it
was such a successful show because it allowed TV basically to cover the news like sports. It was one side and another side. We’re going to declare a winner at the end
and you’re going to root for your side. You can never ever have the two people come
to an accommodation. They’re always fighting. Until next time, when we start fighting again. We trained the audience to think of politics
in that way. That became, I think, a lot of the template
for what’s going on now where it’s so tribal in the way we cover politics. That was another thing I wanted to get at. Yeah. That’s interesting. This concept of framing, that it’s binary. I think you called it Boolean politics. Right, yeah. Exactly. It’s binary, there are two sides, and it’s
not a conversation, it’s an argument. That’s important because you’re coming in
as the audience and you’re primed, you’re expecting something, and they simply deliver
it for you time and time again. I mean Crossfire was a very particular type
of show, but CNN as a brand still carried that spirit of objectivity. It’s not like it is today, but it was very
much indistinguishable in terms of its objectivity from the networks at the time, right? Right, or even the language that you would
read on the front page of the New York Times or the Boston Globe. The emotional attitude of it was distant,
flat. They had the news voice. The news voice. There was this lobotomized, emotional slant
when you’re delivering the information. The idea there … And this is a commercial
strategy. It had nothing to do with ethics. The whole idea was over decades, they had
discovered that the best way to get the widest possible audience was to not have a lot of
inflection when you’re delivering stories. You didn’t tip off the audience how you felt
about things. That was important. Because you couldn’t segment the distribution. Exactly. It was a broadcast system. You were catching everyone’s … The best
way to maximize your viewership was to appeal to as many people as possible. Exactly, exactly. You never could tip your hand. You try to stay right down the middle of the
road when you chose stories. This was formalized, of course, through things
like the fairness standard, where you would literally quote one side and then the other,
or you would do one story that maybe lean conservative and another story that would
lean liberal. They tried constantly to fill the newscast,
especially at the local level, with nonpolitical stories, so lots of cats and trees, lot of
weather. There was a moment in the history of media
where everybody used to joke in the local affiliates that the highest paid reporter
in every city was a helicopter because that’s what everybody was spending money on. You would have seven minutes of weather on
a 23-minute broadcast. Nowadays, you would never do that. Now it’s all like this full, this politically
charged rhetorical discourse. They do that intentionally because we’re geeking
up the audience with emotion, and we want them to stay that way until they tune in the
next time, which could be in 10 minutes, too. People are watching all day long. It’s a major departure from what it used to
be. We used to tell audiences to calm down and
not worry. Then with the advent of Crossfire, we started
this journey towards winding people up for money. That’s where the business started to head. What’s interesting, when I’ve looked back
and thought about this … Because I have also on my own. I’ve spent some time over the years just thinking
about it, naturally, being in this business also. The way I see it, CNN’s innovation was … I
mean they were all, of course, innovations that were made possible because of technological
changes and regulatory changes. Cable was what they piggy-backed off of. But as you said, CNN, also there was volume. They started off, okay, it was one show, but
they repeated it. The point is they gave you more. What I think the next innovation was, it was
the same technology with cable, but what Fox did was they gave you something different. They changed the editorial. That was the great insight of Roger Ailes. By the way, you mentioned 1996, what was it? The Telecommunications Act of 1996. That was two years after the Republican Revolution
in Congress with Gingrich. Yeah, the contract of America and all that. It was the same year that Roger Ailes got
hired by Rupert Murdoch to go to Fox and to build Fox News Channel. All this is happening right at the same time. Yeah. That’s a fascinating theory because if you
look back at Fox broadcast from that time, it’s almost like the larval form of Fox. You can see the look, but they didn’t quite
have the take yet. I talked to some people who worked at Fox
stations, the reporters. The women there had to put shoulder pads in
their blouses. They had these huge chandelier earrings and
a blown out hair and all that stuff. It looked trashy, but they didn’t have the
political slant yet. Ailes, when he first came on, he vaguely had
this idea that he wanted to dumb down the whole thing. But they didn’t go for the outright demographic
stroking until later. Before you continue, tell our audience, for
those who don’t know, tell them a little bit about who Roger Ailes is, because most people
have no clue what his background was. They don’t understand his background, both
in television as well as his background in politics as a political operative. Yeah. He worked for the Mike Douglas Show. Mike Douglas Show. But he had a background also as a political
speech writer. He helped Nixon. He met Nixon on the Mike Douglas Show. Yeah, exactly. Then later coached him through, I think, the
’68 convention. Convention. Yeah, yeah, exactly. He was one of the first people who really
understood that politics in the television is going to be dramatically different than
it had been before. The image was going to be more important than
the “ground game” and all that. He was in-tune with the audience the same
way that Nixon was in-tune with what they identified as the silent majority. They realized that, the way that Joe McGinnis,
the writer, described it, was Nixon was the president of every place that didn’t have
a bookstore. Roger Ailes understood that audience. He understood all those towns between big
cities that had a chip on their shoulder about something. He wanted to create a product for those people. He even talked about it when he came onto
Fox, that, “My audience is 55 to dead.” 55 to dead. Yeah. “We’re going to create a product for them.” It was pretty clear what they ended up doing. They didn’t really take off until the Monica
Lewinsky scandal. And the 9/11 attacks. And the 9/11 attack. But the Lewinsky thing was really key for
them because the other networks were also trying to make a reality show out of that
drama, but Fox was the first network to take sides. If you look back, it’s interesting. MSNBC made the initial major editorial decision
to blow maybe out of proportion a story that essentially … Well, at the time it was a
non-story. I think if you’re looking back, probably there
was more to it that they ignored. In the context of today’s conversation around
Me Too- Yeah, the Me Too. … and sexual assault and things like this. But Fox went farther. Fox decided that we’re going to make our buck-making
characters out of Clinton and out of both of the Clintons. They especially loved Hillary. They loved stories about her. They constantly ran the tape of her talking
about how she wouldn’t bake cookies and everything like that, because they knew that that would
tweak out audiences. That was brilliant. What’s interesting is I had read … And you
mentioned the neoconservativism in your book. I had read a book, I don’t remember what it
was that got me down the path of wanting to uncover the history of the neoconservative
movement. A few ideologies, ideological movements, think
tanks, I don’t even know what you would call neoconservativism, but have had a greater
impact on American society in a very short period of time in a key way, of course with
the Iraq War and its policy foreign policy. I always assumed that neoconservativism was
really focused on foreign policy. But when I studied it, I realized that Irving
Kristol and his acolytes or his compadres, or whatever you would call them, that they
were actually issue-driven, values-driven former Democrats. They moved over to the Republican Party because
of McGovern. They felt the party had gone ape shit under
McGovern. They moved it into the Democratic Party. Initially, it was a values-driven thing and
was part of this values-driven movement. Then, of course, gets us into talk radio and
how that also intersected with Fox. It was part of this giant wave, right? Yeah. There were tapping into a lot of things. There were things going on in the country
that there was a kind of Democrat who had supported John F. Kennedy and had been highly
aggressive on the foreign policy stage. Kennedy was really into throwing their power
internationally. The Vietnam War changed a lot of that. People came back and they had some very different
ideas about how America would behave. For the first time, we had public hearings
about the behavior of the intelligence community. That had never happened before. They had the Church-Pike hearings in the ’70s. These neocons were basically disappointed
Democrats who crossed the line and hopped on board with the Reagan Revolution, which
had really started with Goldwater in ’64. They became this very powerful force in media
later on, because the problem that they had was that they weren’t a very numerous political
group. They were upper class Democrats who had a
conservative vision and aggressive foreign policy vision. But they had to somehow have a union with
people in flyover country, America. That was Fox did. It delivered that gigantic audience into the
hands of this new political movement. They recruited people into their movement
like Dick Cheney and like Donald Rumsfeld, who were Republicans. Right. Well, they’re coming back now. That’s what so interesting, is all these neocon
voices who … They were on top of the world in 2003, like David Frum, Bill Kristol, Irving’s
son. Bill Kristol, of course. Who’s the other one I’m thinking of? Richard Perle. Richard Perle. I mean- Douglas Feith. Feith. Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz. Yeah, exactly. But a lot of those people are now reappearing. You’ll see them showing up in think tanks
like the Atlantic Council. Because of Trump, the merger now is in the
other direction. They’re merging now with mainstream Democrats. They’re going to be back in seats of power
again pretty soon, which is interesting. Well, the Democrats have become very comfortable
with war. They were uncomfortable with it during the
Bush years, but it seems again like it only takes a matter of time for people to forget
or to change their views. I do want to talk to you about foreign policy
at some point, because it’s an interesting … It brings us back to something we haven’t
talked about yet, but I want to talk about, which is worthy versus unworthy victims in
foreign policy. Noam Chomsky famously discussed that in the
context of … Well, one of the examples was Cambodia and East Timor. It’s a great example. But before we get to that, I want to go back
to the propaganda model, because we were talking about concentration and private ownership. One of the other filters that Chomsky wrote
about was advertising. I thought about that one a bit and I said,
“Well, it still is. Of course, we have advertising.” But there is a distinction. It used to be that the papers, the press used
to be much more vertically integrated. The content creators were also the distributors,
were also the auctioneers of the ad space, classifieds and everything else. That’s been broken apart. The seated authority over the platform is
like Facebook and Google. How has that changed that filter? Have you thought about that at all? I have. This is an area where I disagree a little
bit with Chomsky. We had a little discussion about this because
it’s exactly as you say. Back in the day, especially newspapers, had
their own distribution systems. They had built them up over years. They had their own trucks, they had their
own paper kids, they had their own distribution points. That was where their power came from. If you wanted to put an ad out and try to
get an employee and you wanted to reach everybody within a certain metropolitan area, really
the only best bet was the local newspaper. You couldn’t put that kind of want ad on a
television show. There wasn’t enough ad time for that kind
of thing. The only people who could get that product
in everybody’s hands was somebody who had that kind of distribution network. When the internet came along, suddenly you’ve
divorced distribution from content-making because the distribution is the phone line
or whatever it is, a cable line now. It’s digitized. It’s digitized. The distributor, in 75% of cases now, is a
social media platform. Those people are swallowing up all the ad
dollars. There’s this huge disconnect between how much
power media companies had back in the day versus how much they have now. Now they are really a step removed from the
direct power over content. The social media platforms, internet platforms
are really the primary powers on the scene at this point. You talked a little bit about manufacturing
hate, but I think this is an interesting thing to observe, which is that when the content
creators who are creating the content, which is then being distributed out and which contains
the advertisements for the corporations, which are the clients of the papers, when you break
those apart, I think that is a contributor toward this feeding of the hate and the outrage
cycle, because the auction is separated. The large corporations, let’s say, which want
social order are not in the same level of position to shape that order. No, they’re not. They have far less of a say about what the
content is going to be. There are two things going on. Number one, they don’t even advertise with
the media companies anymore, and that’s just not the way it works for the most part. If you’re a big advertiser, you’re not going
to go to, let’s say, Rolling Stone magazine. You’re much more likely to go to Facebook
or Google or something. Or if you go to New York Times or something,
it’s for native advertising. Exactly, yeah. It has to be very specified, because the platforms
have so much more intelligence and are so much more efficient in terms of being able
to get the eyeballs that you want. They have all that intelligence. You’re bypassing completely almost the content
creators. You don’t even bother to influence them. The only area where the content creator comes
into play is that the internet platform has to have something to sell that you can stick
the ad on top of. Indirectly, you care a little bit about what
that content is, but what the platforms will tell you is, “We’re going to attach this to
whatever turns on that target demographic that you want to sell to.” If you’re a car company, you’re looking for
18 to 36-year-old males, white males in the Midwest, this is the content you want. Nine times out of 10, it turns out to be some
kind of very politically charged content. That’s the easiest way to get that audience. I’m going through these … These are the
five filters that you didn’t really talk about much in your book, and I want to get them
out of the way. The third one was the sourcing of mass media
news. That was another one that Chomsky had. I thought that was interesting, too, when
I thought about it, because I think Huffington Post, and the brethren of Huff Po, have mitigated
the importance of this, I think, in the sense that it’s not possible to actually make money,
again, to the point … I mean Facebook has optimized this. But you don’t need to create your own content. You can basically steal someone else’s content,
put some crazy headline on it. Now it’s clickbait. You don’t need to actually do original reporting. If you don’t need to do original reporting,
it also, by impact, decreases the need for sourcing, which is this thing … In Chomsky’s
point about sourcing, is that this corporations like CNN cultivate relationships with the
CIA and foreign members of the military, et cetera, and that shapes their reporting. Yeah. That’s, I think, exactly the thing you’re
talking about right now. It’s part of why there’s been such an enormous
amount of debate on the Hill in the last couple of years about fake news, because what’s really
going on is the intelligence agencies are very frustrated at their lack of control- Over the narrative. Over the narrative. They’ve lost the ability to basically get
people to … They haven’t lost it. They’re still doing quite well at it actually,
but it’s just not as easy as it used to be. They don’t have that direct lever that they
used to have. In the old days, you had three networks and
you had a couple of newspaper chains. There were only a few truly influential voices
that you had to worry about. If you wanted to tell people that, yeah, we
were the good guys in Vietnam and we went in there because we were going to save the
Democratically elected leader, who, of course, we installed, there was only a handful of
people that you had to really worry about. Now, with the advent of the internet and people
who had instantaneous audiences like Matt Drudge, it’s just out of their control in
a way that is new. They’re trying to reassert control right now. They had the faith of the people, too, which
they’ve lost in the spades. Oh, totally, yeah. Understandably. Completely. Understandably. Understandably. Deservedly. Deservedly, in particular after the Iraq War. Yeah. The Iraq War and the 2008 crisis. The bailout, the way that the Bush administration,
in particular with Paulson and then also Bernanke and Geithner. Just the way that they hijacked the printing
presses and the government account to bail themselves out and enrich themselves without
serious consequence. I think we’re living with the aftermath of
that today. Oh, of course. That’s the thing that’s so frustrating. Having covered the 2016 election, you can
see that people out there were furious and they had some real legitimate reasons to be
upset. They had legitimate reasons to be distrustful
of the media. I was in those crowds when Donald Trump was
turning the crowds against us and saying, “Look at those blood suckers,” et cetera,
et cetera. That was scary. It wasn’t pleasant for the press, but we deserved
it. There was a part of me that was like this
is karma. We suck. But that’s not understood very well. It’s kind of sadomasochism on the trail. Yeah. I do want to get into that because you’ve
been covering campaigns since when? Howard Dean? You’ve been embedded in campaign and- Yeah. This is going to be my fifth. Yeah. You have many interesting stories of that. I just wanted to get through this for those
who haven’t read the book. It’s a lot of work to do this, but I think
it’s worthwhile. We talked about the first three. There was the private, the ownership model,
the business model, which is the ad model, and then the sourcing, which is in order to
get the information, you need to have the relationships with people. Who are those people? They are the people in the government. These things are the things that filter through
the information. The last two are very interesting, these are
the ones you focus on, which are flak and organizing religion. Talk to me about these filters and how these
have changed and how they relate in the 21st century. One has massively accelerated, one has massively
decelerated, I would say. Flak is this idea that Chomsky came up with,
which is when a news organization or a reporter gets out of line when they say something that’s
politically unorthodox, like Walter Cronkite coming back from Vietnam and saying we’re
going to lose. Suddenly the network gets flooded with letters. Back then, it came usually from think tanks
like Freedom House. They would organize basically primitive astroturfing
campaigns to let people know that they were displeased with the coverage. This acted as a policing mechanism against
certain kinds of reporters. What ended up happening was news directors
and editors learned to self-censor ahead of time. You can guess what kind of content is going
to get you in trouble and is going to get those letters coming. They just started to avoid assigning that
kind of reporter that kind of story. Flak was important back then. But now it’s a thousand-fold. Amplified. It’s been amplified. It’s been amplified massively by social media,
because now I mean you don’t have to wait for somebody to actually write a letter or
have a meeting about it. It comes at you in 50,000 tweets in a second
if you put out something that they don’t like. It’s also logarithmic. You don’t know how bad it’s going to get. It can get really bad, out of control. You could lose your job. Oh, yeah. Your career could be over in 10 seconds. It’s frightening. It’s very frightening to be in the business
right now, especially because reporters, for the most part, in the old days, you don’t
really know what reporters thought in their private lives. You didn’t care. They did their little bit, two minutes a day,
and then they went home. Now they all have social media presences and
they have- A lot of them have opinions and they feel
like they want to share them or they need to share them. I obviously do it. A lot of people voluntarily did that. Now their bosses are telling them that it’s
mandatory basically, like you have to go on Snapchat and Instagram, Twitter. When I first went on the campaign trail in
2004, a typical reporter was maybe doing one hit a day, or two. If you wrote for a newspaper, maybe you were
writing one story. If you work for a cable news network, you
were doing a story that would be produced and repeated. Now they’re probably doing 15 to 30 pieces
of content a day. They’re doing vlogs, blogs, tweets. You’re more likely to make a mistake when
that happens. Oh, yeah. Also, everybody knows who you are now. Your personality comes into play in this massive
way, and it reflects upon the organization. Everybody’s terrified because if you say one
wrong thing, suddenly you can be in the middle of this maelstrom of horribleness that can
form in a second. That sort of huge amount of impact in the
business. Then what you end up seeing is that people
flock to teams. They get into crowds where the safest content
is saying, “Those people over there are bad,” and you maybe have another group on the other
side that is saying the same thing about you. But the most dangerous places to be- Not have a team. Not have a team. Not be aligned. Not be aligned. You’re one of the unaligned countries they
try to call to war. Exactly, exactly. You made a mess of both houses, a pox on both
houses. It’s interesting when you say that they’re
encouraged to. That reminded me of the case of Liz Spayd
at the New York Times where she actually went on Tucker Carlson, which was probably a bad
idea even though her intentions were good. He really went after her and he went after
the New York Times. I found her to be very likable and reasonable,
very much so. She expressed, I think, a reasonable disapproval
towards reporters who are reporters, who are not opinion writers at the New York Times,
who express strong opinions on Twitter. Her view was that they probably should not
be doing that. This conversation was after the Trump election. Tucker Carlson was also pointing out that
the headline- The headline was amazing. What was it? It was something like- How are they going to cope with this election
or something like that? It was something like Democrats, foreign leaders,
and students prepare for Trump presidency. It was something like that. I obviously exposed the bias that the editors
had around the significance of what that election meant. Well, what they were really doing is signaling,
“Here’s who are audience is.” Yeah, exactly. Which is not a crime necessarily, but- A problem, though, if you’re a national newspaper
like the New York Times. Of course. Of course, because you’re signaling to a whole
bunch of other people that we’re not for you, which is exactly the opposite of what papers
like the Times used to do. That was her point. Her point was … And it was probably only
two years before that, that it would have been extremely unorthodox for the Times to
do something like that and for reporters to so openly take a stance. She was basically saying, well, this is a
radical change in the business. We should think about what we’re doing. I don’t know if it’s a good idea as the ombudsman. She was the public editor. She was the public editor of the New York
Times, yeah. But she was drummed out of the business for
saying that. For basically looking like she had jumped
ship, which is horrible, horrible that that … It’s so tribal and so primitive. It’s very primitive. It’s like something you would expect from
a chimpanzee troop. In one sense, I can understand that that doesn’t
concern you. You’ve never been aligned in that way. I’ve said to you that you- Well, no. I mean it’s dangerous for me. I mean- Well, this is what I wanted to ask you. I do have a question, because your writing
style is very combatative. You take no prisoners. Does that not concern you today, the way that
you write? Does that not worry you? Yeah. I mean my life is not simple now because I
always made it a point to go after both sides. I would consciously try to pick stories that
were institutional in nature, bipartisan. I figured most of the overlooked problems
would be- A strong populist. There was always a strong populist undertone
to your writing. Yeah. I mean I think the press, when we’re doing
our jobs best, we probably are trying to represent people who have less power. The press counteracts the power that’s institutional. Punching up. Punching up. Punching up, right. You want to look at things from the point
of view of ordinary people. But now there’s a very, very strong pressure
out there to jump on board with narratives. Whereas not that long ago, it was considered
a virtue for a reporter … Like right after Obama got elected, I did a story about how
Barack Obama had chosen- Wall Streeters. … Wall Streeters mostly from Citi Group
to run his economic policy. I was very critical of Barack Obama even though
I had voted for Barack Obama. But at the time, people were like, “Well,
that’s really salutary,” like that’s what a reporter should be doing. If you do something like that now, there are
people who are real and people who are not real on social media who will swarm all over
you and make your life difficult. That’s why there’s few people doing that now. How has that impacted your willingness to
do that? I definitely think about it more than I used
to. I mean I used to reflexively just go wherever
stories led. Now I do think twice about what the impact
is going to be before I write any story, because it can be extremely unpleasant. I think you have to save your bullets for
the best and most important arguments now. It’s just so much harder to reach. Do you resent the fact that you’ve had to
censor yourself like this? I mean a little bit, but I’ve had it easy
before then. I think other reporters in other countries
obviously have a much more difficult time than I do. I lived in Russia for a long time where people
were getting killed for … They actually had to take a real risk. Now I’m basically risking money, which is
not that big a deal. Another interesting point, though, there,
then we’ll get to it, that, again, I imagine that the reporters who are risking their lives
… Well, what are you talking about? Are you talking about under the Putin regime
or … I was going to make- Both, actually. Both. Well, I was going to make the point that I
imagine that those who are risking their lives during the period where the United States
is very close with Russia during the transition after the fall of the wall, those would have
been deemed unworthy victims. Exactly. By today’s standards, Khashoggi is a worthy
victim in the modern narrative. No one would say that his murder is less valuable,
but they would say that other murders are. Right. Yeah, I know. If you were to ask anybody who lived through
the ’90s and the early 2000s in Russia, they would tell you that actually probably more
journalists got killed in the ’90s than under the Putin regime. Now that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous
to be a reporter under Putin, it was. It was also more overtly political. With Putin, you were much more likely to be
killed by a gangster than by somebody associated with the government in the ’90s. But there were people who were associated
with Yeltsin who were murdering journalists left and right in the ’90s, and they didn’t
really appear in the news. That was one of the first things that I really
noticed. I mean I was young back then. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but
I thought it was very odd that here we were promoting democracy and freedom and we were
supposed to be on the side of the angels and everything, and there were reporters getting
blown up by exploding briefcases and we’re raising a fuss about it. It’s very strange. But, of course, you’d read Noam Chomsky’s
book by then, so you had some idea. I had some idea. Clearly, we were so heavily invested in Boris
Yeltsin, a Democrat, that narrative. Anything that counteracted that just didn’t
show up in the news. Well, I mean one of the most iconic images
of that period was Boris Yeltsin standing next to Bill Clinton, smiling, laughing, joking
on the White House lawn. Oh, of course. That’s was one of the iconic images if you
were to make a collage of the 1990s. That brings us to organizing religion. That’s the fifth filter that Chomsky has. It’s a powerful filter. During the Cold War, the filter was anticommunism,
right? Anticommunism, yeah. Of course, we had McCarthy, McCarthyism. Powerful examples of that in practice and
reasons to be afraid if you’re a reporter or anyone really. I think under the Bush years, it became this
antiterrorism. Antiterrorism, yeah. What is it today? Well, now there’s Russia is a foe. You don’t want to be called a Putin bot or
whatever the term. A Putin apologist or something. A Putin apologist. Yeah, exactly. A denialist. That’s bad. There’s a cousin to that, which is a fellow
traveler. I think you’ll see what happened with Tulsi
Gabbard last week. I wanted to ask you about her because she’s
catching a lot of flak, and I’m just- Flak. Yeah, exactly. She’s catching a lot of … That’s what flak
is. I mean she seems so reasonable. Well, there’s- I don’t know much about her and I haven’t
studied the candidates. I know Elizabeth Warren because she’s been
around forever, and I’ve been in finance for a long time. I’m very familiar with her. Sure. This upcoming Democratic Primary, there’s
so much at stake. There’s a tremendous amount of fear that Bernie
Sanders is going to win the nomination. Part of this is wrapped up in the idea that
some people genuinely are afraid that that’s going to result in Trump getting reelected
because Sanders will be the next McGovern, that’s the logic, or he’ll be the next Mondale. But a lot of it has to do with people who
are the political donors in this country are reading the writing on the wall, and they
are understanding that there’s this huge amount of discontent out there and that people want
different kinds of policies. They’re frustrated with wealth and equality. There’s a lot of anger directed towards billionaires. They’re trying to tamp that down as much as
possible, that kind of leveling, redistributionist kind of politics. They’re not willing to make the concessions
necessary. It brings us back to 2008. The wealth transfer during that period was
enormous. They papered it over through asset price appreciation,
but the cracks are still there and they’re getting amplified. I think the volatility that was dampened in
financial markets after 2008 and the fed intervention and the intervention of the government are
showing up in our politics, that volatility showing up at the electoral box. Absolutely. People aren’t stupid. They saw that, okay, I lost my house and 40%
of my net worth, or whatever it was after the crash, and nobody bailed me out, but these
idiots who did this- In broad daylight. In broad daylight. I did a show recently where this came to me,
and it came to me in the middle of the conversation. I remember that they had put Neel Kashkari
in charge of TARP. In TARP, yeah. A Goldman person. Goldman Sachs. Yeah, he was eight years old or something
like that. Yeah. He looks so young. Then he, like all these people, went and started
chopping wood for 10 years. He went on a farm- He grew a beard. They all grew beards. But now he’s back. He’s the fed. It’s outrageous. It’s totally insane. Yeah. They’re all totally at it. They don’t know how bad it looks either, and
that’s another thing that’s amazing to me, because if you actually talk to a lot of these
people, they’ll say, “Well, who else do you want to put in charge of this? Somebody who doesn’t understand this stuff?” Okay, we get that you understand it, but you
also massively screwed up the whole situation, and people are mad about it. They’ve lost the value in their homes, they’re
being foreclosed on. That whole thing was completely full of fraud,
the foreclosure fraud, all that, and there was no consequence. People are furious about that stuff. It continues to reverberate through Trumpism,
through other movements. I think the Sanders movement is the opposite
reflection of that. They’re determined to prevent any outbreak
of that on the Democratic side. I think Warren, Gabbard, and Sanders are going
to get a lot of heat from the traditional commercial media. Because Warren and Sanders are anti-Wall Street,
seen as anti-Wall Street, and Gabbard is antiwar heavily. Antiwar, exactly. She’s catching a lot of flak for somehow being
a Syrian apologist, as if our policies of intervening in the Middle East have actually
made the world better. No, they’ve been a disaster. Disaster. How much better would things have been if
we hadn’t invaded Iraq? It’s remarkable that the people that we’re
advocating for these policies, they’re still out there advocating today. And they have no clue how this plays out there. It’s people … They’re sending their kids
to the Middle East, and a lot of reporters … We’ve been to the Middle East, we’ve been
on these deployments, these are good kids. They’re trying to be patriotic, they’re trying
to do what they’re told. Then all of a sudden they’re put in these
terrible positions. They’ve got to shoot somebody. They don’t even know what it’s about. They’re piloting drones that are crossing
borders and they’re being told to pull the trigger on somebody because some algorithm
tells them that they have to. This stuff is damaging. That’s why you go to those neighborhoods where
a lot of veterans are returning home, and those are the places that are the reddest
of the red states right now. Also, Matt, I mean do you ever watch these
commercials that the military puts together? Oh, my God. It’s like video games. It’s like video games. Yeah. That’s amazing. They go to video game conventions. They thought about this a long time. Yeah, they target them. They target these young, in particular, testosterone-fueled
males right when they’re hopped up, “I can do anything.” Yeah, exactly. They say, “Oh, this is going to be exciting. You’re going to get to play with these cool
toys. It’s going to be just like a video game. It’s going to be an adventure. You’re going to hide behind the wall and the
bad guy’s going to be … It’s going to be like Fortnite.” Everybody thinks that’s what it is. Then they go over there and it’s completely
confusing. You have no idea why you’re there. Everybody hates you, and they have reasons
they hate you. You don’t get those until you’ve been there
for a while. I think it’s a very disillusioning experience
for a lot of the people. They come back … And, again, the people
who are in power, they just discount word-of-mouth, how that works. Our military deployments overseas are just
not popular. When people come home, they don’t sing the
praises of those adventures. No. A lot of them are damaged emotionally, if
not physically. I suppose physically not as much as they used
to be. Remember, we’re taking a lot of casualties
and a lot of people were getting injured during that period before and after the surge. Right, yeah. Exactly. Remember? Yeah. This reminded me of George Carlin, George
Carlin’s great bit about, well, first of all, we love war. Americans love war. Why? Because we’re good at it. But also he made the point about how … I
think he was speaking about Republicans, but this, I think, applies to both parties, but
it applies particularly to Republicans because the right to life advocacy is part of the
plank. He said, “Republicans, they don’t want you
to die.” I forget how he said it. He’s like, “They care about you as long as
you’re in the womb. When they get out there, they don’t give a
shit about you. When you turn 18, they want you to go to war
and die.” Right, yeah. Exactly. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. That got me thinking … This is the thought
process. It got me thinking about comedy, it got me
thinking about, again, this tension between comedy and tragedy, then it got me thinking
about something that you wrote in your book, which I wrote down here as actually the top
quote at the very top of this rundown because I thought it was interesting. This is probably a good segue and then we’ll
follow through to the rest of this rundown. You wrote: “As news reporting becomes more
politicized, more negativistic, less trustworthy, and generally more of a headache to digest,
people increasingly are going to turn to narrative as a source of information.” Before you wrote that, you made a point about
John Stewart and this revolution and comedy that happened around the Bush years, where
comedy became a vehicle for truth at a time where the news media was failing that job,
that obligation. What you’re saying now is that we’re moving
to this place where narrative becomes a source of information. I’m curious, what did you mean by that? I mean I think I was talking about that, that
people are going to get their information from movies, from Netflix series, from videos. Why do you think that is? What’s an example maybe of something where
you think people are getting their information? Is the quality of information as good because
they’re getting it from narrative? How does it compare to, let’s say, what John
Stewart did? Because I look back when John Stewart was
doing his bits, I used to think that’s brilliant, he’s communicating, or when Colbert is going
to the White House and roasting Bush, he’s communicating something important to the rest
of us, but I also wonder if something isn’t lost by using humor, or wasn’t lost by using
humor, that needed to be delivered seriously. I ask that also in the context of your point
about narrative. Well, of course, something’s lost when you- Fictionalize. And when you do comedy because there’s a limit
to how much you can inform people that way, because the driving message of all comedy
is don’t take life too seriously. Everything is absurd. Ultimately, we’re all going to die, and that
sucks and let’s laugh about it. That’s at the root of comedy. But if you’re asking somebody to take something
seriously, you can’t make a joke about it. There’s a limit to how much you [crosstalk
00:56:19]. Right, exactly. That’s true. What Steward did, I think, was incredibly
important and cool. What was so great about it is that he went
after both sides, and he’s pretty ruthless about it. I actually think he was funnier in a way about
the Democrats than he was about the Republicans. He nailed this pretension on that side. That was really interesting. But it instantly becomes not funny when it
becomes partisan. Saturday Night Live to me is totally unfunny
now. I agree. Colbert, too. I cannot watch Stephen Colbert’s late night
show because it’s completely one-sided. Jimmy Kimmel’s funny because he whacks both
sides. Yeah, exactly. Colbert, which is disappointing, because his
show- Used to be great. … used to be really funny, in that respect. But you have to have some place for people
to go where they can depend on getting the straight dope about things. Where do you go now? I don’t know. I’m a news consumer myself, and I’ve very
frustrated right now. Podcasts. Yeah, podcasts. Exactly. In all honesty, there are certain people … I
mean they’re not perfect, but I used to have a conflicted relationship with Sam Harris,
but I found him to be a valuable source of information because he brings an intellectual
honesty. He’s not perfect, but there is an intellectual
honesty to his view and an openness and a willingness to be vulnerable to someone else’s
counterargument. He’s not in a position to just attack the
other person. Yeah. Well, I mean I think there’s always value
in somebody who tells you exactly who they are and what their opinions are, because it
rings truer than somebody who pretends to have no opinion, like a traditional anchorman. They’re actually hiding biases that way. But also they have tremendous power. Tucker Carlson’s a great example. I mean Tucker Carlson brings people on his
program. His not alone. I’m just picking him as a good example. He brings them on and it’s framed. I mean he’s got so much power in that framing. He just starts berating them. It’s not a conversation, it’s a scolding. Yeah, no, it’s a performance art. That’s what Rachel Maddow will do and all
these other anchors as well, right? Absolutely, yeah. Tucker Carlson doesn’t bring people on to
win. Or to learn. He doesn’t want to learn. He doesn’t want learn. He doesn’t want to learn either. Yeah, exactly. He brings people on to deliver a message that
he wants to deliver, and he’s going to look good doing it. The only way that people should go on that
show is if they understand what they’re getting into and they know what the end result is
going to be. Bill O’Reilly was the first person to really
do that exceptionally well, right? I think Carlson is better at it than Bill
is. I mean- Tucker Carlson is more condescending than
anyone else I’ve seen. He’s condescending, he’s quick. He’s quick-witted, yeah. Bill O’Reilly is a C-plus mind. I mean I think he’s another Boston person. I grew up around people who worked with him,
and he had a shtick. He didn’t deviate from it very much. He was kind of a phony. But Bill O’Reilly was trying to sell was,
“Oh, I’m a man of the people. I’m one of these guys who hangs out in Patchogue,
Long Island. I could play pickup,” or whatever it is. He’s not. He became a rich dude who pretended not to
be one, and it didn’t go over well. Tucker Carlson doesn’t hide who he is. I think that goes over better on TV. He’s also a better writer, and that comes
across. Some of his monologues are good, but always,
for me, they spin off a little bit. I want to close off one thing before we move
on about organizing religions, because I thought about this, and it wasn’t clear to me what
was, let’s say, the organizing religion of today. But there is one that comes to my mind and
something that we’ve covered on the program … One time with Jonathan Haidt on his book,
The Coddling of the American Mind, another time, we had Robby Soave on after the events
that happened at the Lincoln Memorial with the Covington Catholic School kids and the
Native American veteran … this white oppression, this anti-white oppression as an organizing
religion. I don’t know that there is one dominant religion
like there was antiterrorism or anticommunism, but this is a very powerful one that has emerged. I want to take a quote for you because I think
it’s really interesting. I was actually tweeting about this before,
Kamala Harris tweeted it out, because I was basically thinking how does this integrate
with American foreign policy. She wrote, “Russia was able to influence our
elections because they figured out that racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and transphobia
are America’s Achilles’ heel.” By the way, transphobia was not even a thing
10 years ago. I don’t know how many people even knew it
was something that they would even be afraid of, or America’s Achilles’ heel. “These issues aren’t only civil rights, they’re
also a matter of national security. We have to deal with that.” I have a question. Given everything you know and everything you’ve
read, given what we’ve been talking about, given this thing about organizing religion,
about flak, how does that fit in? This is a very dangerous topic. I think one of the things about this new movement
with … It’s intersectionality. That’s the word everybody’s using. We’ve covered that on the show. People know what that is. Our listeners know what that is. Yeah. It’s a campus intellectual movement that probably
would not have broken out of academia in the way that it has, except that I think when
it becomes interesting is when somebody who’s already in power decides to appropriate an
ideology. I think what we’ve seen in recent years is
that since Trump came to power, you’ve seen the mainstream of the Democratic Party and
some of the Never Trumpers on the Republican side have draped themselves in some of those
themes. It doesn’t mean that they’re not legitimate,
but it’s begun to become an organizing political theme. It’s not in the same way as maybe anticommunism
was once upon a time. That encompassed all aspects of society, communism
or anticommunism, or war against communism, because there was a nation, state, and everything
else. It couldn’t possibly be that way, but it’s
got this civil war quality to it. Right. There was a huge amount of resentment, certainly
from Trump voters in 2016, that I found from people who … There was an amazing moment
in the campaign where Trump was actually plummeting in the polls. It was in August of 2016. Bannon sent him out on this tour around the
country to start talking about how he was going to be the savior of the African American
community. I remember that. It was so bizarre. That’s interesting. It was so weird. Bannon sent him out to do that, huh? Yeah. Bannon sent him out to do that. Bannon became the campaign manager. He does this. He sends Trump on this tour. I was on that tour. It was so weird. This is after he replaced Manafort? Right after he replaced Manafort? Exactly. Exactly. He starts giving these speeches, how, “Oh,
I care so much about the African American.” What that was really about was he was trying
to recapture a segment of the vote that needed psychological permission to vote for him. Initially, a lot of Republicans felt that
Trump was too racist to vote for, but they also hated being labeled as racist for being
Republicans. There were a lot of people who were torn. I feel like that made him look more racist
when he did that. It did to us, but I think to a lot of Republican
voters, they were trying to justify to themselves, they were trying to say, “Hey, I want to express
my anger over being painted a racist. Here’s somebody who really does care.” I mean it was transparently ridiculous, it
seemed, at the time, but my point is that this theme is so charged in American society
right now for people on all sides. There’s a huge amount of resentment out there
among people who feel like they’re being painted as transphobic, homophobic, racist, white
supremacist, all those things. Is it an organizing religion? It’s certainly something that people don’t
want to be on the wrong side of now. Well, most certainly not. It also fits very nicely into this worthy
versus unworthy victim system. We talked about intersectionality. Intersectionality is a hierarchy of victimhood,
which is born out of these non-linear relationships between groups that intersect. Within this narrative, there are clearly worthy
victims, there are unworthy victims, and it’s showing up everywhere. Now we’re dealing with it, of course, in Virginia. It’s the latest state where the governor was
in a picture where he says it wasn’t him now, but I don’t know if it was him or wasn’t him. Regardless, it’s on his Facebook page of either
him in black face or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. His deputy governor or lieutenant governor
is embroiled in a sexual assault scandal. The attorney general’s in it also. It’s consuming the society in all sorts of
different ways. Anyway, I think it’s an interesting one because
it shows up, and Kamala Harris had that tweet, and I thought it was also interesting. It’s something that we’ve covered. Just to get to that for a moment, I mean I
think most Americans have similar feelings about racism, sexism, all of those things. What’s dangerous is when it becomes such a
common political tactic. I mean I think right now, there’s a tendency
to say, “Well, if you’re against this politician, you’re a racist, you’re a white supremacist.” I mean that happened with the Bernie Sanders
campaign, and that was very damaging to that campaign, I think. I remember that. That whole Bernie Bro movement, everything. There’s two different things going on. There’s the real narrative of racial oppression,
which is a very powerful central part of the American story, and is unresolved, clearly. Then there’s the other thing where I think
that there are people who are using some of those words for political purposes. Of course. I think we’re dealing with two different things. I mean I wrote a whole book about the police
killing Eric Garner. It’s been a huge part of my career was writing
about police brutality and things like that. Well, the massive injustice and incarceration. Incarceration rates. The drug war. The differing outcomes in the criminal justice
system. All those things are just huge unresolved
issues. But I think that’s separate from … There’s
a rhetorical aspect to this that’s going to pop up in the 2020 presidential race that
is different from the historical narrative, which is going to be interesting. That’s so scary. The same problem happened in climate change. We talked about it. We had the head of Climate Science at NASA,
Gavin Schmidt, on the program. This was another point of the conversation,
which is when something is real and there’s a substantive part that you need a conversation
for, when it becomes politicized, it destroys everything. But to this point about … You mentioned
Bernie Sanders. What about during the 2008 Clinton-Obama campaign,
where Bill Clinton got labeled a racist for … I think it was him or it was … I think
it was him, for saying something about comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson or something like that. But the point is I mean, look, these guys
are politicians. They know how to operate, but- That was some stuff that was before the South
Carolina primary. It was intentional? Well, there were some stuff going on there
that was traditionally subtle politics. There was a thing that Hillary said about
how Martin Luther King was great, but he needed a president to get things done. Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t hear that one. She said that? It’s not racial … Is it racial politics? Well, that is kind of racist because what’s
the comparison between MLK and Obama? Zero. Well, then there’s skin color. There’s no relationship between the two. It’s a certain kind of messaging that was
going on during that campaign. I think everybody was aware of it. There was the leaking of a picture of Obama
in a dashiki. And the Jeremiah Wright stuff. That was heavily racist. The Jeremiah Wright stuff. Race played a huge part in that campaign. It was very bitter, it was very ugly, both
the Democratic primary and the general elections. And the general elections. Yes. I don’t know about Bill Clinton specifically,
but that was very politically charged. I just remember when James Carville was out
there. He was like, “That man doesn’t have a racist
bone … ” I can’t do it. Can you do his accent? I can’t. I’ve met him but, yea. I can’t. “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” “Bone,” something like that. But, of course, remember, during the Bush
years, anything that was anti-Israel was immediately anti-Semitic. That is used constantly. This is nothing new. You know what I mean? It’s used all the time. Yeah, I know. This is happening right now with the Omar
thing, the APEC issue. You know what’s interesting, though, I was
listening to a New York Times reporter, her last name is Barry, I think. I can’t remember. But she was making the point, and I didn’t
know this was happening, but somehow within this construct of worthy versus unworthy victims,
American Jews and Israelis have lost some of that power that they had in the narrative
earlier. She was making this point. She was on The Joe Rogan show, which you were
on recently. I wanted to ask you what that was like. But I think that’s interesting. Again, it fits into this point, which is there’s
a substantive reality of all things in the world. The case of Israel and Palestine, where could
you find more nuance? You’d be hard-pressed to find a world where
there’s more nuance where you need less grandstanding, because you’ve got a real problem, and it’s
not going to be solved with grandstanding. You know what I mean? I’ve actually gotten in trouble for saying
that I don’t like to talk about Israel and Palestine because I’d never covered it. I think that’s the prime example of a story
that you could only do if you’re deeply in the middle of it and committed to the long
game of looking at all sides of it, because it’s so filled with subtleties and difficulties. The problem with modern media is that in the
Twitter age, we’ve reduced a lot of things that are extremely complex to a few characters. That always reduces things to the dumbest
form in politics. It’s been a very negative thing. It’s especially dangerous when you start getting
race and nationality and patriotism and all those other things involved. Then it gets more dangerous. Well, that also brings something else that
you wrote about in Hate, INC., which is not only that everyone’s got an opinion, but you
better have one. You need to have one. There’s that quote I have from you here: “The
two most taboo lines in all media in America are “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”. Right, yeah. Exactly. It’s one of the biggest deceptions on television. A million years ago, I got invited to go on
CNN for some panel show. I think it had to do with finance I was being
asked on. This was before you went through your career
change? No, it was just after that. Just after that. It was probably ’09 or something like that. Okay. I get asked on. Then at the end of the segment, they asked
me a question about Syria or something, or some Middle Eastern thing that had just happened. I said, “Oh, well, I don’t cover that. I don’t know.” I literally just said on the cameras that
I can’t answer that question, I don’t know anything about it. I was never invited on again because that
doesn’t happen on television. You can’t admit that your knowledge base is
not a million miles deep. Whereas the reality is when I wrote about
this … Look at Wolf Blitzer’s Jeopardy performance. These guys don’t know anything, for the most
part. They just read what’s in front of them. It’s a huge deception that we know everything,
that we’re all-knowing. Actually, we learned this stuff 10 minutes
ago. The other thing about not caring is we can
never ever imply that the news isn’t the most important thing in your life. Whereas the reality is we should tell people
pretty regularly, “Hey, spend more time with your kids.” You know what I mean? Smile. Well, as you said, it’s bad for you. It’s like smoking. Yeah, exactly. We’re going to go to the overtime soon, Matt,
where I want to talk to you about the Goldman scandal, get back to this point about the
financial crisis, and some more about politics. But I want to close off, because I wanted
the full episode to really be a focus on media, and I think we’ve done a good job of going
through the propaganda model and updating it along the lines of your book. There’s one other thing that I want to talk
about, because my experience in media, I was blogging right before and during the financial
crisis, when you were writing as well, and I had a radio show on 91.5. Then I had the opportunity to create a television
show, which I was able to produce on the RT Network. This was a fascinating experience for me because
I was in this subversive group. I could never have done a financial program,
which is what my show was, Capital Account, if I didn’t do it on the RT Network, which
had no corporate sponsors. It was a great show and there wasn’t any shilling. It was not … Of course, I didn’t talk about
Russia. I caught flak for ever mentioning China in
a negative way. That was something I had to learn, obviously
I knew about Russia. But other than that, we didn’t talk about
politics. So, I think it was a valuable show. And so, that gave me an appreciation for networks
like RT, like Press TV, like Al Jazeera, and some of these non-aligned networks, like the
non-aligned nations. This is something I wanted to talk to you
about because we were talking about the evolution of media. We mentioned CNN, we mentioned Fox. They’re both children of the technology of
cable and culturally impacted by what’s going on in the Republican Party, talk radio, et
cetera. Then the internet disrupted first the press,
newspapers and classifieds, Craig’s List,, et cetera. Then YouTube was really a watershed for the
broadcast cable industry, where all of a sudden you had … I mean the craziest cases, of
course, are like Alex Jones. But you had this revolution in media to now
where you’ve got guys like Joe Rogan. You were on Joe’s show. I have no idea. Maybe you can tell us how many millions of
viewers and listeners. Oh, it’s unbelievable. He’s like CBS. Yeah, exactly. He’s a one-man CBS basically. The reaction to being on his show compared
to being on any of the big three networks is there’s no comparison. That’s remarkable. Yeah. That’s so remarkable, that is just mind-blowing,
because it’s literally just this and like shitty cameras, shitty lighting, right? Yeah, I guess. Yeah. I mean he’s not going to tell you it’s not. That’s part of the appeal. Just like a guy who used to host Fear Factor,
he’s a comedian, is like a fighter, host, UFC program, an everyday Joe, and his name
is Joe, and they got more viewers than any of the networks. Absolutely. What’s so interesting about that is the networks
still have no clue how little they matter to ordinary people. They still think that what they say not only
has importance, but resonates. They don’t get that people hate them, not
just a little bit but to an extraordinary degree. Personalities like Joe, you’re absolutely
right, it’s the low tech set up, it’s the intimacy of you know who I am, you can see
all my flaws, there’s not makeup covering everything. You know what I mean? I make mistakes. When I get my interviews, sometimes I don’t
know what I’m talking about. I’m a dummy. Yeah. I’ll admit it. This is for informational purposes, bring
people on. The conversations are sometimes good, they
sometimes go off in tangents. All that resonates with people a lot more
than the intensely produced segments that you get on network television. I constantly struggle with this because I
work in this business and I’m dealing with people who just don’t see, especially with
the political campaign, like the presidential campaign, they just don’t see how they turn
people off. Well, you’re right in Hate, INC. Everyone seems to hate the media. Nobody in the media seems to understand why. Then you proceed to explain. Well, we won’t get into that here. I bring this up also because I think a lot
about this. I mean I started this show because … I had
a brain tumor and I had developed dementia- Oh, my God. … which is why I had ended my work in television
and I took so many years off as a result of that. During that time, I put on a conference in
New York and I also created a theater company, started putting on off-Broadway productions. But I always wanted to get back into this. I started going to meetups around New York
City, because I used to work in tech before I got into any of these stuff, in video games
and on the application development side of television. I was looking at some of these emerging technologies
that I was interested in, like AR, VR, and then ed tech, too, when I started thinking
about what is the future of news, because I did miss this stuff. I started this show because, first of all,
I see these media companies as being multimedia now. Vox is a good example. Vox doesn’t differentiate between the print
and the podcast and the videos. Increasingly, they’re all part of the same
thing. Yeah, you have to do that now if you’re one
of those companies. Well, I have my own ideas about where media
is going or could go, but the last question I wanted to ask you for the episode is what
do you see is the future of media? Where is this medium going? What is the future? I think there’s going to be an enormous showdown
coming. There’s going to be a moment in time where
we’re going to have to decide whether there’s going to be some kind of Orwellian faucet
that people in power are going to get to exercise over all media, or whether we’re going to
have a system of Joe Rogans being the influential messengers of society, because we’ve already
seen that people in government are incredibly frustrated at the situation right now. Every time that the internet has looked like
it’s this big democratizing force, there’s been a wave of reaction. I think it began really with wiping out Alex
Jones, but- How do you feel about the decision? I think we could both agree that he’s nuts. I think we had an existing system to deal
with people like Alex Jones. It didn’t work very well in his case. The whole idea is if you do what he did and
I think the things that he said about the families were libelous. But we had a system to deal with that speech
that extraordinarily effective, but it was intentionally slow. We erred on the side of not censoring. For a long time, we had this court-based system
that weeded out people who did bad things on the air. This new system where there’s a couple of
choke points with internet platforms and then we can just zap people is extremely dangerous. It’s scary. People have no idea how bad that can be. The thing that was really scary about the
Alex Jones thing was the coordination. It was all of a sudden five or six of them
at once deciding. Now if that becomes formalized and there’s
some kind of a procedure … Because you already have a hidden regulation system with media. If you do a Google search for whatever, it
doesn’t matter, the great example is Trotskyism, what will come up will be a New York Times
article about Trotsky or something like that, whereas the leading Trotskyist site in the
world, the World Socialist website, will be like 200. They’re already making decisions about content
that you see. But if they can directly remove obnoxious
content and there’s only a few platforms, the potential for a 1984 situation is very
scary. That’s what I worry about. I think we’re going to have a moment where
we’re going to have to decide is that going to happen or not? It’s too much power. In fact, I was telling you that I’m in the
midst of reading Shoshana Zuboff’s book, she’s going to be my next guest after you, Surveillance
Capitalism. It deals exactly with this stuff. I mean I think it’s tremendous, it’s scary,
and it’s something that needs to be dealt with. Matt, thank you so much for spending so much
time in the episode. Stick around. Oh, thank you, Demetri. Yeah. We should mention if you want to read the
book, it’s at Absolutely. In fact, I’m sorry. I’m glad you mentioned that. No, it’s okay. Also, give out your Twitter handle, Matt. It’s @mtaibbi. What is Substack again, for people that don’t
know? Substack is this cool little platform that
allows independent writers to … It’s like an email newsletter service. I’m serializing the book. It’s going to come out in physical form later
this year, but doing it as I go. You can get most of the chapters already. All you have to do is subscribe. Right now most of the book is already online. I co-wrote another with a drug dealer last
year. That’s online there as well. That’s a really cool story. You’re also Matt Taibbi. You’re a rock star. We didn’t have a chance, I wanted to talk
to you a little bit about when you and Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald got together and
created The Intercept, or I’d want to know exactly who came first, when. Yeah, they were first. Right. But it made sense. I mean it made sense to all of us. The three of you made sense. It’s because I think you’re all subversive. You’re not part of the herd. You differentiate. In that sense, you’re a bit of a rock star,
so it’s always good to follow rock star journalists who write interesting things. Well, thank you. I don’t know. They’re more rock starry than me, for sure. That’s what I think I would say. But thank you so much for having me on, Demetri. It’s been fun. Thank you, Matt. And that was my episode with Matt Taibbi. I want to thank Matt for being on my program. Today’s episode of Hidden Forces was recorded
at Creative Media Design Studios in New York City. For more information about this week’s episode
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every episode, check out our premium subscription available through the Hidden Forces website,
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29 thoughts on “Matt Taibbi | The News Media and Manufacturing Consent in the 21st Century

  1. It’s almost like Alex Jones is in on the game and purposely libeled the families in order to set a legal and cultural precedent.

  2. I'm curious, what do you think about Sam Harris saying that he's being taken out of context when ever anyone critiques him?

  3. There's nothing complicated about Jewish soldiers with sniper rifles shooting thousands of Palestinian children. There's no nuance, no complexity at all – it's racist mass murder.

  4. "Vampire Squid" will look good on Goldman Sachs' gravestone.
    OK, that's wishful thinking–it WOULD look good (if only) on Goldman Sachs' tombstone.

    This is a great discussion.

  5. I get the right wing's bitching about media and internet censorship. But really they are just getting what they always asked for: corporate masters. Good job conservatives propping up monopolies and concentrating power at the top. Your chickens came home to roost.

  6. Great interview with Taibbi. Often Matt is on interviews w/out someone who has as much historical context as you yand it was intriguing to hear all the references and comparisons to past events. However I'm a little curious about your angle on Sam Harris? I myself have enjoyed Harris in the past, some of his interviews with people concerning AI and the future are great but he's really let Russiagate do a number on his integrity as far as I'm concerne and his views on Islam are hysterical, having admitted his only interest in the latter came after the events 18 yrs ago.

    I also wonder about the Jon Stewart discussion. In retrospect I think Jon Stewart was incredibly harmful to the American discourse. He basically created an easily digestible template for news delivery that was met with cued studio laughter, it was bizarre and has now been imitated countless times. Its a flippant way to deliver information that actually matters leaving the viewer feeling as if they really do live in a comedic universe dominated by cynical irony. I don't think this was Stewarts intention but more so a fault of the audience who gobbled up his show night after night. It was certainly also a venue for the typical uncritical talk show interview where both parties smile for the camera and forget their differences for the sake of entertainment. Carlin was on stage, it was overtly comedic and absurd. Stewart and those who have followed seem to me to be doing something with a much darker aspect.

  7. There's something dreadfully amis in ur conspiracy comments it's obvious that there was more going on with the 911 plane hits world trade r u not aware or paid to deny that 2 planes we're the sole cause of that crisis look n listen to the experts n visual with sounds of those buildings collapseing something is wrong with ur dismissal of the information u must be paid u ain't that stupid

  8. Not a great Taibbi interview. Something's Off… Seen Taibbi do better on booktv, thought dk would've killed that, but this didn't. Also, this is now referred to as the EP where dk sees how much Rogan cock he can smoke. That was gross d.
    "…well no because brings the mic closer every 10 years your cells in your body completely change. I was reading this article about how DMT can actually advance this process into only taking 6 years because your pineal gland- jamie could you get that article up? …that chimp must be what? 400 pounds?"

    p.s. Free Alex Jones! Thanks for mentioning him. You are The Resistance! Now go buy some water filters and boner pills.

  9. Kamala Harris writing about racism, et al., as a terrorist threat is really correct AND it is the driver for a lot of Republican politics and power. All the stuff on abortion and homosexuality hate was and still is a main driver. It's what they hang their hat on while taking care of their real business of untaxing the rich and deregulating industry. Guns are the issue now and probably socialism soon. Right wing economics must prevail in their book.

  10. This is an excellent interview, the funny thing is I found it by searching "manufacturing consent," which I saw only 3 days ago 🙂 Thank you so much. Oh and for everyone else, I just got monetized, help me out lol, I do progressive politics, mostly pro-Yang.

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