I’ve long been an admirer of Matt Taibbi’s journalism and writing style — so much so that it helped inspired me to become a writer myself. Early on as a writer, I would read as much of his work as I could, quote him at length in pieces I struggled to find the right words for, and eagerly await the release of his latest book. His vicious style of takedown journalism was hilarious, brilliantly insightful, and always brutally honest. Taibbi’s voice has provided much of the country with a sense of sanity in the midsts of America’s political death spiral, and his journalistic credibility a powerful weapon against the sea of fake news and conspiracy theory garbage flooding the internet.
Which made my latest interaction with him via direct message on Twitter all the more disappointing.
Taibbi has now twice retweeted the work of crack pot conspiracy theorist Caitlin Johnstone — a “journalist” who believes 9/11 was an “inside job”, and that the CIA is funding The Washington Post and directing it to print false stories about the Seth Rich murder. Johnstone also thinks that Hillary Clinton and other Deep State actors control the DNC and want to foment a nuclear war with Russia, and that the far left should align with white supremacists to resist the corporate oligarchy etc, etc.
Here was the first tweet back in November of 2017 where Taibbi seemed to be endorsing a bonkers and easily debunked theory about Hillary Clinton rigging the Democratic primary:
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) November 7, 2017
The second on May 7th 2018, where Johnstone argued that conspiracy theorists like herself should be given airtime on mainstream media shows:
Caitlin Johnstone comes up with a brilliant plan to silence RT that will never be enacted in America. https://t.co/I8aMve6dvt
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) May 7, 2018
Regardless of the specific argument she is making, Johnstone is not a credible journalist and shouldn’t be given any positive exposure by any credible journalist or media outlet. Many Alt Right white supremacists are in favor of single payer health care for example, but no one in their right mind would retweet the likes of Richard Spencer or Mike Cernovich to bolster their argument. Sadly in recent times, this has not been the case as Johnstone’s work has appeared on several (at least formerly) respected outlets. Journalistic transgression like this are serious, but forgivable if Taibbi had owned up to his mistake and taken down the tweet/corrected it. But he didn’t, and instead resorted to juvenile “I know you are, but what am I?” arguments both publicly and privately with me over direct message on Twitter:
I do plead guilty to being in favor of antiwar voices having slots on TV. https://t.co/XZFVwoe5JH
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) May 7, 2018
I’m going to keep posting this article until Taibbi reads it (if he hasn’t muted me by now.) https://t.co/OUds1Joucv
— Jeremy Fassler (@J_fassler) May 7, 2018
I jumped in to defend Jeremy with this:
You barely know her, yet you keep tweeting out her work. What is shocking and terrifying is that someone of your stature hasn't done their due diligence on nuts like Johnstone before citing their work.
— Ben Cohen (@BenCohenTDB) May 7, 2018
Which prompted Taibbi to contact me personally over DM — a sign that I had really hit a nerve. The conversation did not go well, and Taibbi’s responses were so far beneath him that I am amazed he was ever capable of the journalism he published. Here is how the conversation went down:
The fact that Taibbi bothered going back and forth with me in this manner is pretty clear evidence he knows he screwed up. By attacking me for not contacting him about the piece I wrote has absolutely nothing to do with the story itself — that Taibbi’s retweets were lending Johnstone credibility — but a distraction method used expertly by the likes of Donald Trump and his administration. It was a sad spectacle to see a once great journalist resort to these sorts of tactics, but then Taibbi appears to have laid waste to much of his credibility in recent times by aligning himself with the radical left that insists there is no Russia-collusion scandal, despite the mountains of evidence that there is.
It takes a big person to admit when they have made a serious mistake, and Taibbi is evidently not one of them. A simple “my bad” would have sufficed, but instead Taibbi has dug himself an even deeper hole that will unnecessarily cost his reputation. I still look forward to reading his columns, but the once great journalist whose honesty and prose I aspired to has gone. It is always distressing when our idols disappoint, but the effect is amplified when they do so in person.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.