Matt Taibbi Schools A Journalism Prof On Professional Ethics


Media gatekeepers are desperate for an excuse to set up a “Ministry of Truth” with themselves in charge. Matt Taibbi (a real reporter) explains why the mainstream media has lost the right to demand this kind of respect. Here’s an excerpt:

In Defense Of Substack

UCLA professor Sarah Roberts, co-leader of something called the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry — media critics whose stated goal is “strengthening democracy through culture-making” — went on a lengthy Twitter tirade against Substack last night, one that gained a lot of attention. I should probably respond since, as one prominent reporter put it to Glenn Greenwald and me this morning, “Shit, it’s like she wrote this for the two of you.”

The main thread:

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A few thoughts in response to what one Tweeter humorously described as “the Tipper Gore of 2021,” who incidentally went on to make sure everyone understood she wasn’t talking “about Substack for basket weaving or 30 Rock fandom or whatever.” No, Dr. Roberts was “talking about stuff purporting to be serious. Opinion can be serious but I believe lines are being intentionally blurred BY SUBSTACK.”

Roberts is making a “stolen valor” argument. As it’s abundantly clear she’s talking about people like myself and Greenwald in particular, she’s arguing that we made our names as reporters in the structure of traditional newsrooms, taking advantage of “norms and practices” like fact-checking and editing that, in her mind, is what first induced readers to trust us. Then we took that trust, that precious thing nurtured in the cradle of mainstream media oversight, absconded with it, and fled to Substack, to hoard unearned profits.

Roberts has things reversed. Greenwald and I (as well as many other prominent Substack writers) got our start as independents. He was a blogger and I edited my own print newspapers. We both built substantial readerships on our own before being scooped up by “traditional” news organizations, in a process identical to the one Roberts denounces when done by Substack.

The experience of independent media — where I did feature reporting that ranged from participatory gigs like laying bricks in Siberia to wiretapping Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff — was where I first learned that audiences will read you or not based upon how careful and accurate you are. To imply that trust is a thing that can only be conferred by a mainstream newsroom is beyond insulting, especially since mainstream news organizations already long ago started to become infamous for betraying exactly those hallowed “norms” to which Roberts refers.

Why did a source like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden choose to come forward to Glenn Greenwald in particular? He surely wasn’t bothered by the fact that Glenn didn’t come up through the ranks of a paper like the New York Times or Washington Post.

The answer connects to one of the primary reasons audiences are moving to places like Substack: the perception that traditional news outlets have become tools of the very corporate and political interests they’re supposed to be overseeing. Roberts complains about lines between opinion and reporting being blurred at Substack (an absurd comment on its own, but that’s a separate issue), but the “blurring” problem at those other organizations is far more severe. Are newspapers like the New York Times checks on power, or agents of it?

Why didn’t Snowden go to one of the big names at the Times? Could it be because one of the senior Times editors back then, Dean Baquet — now the chief — reportedly once killed a whistleblower’s story about a surveillance arrangement between AT&T and the NSA? Or because the Times had a history of sitting on damaging intelligence stories, including one about an analyst who doubted the existence of Iraqi WMDs that the paper held until after the 2003 invasion?

It was bad enough when the traditional newsrooms Roberts so esteems near-universally swallowed the WMD lie, but the real kicker was when the worst offenders in that episode were promoted, and given the helm at major magazines and journalistic supertankers like the Times. What signal does that send to audiences?

Because this is not a bug but a feature, these same types of errors have been repeated over and over, to the point where papers like the Times and the Washington Post eventually became little more than conduits for anonymous intelligence sources spouting unconfirmable fairy tales like the pee tape. The major “traditional” cable networks, as well as many of the bigger daily newspapers, have for years now been engaged in mad hiring sprees of ex-spooks, putting whole nests of known perjurers and Langley goons on their payrolls as contributors, where they regularly provide “commentary” on news stories in which they themselves have involvement. And Roberts wants to lecture us about “disclosure of compromise”?

There’s much more to this thoroughly satisfying beat-down. To read it, subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s Substack here.


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