(Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images North America)
This past Friday, Matt Taibbi appeared on HuffPost Live to talk about his new piece in Rolling Stone. The article, on a JPMorgan Chase whistleblower, was originally supposed to launch Taibbi's online magazine at First Look Media, but it reverted to Rolling Stone after Taibbi's somewhat tumultuous departure from the Pierre Omidyar-funded operation.Racket, as it was going to be called, was touted first as an edgy, satirical look at the world of politics and finance but over time the magazine's mission statement changed, with Omidyar himself seeming to rewrite the terms of its charter. This led some to think that the corporate control being exerted by First Look's higher-ups was causing friction within the organization -- and that's what eventually cause Taibbi to quit.
Of course First Look's only operational outlet, The Intercept, painted a much different picture of the situation -- one in which Omidyar was indeed moving a few goalposts but Taibbi was the real problem. In an extended piece bylined by just about everyone at The Intercept, including Glenn Greenwald and editor John Cook, Taibbi was portrayed as abrasive and combative not only toward his superiors but toward his subordinates as well. In one particularly harsh jab, the piece claimed that a female underling of Taibbi's had complained about being mistreated simply because of her gender. Alex Pareene, who was hired as an executive editor at Racket, disputed the Intercept story, saying that Taibbi had been terrific with his staff but that First Look management's constant need to "fuck things up" made working within the system impossible for him.
HuffPost Live asked Taibbi if he was willing to comment on the whole ridiculous soap opera and he did -- kind of. "I am sad that it didn't work out," he told HuffPost's Alyona Minkovski. "I'm sad for the people who are still working there. As happy as I am to be back working with Rolling Stone, with whom I've always had a great relationship, this was intended to be the launch story for Racket and I'm sad about that." When pushed for more information besides his general sadness, Taibbi said, "I can't. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about my former employers." If you've been following along at home you know that a reluctance to open fire on First Look makes him either an infinitely better person or simply a shrewder legal and PR chess player than the staff of the organization he left behind.
What to make of Taibbi's unwillingness to hit back at a First Look-sanctioned hit piece aimed at him in the wake of his departure? Well, it's entirely possible that Taibbi simply figures that by not reacting -- by taking the high road -- he might disprove a lot of what was written about him by Greenwald & Co. There's also the possibility that he signed a non-disclosure, but given that he was raked over the coals by a First Look property it should void the terms of any NDA. (If Taibbi signed something that allows his employer to go public about him without the threat of retaliation, then he's a hell of a lot more naive than his reputation would suggest.) Of course it could very well be that he really is a better person and a better journalist than the people at The Intercept and he simply doesn't want anything to do with the melodramatic mess that is First Look. He's out, unlike the staffers he worked closely with for whom he now feels sad.
Taibbi's back at Rolling Stone, which, despite being an arguably "establishment" outlet these days, has had his back time and time again and has given him wide latitude to report on what he wants the way he wants. Rolling Stone knows what it's got in Taibbi and it's wise to value him the way it has and does. As for First Look, for the time being at least they're talking mostly to themselves.
RELATED: Given the kind of people it was hiring and their general view of what journalism is, Taibbi being hired by First Look was an issue from the beginning. Read about that here.