Why is Matt Taibbi Sharing an Insane Conspiracy Theorist’s Rantings on Twitter?

Matt Taibbi is not having a good month. As American women rise up to defend themselves from the predatory behavior of men in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, every prominent male media figure with a history of misogyny has suddenly become an open target for recriminations. This includes Taibbi, who co-authored The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, a memoir of Mark Ames and Taibbi’s first year of running The eXile, a weekly magazine in post Soviet Union Moscow. The book contains descriptions of their vile, misogynistic and sexually abusive behavior towards women — behavior Taibbi now claims was fictional. 

While Taibbi has penned a sincere, lengthy apology for his earlier writing, he is being raked over the coals by the public (and the timing has been particularly bad given the recent release of his book “I Can’t Breathe”). Whether he has shown adequate remorse or done enough to put right his earlier transgressions is not for me to judge. Given he was a young man abusing heroin and suffering from depression in Russia, I am inclined to cut him some slack. But this is Taibbi’s karma, and he must accept it as such. 

While not as morally indefensible, Taibbi has also severely undermined his journalistic credibility this week by retweeting the rantings of a crackpot, fringe left conspiracy theorist on the Donna Brazile/DNC/Hillary Clinton non-scandal:

Banter readers will be familiar with this “rogue journalist” taking on the Evil American Empire from over 10,000 miles away in her bedroom in Melbourne, Australia. That would be Ms. Caitlin Johnstone, the part time astrologer and 9/11 conspiracy theorist who hilariously attempted to sue The Daily Banter for libel when I wrote that she wasn’t a trained journalist (you can read the truly insane story here).  

Ms. Johnstone believes 9/11 was an “inside job”, thinks the CIA is funding The Washington Post and directing it to print false stories about the Seth Rich murder, and believes Hillary Clinton is trying to foment a world ending nuclear war with Russia. 

So why the hell is Matt Taibbi retweeting her work? The article he posted to his twitter account is the standard, paranoid gibberish one would expect from a half-baked twit like Johnstone. The basic premise of her argument is that Hillary Clinton did rig the democratic primary despite the incontrovertible evidence that she didn’t, because Johnstone doesn’t believe the legal clause in the Hillary Victory Fund agreement between the DNC and Hillary For America that states: 

Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary. Further we understand you may enter into similar agreements with other candidates.

Johnstone argues that: 

The only problem with that is that by no stretch of the imagination does it nullify the blatant power advantage Clinton was given by the rest of the agreement, which does indeed violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the nominating process. 

Of course if you read the actual agreement, it becomes abundantly clear that this line of thinking is complete nonsense. The agreement was written on August 16th of 2015, when Clinton was leading Sanders in The Huffington Post’s average of national polls by a 56-18 margin. She was the presumptive nominee and looking to bolster the mismanaged, debt ridden DNC in time for the general election that almost everyone believed she would be running in. She had out raised Sanders significantly and had widespread support in the party (a party that Sanders only officially acknowledged he was a part of in November of 2015 – 3 months after the agreement was written). The agreement drafted by Hillary For America sought to gain “appropriate influence over the financial, strategic, and operational use” of jointly funded money — influence that consisted of hiring a Communications Director, having the “opportunity to review on-line or mass email, communications that features a particular Democratic primary candidate,” but “does not include any communications related to primary debates – which will be exclusively controlled by the DNC.” 

The agreement was not a diktat or some nefarious attempt by the Clinton campaign to rig the primary against Sanders — it was a financial offer to help fund the flagging organization and assert reasonable control over its operations in return. Again, the agreement explicitly stated that “All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary,” and that the Clinton campaign understood that the DNC “may enter into similar agreements with other candidates.” As Joshua Holland in The Nation writes, attorney Graham Wilson, whose firm represented both the DNC and the Clinton campaign, sent an email outlining the agreement to the Sanders campaign: 

His [Wilson’s] e-mail shows that the Sanders campaign was informed that such a deal was in the works, and was given the opportunity to enter into a similar arrangement if it raised a bunch of money for the DNC. Of course, it had no interest in doing so—Brazile writes that Sanders and his staff “ignored” their joint fundraising deal because “they had their own way of raising money through small donations.”

The wording of the HFA/DNC agreement is most certainly confusing, but there is nothing illegal, nothing untoward, and nothing out of the ordinary contained in it. Indeed, Brazile managed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 and knows full well how party funding works. Continues Holland: 

Brazile also shouldn’t have been surprised by the existence of this kind of arrangement, given that she managed Al Gore’s 2000 campaign. In her Politico piece, she says that she only “started inserting our people into the DNC in June of that year,” but Boris Heersink, a political scientist at Fordham University, wrote in The Washington Post that, while “this is technically true, it misrepresents the level of control Gore already had over the DNC before the 2000 primaries began: By 1999, the DNC’s senior staff was dominated by Democratic politicos with long-standing relations to Gore—including both co-chairmen, the finance chair and one of the senior advisers. Thus, while the DNC did not endorse Gore, it clearly preferred him in the 2000 primaries.”

In the minds of rabid anti-Clinton zealots like Caitlin Johnstone though, this was all a giant conspiracy perpetrated against Bernie Sanders and further proof of Hillary Clinton’s diabolical evilness. This despite Donna Brazile herself admitting that she found “No evidence that the Democratic primary was rigged. None whatsoever”. 

It is almost certainly true that the DNC broadly favored Clinton, but then this is hardly surprising given Sanders had refused to join the party and wouldn’t call himself a Democrat until the end of 2015. But this does not mean the primary was rigged, and it does not mean Hillary Clinton tried to rig it. She handily beat Bernie Sanders in 2016 by over 3 million votes, and there has yet to be any evidence to suggest the results were the result of interference by the DNC. 

It is incredibly tiring having to mine through the endless bullshit “journalists” like Caitlin Johnstone spew out to their conspiracy theory prone readers eagerly awaiting new information confirming Bernie Sanders really won/Russia didn’t hack the election/Hillary Clinton is a crook etc etc. We do this begrudgingly at the Banter in order to counter the worst of it, but when respected journalists like Matt Taibbi parrot this horseshit, it makes it all the worse and all the more depressing. 

The media is in a horrible state right now, and we need all hands on deck to mine through the endless stream of vicious lies coming from the right, and the paranoid rantings of delusional conspiracy theorists on the left. Matt Taibbi has, broadly speaking, been a much needed voice of sanity over the years, but his dalliance with the hard left in recent times, particularly over the Russian interference in the general election, has been troubling. Good journalists must fact check, and they must source check, even if it’s on twitter. I don’t retweet any journalistic source I don’t know or trust, as I know how easily the trust we have built with our readers can be broken. Caitlin Johnstone is a disturbed fantasist playing at being a journalist thousands of miles away in Australia. She is about as reliable a source for objectivity as Donald Trump is, and anyone citing her work should not be taken seriously. 

Matt Taibbi is a great journalist and I have faith he will put this right, but he needs to correct this egregious lapse of judgement quickly before even more damage to his reputation is done. 

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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.