Maybe I’m way off base, but I’m seeing a correlation between the idea that people should leave Twitter since Musk is turning it into a right-wing cesspool and the notion that folks who live on the West Coast should secede and leave red states to their fate. I get the many ways the situations aren’t analogous; for starters, participating on a social media platform is a trivial choice for most of us.
Where I see a similarity is in the idea that the “red-pilled” would leave us in peace if they had their own space. They won’t. That doesn’t mean liberals have an obligation to remain on Musk’s Twitter any more than a liberal born in Bugtussle, Texas has to stay there — if your safety and personal peace of mind draw you elsewhere, by all means, go. But realize that the escape is incomplete and possibly temporary.
That’s in part because the people who have decided that “cancel culture” is the greatest threat to civilization ever — greater than Nazis, even — have too much money, power and influence to be sidelined and ignored. Cancel culture is what this idiotic “Twitter Files” bullshit over the weekend is/was all about, and even if Musk makes Twitter radioactive, right-wing pols, religious cranks and flinchy media figures will keep banging the cancel culture drum because they’ve got a direct stake in the outcome.
Take this NYT article on the “Twitter Files” — a classic of the “view from nowhere” genre (gift link here):
The so-called Twitter Files, released Friday evening by the independent journalist Matt Taibbi, set off a firestorm among pundits, media ethicists and lawmakers in both parties. It also offered a window into the fractured modern landscape of news, where a story’s reception is often shaped by readers’ assumptions about the motivations of both reporters and subjects…
Mr. Musk and Mr. Taibbi framed the exchanges as evidence of rank censorship and pernicious influence by liberals. Many others — even some ardent Twitter critics — were less impressed, saying the exchanges merely showed a group of executives earnestly debating how to deal with an unconfirmed news report that was based on information from a stolen laptop…
The central role of Mr. Taibbi, a polarizing figure in journalism circles, set off its own uproar.
Once a major voice of the political left, Mr. Taibbi rose to prominence by presenting himself as an unencumbered truth teller. He is perhaps best known for labeling Goldman Sachs a “vampire squid” in an article that galvanized public outrage toward Wall Street. But his commentary about former President Donald J. Trump diverged from the views of many Democrats — for instance, he was skeptical of claims of collusion between Russia and Mr. Trump’s campaign — and his fan base shifted.
Musk and Taibbi’s alleged motive — highlighting “evidence of rank censorship and pernicious influence by liberals” — is presented on equal footing with and/or instead of facts that can be gleaned via objective analysis of the material, i.e., that the Biden campaign wasn’t in a position to “censor” anything and that non-Murdoch news organizations were trying to understand the provenance of the alleged laptop content along with Twitter executives before blasting it out.
But the reporter is onto something when he says “a story’s reception is often shaped by readers’ assumptions about the motivations of both reporters and subjects.” You’re damn right it is. As a media consumer, I make no apologies for applying the lens of the publishers’ and reporters’ priors when evaluating content. Therefore, anything breathlessly hyped by Musk and tediously dripped out by Taibbi will be consumed — if it’s consumed at all — with a massive grain of salt.
The NYT article credulously implies that Taibbi is the same old truthteller he always was but that his “fan base shifted” when he expressed skepticism about allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. That’s bullshit. It’s true that Taibbi acquired fans on the right when he started producing content they found useful in the “even the liberal…” sense, but Taibbi shifted first, and before he fled Rolling Stone to join the rest of the cancel culture warriors on Substack, he gave his version of why:
Suddenly, news articles appeared arguing people like myself and Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept were rushing to judgment, calling us bullies whose writings were intended to leave reporters “cowed” and likely to “back down from aggressive coverage of Trump.”
This was baffling. One of the most common criticisms of people like Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Aaron Mate, Rania Khalek, Max Blumenthal, Jordan Chariton and many others is that Russiagate “skeptics” — I hate that term, because it implies skepticism isn’t normal and healthy in this job — were really secret Trump partisans, part of a “horseshoe” pact between far left and far right to focus attention on the minor foibles of the center instead of Trump’s more serious misdeeds. Even I received this label, and I once wrote a book about Trump called Insane Clown President.
Formal pact or no, it’s hard not to draw conclusions about their agenda when self-described independent journalists consistently apply a double standard in their coverage of political figures. It’s also hard not to notice the formerly crusading muckrakers’ indifference to the massive stench of white collar crime and public corruption emanating from the Trump campaign, Trump White House and post-presidential Trump bunkers. And that used to be exactly the kind of story Taibbi covered.
I don’t claim to know why people do what they do. But so many pillars of the Contrarian Industrial Complex who found that their “fan base shifted” are men of a certain age who exited cushy sinecures at around the time sexual harassment controversies like Shitty Media Men came to light, Taibbi very much included. Others found themselves singed in public arguments about race and trans rights and similarly retreated to the (highly profitable!) Substack barricades.
Weird how so many shitty (mostly) middle-aged (mostly) men simultaneously acquired an aversion to “the pernicious influence by liberals” — as if that’s the 21st century equivalent of buying a sportscar upon hitting the big 5-0. I wish these dickheads would just buy a bimmer instead of wrecking Twitter and undermining democracy, but we live in complicated times. And there’s no escaping that.