Don’t ask Taibbi to be Krugman

By Felix Salmon
December 12, 2009
Andrew Leonard takes the Tim Fernholz approach to Matt Taibbi:

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Andrew Leonard takes the Tim Fernholz approach to Matt Taibbi:

The co-optation of regulatory reform by Wall Street is an important story, and one that needs to be pressed at every point. It would be nice though, if the left could pursue that story without flaunting the same cavalier attitude toward the complexity of the economic challenges faced by the current administration that we are already so familiar with from the right.

Really, Andrew? I think the left is doing that very well, thank you — and you’re a prime example, as is Tim Fernholz. And then there’s the likes of Dean Baker, Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, I don’t need to go on, you know all the names better than I do.

The existence of a Taibbi screed in Rolling Stone is not going to invalidate or render irrelevant the substantive criticisms of these people, and neither will it change the way in which “the left” is being seen to react to Obama’s economic policies. We have a left-leaning government now, and one which is proud to encourage and participate in economic debates. Taibbi’s not going to change that. We’re happy judging Krugman on his own merits; we shouldn’t seek to judge Taibbi on Krugman’s merits too.

Comments
4 comments so far

You’re right that Taibbi is a fun read, and you’re right that he fills a specific niche in the journalistic ecology.

But I feel like you consistently underestimate the number of people that either get their information solely from Taibbi, or take Taibbi seriously enough that they dismiss other sources as co-opted by Wall Street. And there’s every indication that Taibbi actually believes what he’s saying. Right now, he happens to be aiming his rhetorical guns in basically the right direction. But that’s not because he has a more nuanced understanding that he’s keeping under wraps while he churns out his polemics – it’s because his underanalytic populist wisdom and the truth of the matter happen to be roughly in alignment. That’s not always going to be the case.

When Taibbi does eventually go off the rails – and he will – all those uninformed people that are reading him today, will still be reading him. After all, those people think he must be telling the truth because he’s snarky and insulting, not because they’re carefully synthesizing different pieces of financial journalism. And so you’ll have a mass of people believing that Goldman Sachs bought out the Obama administration by offering them $97 trillion of short selling profits or whatever other warped tale of moral turpitude he spins.

Faced with that, it’s hard to blame Leonard and Fernholz for wanting the man to get his facts straight.

Posted by WHS | Report as abusive

I love Taibbi, and I think folks like WHS feel threatened by his style and maybe by the fact that he probably appeals to the younger generation who don’t follow financial blogs, and who are the ones who will be punished the most by this crisis.

I think the real reason Obama will not fire any of the cronies Taibbi names is he is afraid the stock market will tank, taking it with it his already deteriorating approval rating. If he appointed a Volker or Warren type I think we would see a huge decline because they would force some integrity back into the market and it does not appear that he has the stomach for that potentiality. So folks like WHS should relax because it looks like the looters and their cronies have nothing to fear…

Posted by Rvltn | Report as abusive

Personally, I’m indifferent to Taibbi’s existence one way or the other, and I’m not interested in defending Fernholz. But some of the journalistic comparisons I’ve seen tossed around here are f-ing ridiculous.

Taibbi is *not* an investigative reporter. He is not ‘THE reporter of the Obama era’ (whatever the f that means), or a young Paul Krugman… so on. You could maybe make the case for a young HST who does more interviews and less mescaline. But reporting comes with requirements Taibbi clearly didn’t trouble himself to consider here.

Yes, Virginia: this was an opinion piece. “There’s no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America’s racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowed his presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads.”

Right. Well that’s helpful. Because what we really need right now are more people running around spouting Manichean exaggerations.

Not to say Taibbi doesn’t have reporting chops, is not a good writer, or couldn’t produce straight-up reporting if he really tried. But it made my head hurt to read arguments from folks who seemed to judge the piece less on its content than on fanboy worship of the writer, or personal venom toward his critics.

The only thing worse are implications about what journalists (think they) should “learn” from Taibbi. If your portfolio is substantive coverage of current events, making it relevant shouldn’t mean tricking it out for some imaginary Everyman who doesn’t like to read. Which never works anyway – it just comes off as a cynical affectation, and signals to audiences that you think they’re simple-minded.

Posted by j657 | Report as abusive

“Personally, I’m indifferent to Taibbi’s existence one way or the other”
Are you kidding me? Be f…ing honest man, you’re obviously mad at people around here for defending Taibbi so I doubt you’re indifferent to him. Please don’t pretend anything to the contrary!
By the way, what do you mean when you imply that he is tricking out the news for people who supposedly do not like to read? What the hell does that even mean? Is this some professional authorship/readership type of analysis? Are you a graduate student in a school of journalism anxious to defend the highest standards? I think you feel threatened in some way and it shows.
Clearly Taibbi attracts a lot of attention (maybe too much),and some of his readers obviously have developped a sort of very emotional attachment to him. I think it’s fine, I would certainly not deride it as “fanboy worship”. A lot of people just love the guy. Deal with it.

Posted by peteLL | Report as abusive
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