Matt Taibbi - Choosing Your Own Reality Under the "Insane Clown President" - Extended Interview

January 23, 2017 - Matt Taibbi 01/23/2017 Views: 58,901

Matt Taibbi discusses his book "Insane Clown President," which examines how the 2016 presidential election was affected by fake news, Russian meddling and bizarre campaigns. (9:03)

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Please welcome Matt Taibbi.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Welcome back to the show.

Thanks for having me on.

Uh, what a timeto be a journalist.

Yeah, it sure is.

You are scum.

And there are nowalternative facts.

-That's right, that's...-What does that mean to you

when you hear that,as a journalist--

"an alternative fact"?

I don't think that...I don't think

that's anything new,to be honest.

I think, for a long time now,Americans have been

consuming factsas consumers, you know?

I think we shop for factsthat same way we shop

for hats, shoes or,you know, radial tires.

We l... we shop for the thingswe like, and I think people

are choosing their own realitynow, in the same...

But now... A-As a journalist,then, how do you...

how do you break through?How do you get people

to "buy" the product?And more importantly--

and this is somethingthat plagues me all the time--

if people believe that theirfact is indeed the correct fact,

how do you get them to seewhat you believe is a fact

when there is no way thatthey could do that to you?

Does that make sense?

It-it does, yeah.I don't know.

It's an unanswerable question,because, um,

people are choosingtheir own realities right now

and the only thing we can do istry to be as accurate as we can.

Uh, but if...What-what's happening now

is media companiesare tailoring their coverage

to their audience.And they're, in advance,

deciding which facts are gonnaappeal to their audience.

So people are-are tuning intowhatever stations they like,

whatever, uh,news sites they like,

knowing that it's gonna givethem facts that they like.

And so this is a problem.We don't-we don't

have news media that challengesits audience anymore.

Well-well, shouldn't there...shouldn't there be

a central home of facts?Like, a, you know, like,

in South Africa, for instance,we have a press ombudsman

that is in charge of look...

-overseeing the pressas a whole. -Right.

You know, is there a world wherethat could happen in America,

where the press would havea-an independent body

that looks overwhat is or is not a fact?

President Obama actuallysuggested something like that

earlier this year. And,you know, I don't know if...

-Probably stole it from me. Butwhatever. -That's right. He did.

-Whatever.-Uh, you know, I don't know

if we want the governmentinvolved in something like that,

-but we do have, obviously,fact-checking sites. -Yeah.

You know, we have PolitiFactand-and, uh...

-But the problem is people evenquestion those sites now, -Yes.

and-and fact-checking itselfhas become politicized.

So it's-it'sa very thorny issue.

Um, I don't really know...In-in this election,

-it was a major factor,uh, people deciding -Mm-hmm.

to actively disagree with factsthey didn't like, and, um...

It's funny. You said "factor"there, which is... Yeah.

Yeah, but I don't knowwhat we're gonna do. I mean,

-it's difficult. -Let's-let'stalk about the book.

Insane Clown President.

I was goingfor something subtle.

-(laughter)-It's very, very subtle.

You're referring toDonald-Donald Trump with this?

-Yeah, yeah.-Okay, not sure, not sure.

No, I mean, it doesn't saywhich president, which country.

I don't know.It could be anyone.

Um, if you're sayingthat Donald Trump

is the insane clown president,

are you then,in some way, inferring

that Americahas turned into a circus?

-Definitely. Yeah. Uh, 100%.-(cheering and applause)

In what way?

I don't know how anybodywho covered the campaign

in the last two yearscould come away from it thinking

that it was anythingbut a circus.

That was the craziest thingI've ever been involved with

as a journalist.And it started...

Even before Donald Trumpjoined the race,

it was completely crazy.That whole clown car episode

is part-partly whatI'm referring to with the book.

You know, we had 15 candidatesin the race,

and not one of them wasplausible as a president.

-(laughter) -And then, that was before we added Donald Trump.

And it only got weirderfrom there.

And then you have Ben Carson

angry that we didn't give himcredit for stabbing somebody.

-(laughter) -I mean, was one thing after another

that was just totallyunbelievable,

and we were justkind of hanging on

for the ride, I think,for most of the year.

Here's what's interesting is

because this is reallydispatches from that circus.

And then, I readone of the contents here,

you know, one of the chapters,which is,

"R.I.P. GOP:

How Donald Trump's Campaign IsKilling the Republican Party."

Is that still what you stand by?Do you, you know...?

Or do you now look back and golike, "Oh, no.

He strengthened them."?

Or did Donald Trumpkill the GOP?

Well, I thought,like a lot of people thought,

for most of the generalelection season,

that Donald Trump's impactas an historical figure

was gonna be limited

to the short-term destructionof the Republican party.

-Yeah. -'Cause he had clearlycleaved it in half.

Um, but his winning has clearly

changed the narrativesignificantly.

I still think ultimatelywhat happened

in the last couple of years

is going to atomize the countryeven more.

You know, we used to have twomajor political parties.

-Mm-hmm. -Now we really have,you know, two and a half.

You know,it's the Trump supporters,

there's the relicof the old Republican party,

and then there's the Democrats.

And I think it's only goingto fracture more from here.

Oh, I mean, evenon the Democrats' side,

-depending on what happenswith the DNC... -Right.

-there may be another fracturein that. -Right.

-Let's chat about Russiafor a little bit. -Sure.

Because one of the articlesyou wrote for Rolling Stone

that really connected with mewas in and around Russia

and the role they playedin the U.S. election.

Now, everyone has, you know,

credited Russiato a certain extent

with swaying the U.S. election,

but in your articleand in your opinion,

you don't really agreewith that.

No. I mean, I was in Russiaduring... throughout the '90s.

I lived there for 11 years.

I was therefor the Yeltsin years.

I watched as the United Statesopenly meddled

in a couple of Russianpresidential elections.

We even bragged about itin Time magazine.

There's actually a coverthat says "Yanks to the Rescue"

after... after Yeltsinwon reelection in 1996.

-Wow. -So, um,the idea that, you know...

All major power countriesdo this.

We meddle as much as we can inforeign... in foreign elections.

Um, the Russians, I don't doubtthat they did that.

I'm pretty convinced at thispoint that they hacked the DNC.

But the idea that theywere in on it with Donald Trump,

that he's some kindof Manchurian candidate,

that's an order of magnitudemore serious,

and as journalists, I don't knowhow we can report that,

-'cause we don't really haveanything to go on, -Yeah.

you know, factually,except for the assessment

of intelligence agencies,and they're not telling us

-what they're going on.-Which is interesting,

because basically what you saidwas... you drew the comparison,

you said: How can we believethese intelligence agencies?

And in a s... in a wayyou sort of mirrored

what Trump said, and that is,these are the same people

who didn't give us the truth

when it came to the weaponsof mass destruction

-Right.-in Iraq.

So how do we nowblatantly agree with them

when we don't haveall the facts?

Right. Yeah, I mean, I thinkit's always a dangerous game.

Even if you happento believe a thing,

even if a narrative is appeal...

And there's a lot of thingsabout this

-that don't defy disbelief.-Yes.

Like, I was in Russia when...when they...

when, you know, Vladimir Putinouted the prosecutor general

with a sex tape.

They do that.They blackmail politicians...

Yeah. What is that, kompromat? Is that what they call it?

Kompromat, yeah.And they did it to this guy,

Yury Skuratov, who is...

not the kind of personyou want to see naked on TV.

And, uh, they did it to him,

they did it to Valentin Kovalev,another justice minister,

they did it to the formerPrime Minister Kasyanov.

So they do this,and I'm sure

-they do it to foreignbusinessmen. -Yeah.

So it's not unbelievablethat that would happen,

but we just don't have anythingto go on.

And we can't, as reporters,just trust the CIA and the NSA

when they say, you know,"Believe us."

It doesn't work like that.

We have a much differentstandard of proof

than they do inthe intelligence business.

Uh, so it's, you know,it's a very difficult,

-thorny story for us to report.-Well, then...

Well, then, this, is,uh, a situation

where it feels like everyoneis now, is now trapped,

because we go, you're stuckbetween a rock and a hard place.

Who do you believe, then?

So if the president is someone,who we have seen, uh,

-has alternative facts,you know? -Right.

If his, if his spokespeopleare just reiterating that.

I mean, Sean Spicer came outtoday and basically said

-I didn't say whatI said yesterday. -Right.

-You know, like videodoesn't exist. -Right.

And then you've gotsome media outlets

who report what they wishto report,

but then where doesthat leave the public?

You can't trust the president,can't trust intelligence,

can't trust some of the media,

then-then what worlddo we end up living in?

Yeah. And I think that's-that'svery dangerous.

I worried about that openlyover the summer.

You know, what happenedwith Trump, is, I think

a lot of people,especially in progressive media,

thought this person's so bad

that we have to dispensewith the normal procedures

of journalism,and we have to go after him

in a way thatwe wouldn't normally.

And what ends up happeningwhen we do that

is we actually underminethe confidence

-in the media even more,I think, even more. -Yeah.

P-people only believe the mediawhen they see us

as these kind of obnoxious,annoying people

who aren't on anybody's team,you know?

We sort of have to promiscuouslyhate everybody in power.


And that's not happening now.

Everybody's splitting upinto teams that's polarized,

and nobody knowswho to believe.

And that-- I think that'san unhealthy situation.

Well, what I do isI have a wheel,

and then I just spin it.

And then whichever news agencyit lands on,

-I go like, that's the truthfor today. -That's perfect.

And then I do that, and somepeople say that's a lie,

and I go, no, that'salternative facts.

-Alternative facts, exactly.-And it works for me.

-Thank you so much for yourwriting. -Thank you so much.

-I appreciate it.-Thanks for being here again.

Insane Clown President is available now.

Matt Taibbi, everybody.