Stop Making Sense
There's a lot of chatter on twitter and elsewhere about Matt Taibbi's scathing report on the Obama administration's economic team. The criticisms seem to be more matters of interpretation than matters of factual errors although you can decide for yourself by comparing this piece by Tim Fernholz at TPM to the article itself. Felix Salmon weighs in here. Taibbi responds here.
Taibbi's apparent belief that Obama ran as an economic progressive rather than a fairly doctrinaire Rubinite undermines his piece a little bit, I think. But that's a criticism that could apply to many people who ignored Obama's essentially moderate record or chose to believe that he only said the things he said during the campaign in order to get elected. As for the rest, I lean toward Taibbi's interpretation.
At the risk of repeating myself, I'll relay again my observations about the reaction Taibbi gets when he speaks to people about arcane financial issues. We were on a panel together, along with David Sirota, a few months back talking about who was standing in the way of the progressive agenda. Sirota was great on the subject of the lobbying and corruption affecting both parties as you might imagine. I droned on a bit about Pete Peterson and the deficit hawks. But Taibbi just riveted the audience with his story of the financial collapse and the Wall Street barons. They came up afterward gushing about how they had never had it fully explained to them before and they hadn't understood what it all meant, etc.
He has a way of making people understand complicated issues, which used to be something to which journalism aspired. And because he is unafraid to take a position, he doesn't observe journalistic conventions which require ordinary people to read between the lines and translate the weird Village patois in order to get some sense of the underlying truth.
Mainstream journalists may not want to adopt Taibbi's language, but they could certainly learn a thing or two from his ability to engage his audience in subjects they want (and need) to learn about. He's a flamethrower and a polemicist, yes. But he gets to the heart of things in a way that most journalists do not --- indeed, cannot because the profession has allowed its doctrine about protecting sources, achieving balance and maintaining objectivity to turn into a form of opaque, rhetorical ritual which leaves the people to whom they are allegedly speaking confused and uninformed.
It's why a good number of them turn to Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. What those charlatans say may not be true, but at least it emotionally "makes sense."