Fox Untucked, Noam Undone, Taibbi Unhinged.
The Toxic Mix of Money and Patriarchy
Summary: Can we separate the art from the artist? Do the misdeeds of our political and cultural icons diminish their accomplishments? “Cancel Culture” has cast a shadow over the discourse in the United States. Conservatives are twisting every talking point into a culture war issue in an effort to undermine genuine attempts to elevate our language and our behavior. One common thread that runs through narratives across the spectrum is legacy patriarchal thinking that infects our politics, personal interactions and societal hierarchies.
It’s said that Franklin D. Roosevelt carried on several affairs during his marriage to Eleanor, most notably with his secretary Lucy Mercer. It’s long been rumored that President Eisenhower had an intimate relationship with his driver and secretary Kay Summersby during the Second World War, something she confirmed in a deathbed autobiography. President John F. Kennedy was a legendary philanderer who even competed for women with his own father, which is gross. A 2019 biography on Barbara Bush revealed that she suffered from depression long ago, purportedly due to a decade-long affair her husband carried on with one of his personal aides.
The upstanding bastions of fidelity in the modern era, where presidents are concerned at least, would most certainly be Jimmy Carter, George Dubya and Barack Obama. You all know how I feel about Jimmy Carter, but considering Noam Chomsky was palling around with Jeffrey fucking Epstein, I’m not sure my heart can handle much more. So here’s hoping Jimbo leaves us with his dignity intact.
Dubya and Obama, on the other hand, while paragons of faithfulness, were also outright mass murderers. George W. Bush is directly responsible for the deaths of between 280,771–315,190 Iraqi civilians, according to estimates from the Watson Institute. Barack Obama directly authorized and oversaw a total of 563 drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during his two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush. Between 384–807 civilians were killed in those countries. Yet, Barack Obama is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
And what of dear Donald Trump? Donald Trump murdered an Iranian general in Iraq. He also continued the unilateral authorization of drone strikes from Obama’s tenure, but revoked the policy of transparency so we might never know the extent of the damage inflicted on nations where we had no formal declarations of war. He is twice impeached, once indicted (thus far), twice divorced; he bankrupted multiple companies, attempted to overturn verified election results and incited an insurrection. And yet, he remains the GOP frontrunner for the next presidential election.
Bad behavior among the rich and powerful is hardly news.
And it extends beyond the Oval Office. Clarence Thomas is bought and paid for by a billionaire who collects nazi memorabilia. He remains a Supreme Court Justice.
Barry Bonds juiced for years, but he was the best slugger of the steroid era, so all he has is an asterisk.
John Lennon had a legendary temper, once yelling at his son Sean so badly he permanently damaged his hearing and sent him to the hospital.
Ellen DeGeneres is apparently a flaming asshole, but she’ll always be Dory to me.
J.K. Rowling is arguably the most commercially successful author of all time, and she’s a TERF and a dick.
Michael Jackson settled so many pedophile accusations it’s hard to keep track, and there’s currently a Broadway show running about him.
Mel Gibson. Still working.
As 99 mused in Show Notes this week, can we separate the artist from the art? It’s an age-old question that inspires great debate. Especially when one of your inspirations is revealed to be a cad. I love Finding Nemo. The Beatles, well, you know. The 1986 Mets did enough cocaine to kill a team of horses, cheated on their wives and got into bar fights. I live for this team. Though not my particular cup of tea, I understand the magic of Harry Potter, can probably recite Braveheart from memory and won’t turn off MJ if he comes on the radio, though I will roll up the windows.
Recently, Elon Musk was crying to Bill Maher about “cancel culture.” Elon Musk, the billionaire, crying to a man with his own show on HBO. May the good lord someday cancel me this terribly. Harvey Weinstein is going to rot in prison. Because of cancel culture? No, because he’s a rapist. That’s called criminal justice.
Big time comedians like Chappelle and Louis C.K. complain of cancel culture, but all they did was substitute one fan base for another. While writing this essay, I became aware of the controversy surrounding the Karl Lagerfeld theme at the Met Gala. Don’t know much about the fashion world, but apparently Lagerfeld was kind of a shit. Downplayed the #MeToo movement, shamed plus size models and was inclined not to believe victims of abuse. Seems like a swell guy, why not honor his work at a super liberal gala?
We all have our personal red lines. Mine, as you know, are typically around the marginalized and, most especially, Native people. I suppose this reflection is partly about the culture wars and “cancel culture.” About wokeness and political correctness. It’s all gone too far, and yet again, not far enough. It seems as though we come face-to-face with cultural reckonings on a daily basis. It’s something that we haven’t really addressed here because we prefer to be issue-driven. But it feels impossible to ignore, because culture wars have infected the body politic and the national discourse so completely.
So this essay looks at three different, but related, situations that to me come down to integrity and suggest that stubborn remnants of patriarchal thinking continue to hold us back as a nation and as a people.
Chapter One: Fox, Untucked.
“A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable, obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly, I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then, somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere, somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?” -A text from Tucker Carlson, January 7, 2021
Was this the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back at Fox? Was it Tucker’s text saying he hates Donald Trump? Was it the abusive environment he fostered on his show? That Rupert Murdoch’s ex-fiancé supposedly had a crush on Tucker? Because advertisers felt they couldn’t support his show? Were his texts about election denials too revealing? Did Murdoch blame him for the Dominion suit? Did they finally come around to the fact that Tucker’s toxic and destructive rhetoric was destroying the fabric of this nation one diseased Fox viewer mind at a time?
Angelo Carusone, CEO of Media Matters—the right-wing watchdog organization—recently appeared on Brian Tyler Cohen’s show to explain an alternate theory that, in my estimation, likely holds more water. I’ll get there in a second.
Tucker was let go from Fox arguably at the peak of his power. He was free to break rank from other hosts and dabble in conspiracy theories and not-so-casual racism in a unique way. This led some to believe it was a power play on the part of Murdoch to exert his dominance and show that Fox is bigger than its hosts. That’s not without precedent when you consider figures like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and even those who left on their own accord like Shepard Smith and Megyn Kelly. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their departures, no former Fox host has been able to recapture the audience they had while under Murdoch’s umbrella. And that goes for other networks as well.
One quick point before getting to Carusone’s take. Most of these former pundits have been able to amass significant audiences. But, much like when Howard Stern left terrestrial radio for satellite, they all lost the amplification power of broadcast and the influence it still has on the power structure in Washington DC. Fox is the preeminent power broker in the conservative universe. Alone atop the mountain, whereas the liberal spectrum relies on a patchwork of influencer networks and outlets. One cannot obtain power in the conservative ecosystem without first bowing to the corporate masters at Fox.
But here is where Carusone might have identified a chink in Fox’s armor. Here’s Carusone:
“The dirty secret about Fox News is that it is one of the only commercial TV channels that doesn’t need a single advertisement to be profitable, if not the only one. In fact, Fox could have zero dollars in ad revenue and still have at least a 35% profit margin. This is the result of carriage fees and the guaranteed revenue they provide Fox.”
Fox receives between $2–$3 per cable subscription on nearly every single cable platform. That is an enormous haul for one organization, and it has made Fox pretty much bulletproof in the past. The Dominion Voting settlement, while substantial, is manageable considering Fox is sitting on more than $4 billion in cash on hand and can either defray some of the cost of the settlement through insurance or a tax write-off. Can it continue to weather these kinds of settlements, considering there are multiple settlements on the horizon that could conceivably be larger than Dominion? No company is that bulletproof. But, remember also that Fox is still mostly controlled by the Murdoch family, which has an estimated net worth of between $17–$21 billion. There’s miles to go before counting out this family.
But the carrier fee negotiations are what has made Fox News bulletproof until this point. Carusone has suggested, based upon credible leaks from the carrier negotiations, that things aren’t going as well as previous negotiations, and that Tucker’s persona is one of the major reasons for it. The revelations that Tucker, among others, lied about election coverage and then went a step further to try and push the notion that January 6 was just a mass tour of the Capitol, has purportedly been a huge sticking point for the cable companies.
The fact that Tucker’s time slot has lost a significant share of viewers would be less troubling if these negotiations weren’t in full swing and so mission critical to Fox. The reason is that Tucker’s show had difficulty attracting legitimate advertisers. But his dominance, adding more than a million viewers during his time slot than O’Reilly ever mustered, was enough to keep the pressure on Fox to keep the popular host. So Murdoch’s gamble to separate from Carlson, at least as Media Matters sees it, was more of a power play to eliminate a sticking point in the carrier negotiations, and it makes a ton of sense when you consider the economics of it.
As far as Carlson is concerned, speculation is rampant about where he’ll end up. Patrick Bet-David, CEO and talking head of a conservative online media outlet called Valuetainment, just publicly offered Tucker $100 million over five years and an equity stake in the company. Some believe he’ll start his own media empire in the vein of The Daily Wire and take his show to Rumble. Newsmax and OAN, the fledgling conservative media outlets, are talking points, but it’s hard to imagine Carlson downgrading in such a fashion.
My fear would be some sort of hybrid like a partnership with Daily Wire that involves more billionaire stakes; something that incorporates folks like Glenn Greenwald and packages the whole thing up as a new network that also finds its way to cable. Like Rumble on steroids. Either way, Tucker is something of a phenomenon. Different than O’Reilly or Glenn Beck. The text revelations seemed to have little effect on his credibility with his audience, which is why he was still at the peak of his powers.
And now, he’s aggrieved and has an ax to grind. I’m not suggesting he has it in him to take on Murdoch, but his milquetoast presentation while delivering divisive content is an effective cocktail. You can be sure that the evil billionaire roundtable is swirling with ideas about how to leverage this moment while Murdoch has his eye on these cable negotiations. It’s a dangerous time.
Chapter Two: Matt Taibbi. Show me the money.
This kerfuffle between Matt Taibbi and Mehdi Hasan is old news, and their war has only devolved since this moment. Taibbi has been on a tear, dragging Hasan through the mud and calling his integrity into question. Both men have received support from their camps, some surprising, most not.
For Taibbi, the calculus since departing Rolling Stone appears to be subscriber acquisition purely. While Substack doesn’t release subscriber figures or revenue, they do provide a range, and it’s estimated that Taibbi rakes in between the high hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars annually as one of the biggest writers on the platform. By the way, so too does his Twitter Files collaborator and disgraced former Times columnist Bari Weiss.
A lot has happened since the release of the Twitter Files and Medhi Hasan’s utter takedown of Taibbi, in a rather embarrassing performance on Taibbi’s part. And it’s not worth rehashing, because it moves so quickly and matters so little.
What’s of supreme importance is the amount of money at play in the independent media ecosystem. Journalists on the right and the left are getting hip to pocketing the surplus capital their work generates. How very socialist. Or, is it the ultimate capitalist play?
Forgive me for cribbing from an existing script because I actually did a short piece on Taibbi recently for YouTube, but I want to bring these thoughts over to the pod.
As I noted in that piece, I’d been an admirer of Taibbi, dating back to my alternative journalism days. Even then, he was a standout. I was among the throngs of journalists and fans who reveled in his tales of Russian corruption when he was a young reporter there. Or how he interviewed John Kerry’s campaign manager tripping on acid and wearing a viking helmet. I first became aware of his work, like many others, when he published a cover story for the New York Press, then a legitimate competitor to the Village Voice, titled “52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope.” He was my generation’s Hunter Thompson. And that’s very much the point of this segment, specifically.
Hunter S. Thompson was a fucking asshole. He was homophobic, misogynistic and belligerent. But man, could he write. Personally, I think Hemingway was an asshole too. And, as long as we’re assailing the character of male American literary icons, check out Donovan Hohn’s soul crushing piece in The Atlantic from 2015 that eviscerates Henry David Thoreau. That one really set me back.
But the modern era of a rogue writer preening for ideological audiences and leaning into culture war issues has taken on a different character with the ability to monetize their status as public figures to such an extreme.
It should also be noted, however, that the right-wing platforms are orders of magnitude larger than the left because they’re all backed by massive donors. Dennis Prager is backed by the billionaire Wilks Brothers, as is Ben Shapiro. Greenwald is hooked up with the likes of Peter Thiel through the auspices of Rumble. The others are soaking in adjacent money through a vast network of conservative donors as well.
Now, Taibbi is another matter entirely. He has largely gone it alone, and I don’t think there’s any evidence that he works at the pleasure of billionaires. In fact, he brawled with the only two would-be billionaire benefactors he had. First, with the leadership at First Look, and now Elon Musk at Twitter when he refused to leave his Substack. So, he has made a habit of biting hands that tried to feed him.
But, I think there’s more evidence now that he has loosened his standards to allow for the cult of conservative personalities to adopt him and remained quiet on their misdeeds. I find that unseemly, to say the least. And it has certainly augmented his subscriber base. But, more than most of the others, he has built this thing on his own. That’s the defense I will offer with respect to Taibbi. But he’s also proven that we should be cynical, if not downright distrustful, of the intentions of these independent figures. Many of them peddle in hypocrisy, half truths and outright lies. They exist without the all important layers of editors and editorial boards. Say what you will about mainstream and corporate media, but there are more benefits than downsides to having your work challenged and vetted before it reaches daylight.
The danger of hanging on every word that Taibbi or others write or speak is that opinions are often masked as journalism. Matt Taibbi is not a journalist. And that’s an important distinction. Has he practiced journalism? Sure. But he’s more of a social commentator and a writer than a journalist. And there’s a big difference.
Benjamin Franklin was a commentator and writer. H.L. Mencken was as well. Hunter Thompson, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, William Buckley, James Baldwin, Chris Hedges—all writers who contributed to the national discourse and sometimes even held power to account. They can shape narratives and even provide evidence and source material that looks an awful lot like journalism, but writers and journalists occupy distinct positions in related fields.
So maybe that’s why I’m not as wound up about Taibbi as others are. I think he’s sold his soul to a large degree and fallen victim to the intoxicating metric of paid subscribers. It’s going to be difficult for him to put this Musk affair behind him, and the scars from the lashing he received from Mehdi Hasan will be fresh for years to come. But, to me, he’s also still the brash alt-weekly writer who just happened to have amassed a following in the spirit of Mencken or Thompson. I actually don’t hold him to all that high of a standard. He’s no Jane Mayer. No Seymour Hersh. Or Ida B. Wells.
Great journalism is all around, but we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between opinion writers and journalists, properly sourced, edited and vetted material and state-sponsored stenography. If you’re looking to Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson or even Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes or Don Lemon for journalism of record, then you’re doing this wrong.
Chapter Three: Uncle Noam. Say it isn’t so.
And now for the gut punch.
As 99 and I talked about in Show Notes, it was quite the shock when the Wall Street Journal discovered that Noam Chomsky was among the names found on Jeffrey Epstein’s calendar several years ago. Apparently, Chomsky and his wife were scheduled to be flown to dinner with Epstein to talk politics, and that it perhaps wasn’t their only encounter. While the flight itself has yet to be verified, when reached for comment, Chomsky said he had indeed met with Epstein on a number of occasions, that it was nobody’s business and that one particular meeting that included Woody Allen, of all people, was “an evening spent with a great artist.”
Hoo boy. Chomsky more recently provided a fuller statement to the Harvard Crimson. Here are some highlights:
“Like all of those in Cambridge who met and knew him, we knew that he had been convicted and served his time, which means that he re-enters society under prevailing norms — which, it is true, are rejected by the far right in the U.S. and sometimes by unscrupulous employers,” Chomsky wrote. “I’ve had no pause about close friends who spent many years in prison, and were released. That's quite normal in free societies.”
“I’ve often attended meetings and had close interactions with colleagues and friends on Harvard and MIT campuses, often in labs and other facilities built with donations from some of the worst criminals of the modern world,” Chomsky wrote. “People whose crimes are well known, and who are, furthermore, honored by naming the buildings in their honor and lavishly praised in other ways. That’s far more serious than accepting donations, obviously — and these are huge donations.”
“I’ve met [all] sorts of people, including major war criminals. I don’t regret having met any of them.”
Here’s what I love about this, and what I hate. I love that he still has the capacity to call out the hypocrisy of the wealthy class whitewashing history through donations. It’s no different than how we can call Obama and Bush decent men because they attended church and remained faithful, regardless of the death count of innocents.
Here’s what I hate: Why participate then? Was Chomsky’s career dependent upon serving the donor class in academia? Is there nothing revolting enough about the actions of a man like Epstein that would cause him to simply take a pass? And, while we’re at it, how is dining with war criminals okay?
It’s gross. And his explanation, while stinging and accurate in the sense that our entire society is built on hypocrisy, doesn't make it okay. Fuck Jeffrey Epstein and, yes, fuck you too Noam Chomsky.
So, what do these three have in common? What’s the thread here? Why highlight Taibbi, Chomsky and Tucker? Well, it’s more than a matter of convenience.
Bring it home, Max. I dare you.
Think of all the figures we’ve highlighted today and their positions in culture and the power structure. Presidents, justices and cultural icons. Power brokers, pundits and their billionaire benefactors. Take the outliers like DeGeneres and Rowling out of the mix, and reflect back the very visible nature of power and influence in our society.
In our oligarchy essay, I talked about the need for a new approach, a General System Theory that incorporates the natural world and life sustaining economic models into our political structure. And how it would be impossible to achieve this unless we removed money from the political system and began thinking holistically about the world around us. There’s a disease within the corporate oligarchy and donor class with a very specific nature. The disease of patriarchy and the characteristics ascribed to masculine forms of power.
To be clear, I’m not making a feminist argument, or even taking a gender to task. It’s important to make a distinction between gender and gender roles and traits. Western forms of power assume patriarchal structures that reflect traditionally homogenous male characteristics. We often associate these with force, brutality, competitiveness, rigidity and dogma. Whereas, we consider the more feminine traits found in nature to be warm, flexible, nurturing and egalitarian.
The same trait that allows a figure like Chomsky to rationalize his association with a known abuser is the same one that views a mass murderer as a man of character, so long as he conforms to the patriarchal norms of society. They should both be wrong. As Michael Corleone said, “Senator, we’re all part of the same hypocrisy.”
General System Theory disavows behavior traditionally and strictly associated with masculinity and sees it for the destructive force that it is. At the same time, it’s flexible and evolutionary. As such, it doesn’t disavow the credibility of the more constructive side of classical masculine thinking. There’s a time for competitiveness, and even brutality. Matt Taibbi’s work on the financial crisis isn’t entirely undone by his association with figures like Elon Musk or Tucker Carlson. Noam Chomsky’s contributions to the political discourse in this country aren’t diminished by his clear lack of personal judgment. Glenn Greenwald’s world view made him the perfect vessel for a particular topic of great importance. (Tucker Carlson is just a fucking prick.)
Point being, no one person is perfect. And, as consumers and citizens, we’re right to question the motives of those in charge of the policies that govern our lives and the information we consume. When these same figures blanche at any hint of criticism of their lives and views and retreat to name calling and revenge, it’s indicative of a fragile masculine ego that cannot absorb criticism and thereby reflect and evolve.
To me, that’s one of the more powerful aspects of the culture wars, if you want to call it that. Of course, it’s playing out badly because it’s jarring us from the comfort of the patriarchal mindset that has informed western culture since inception. These habits will die hard. But, in discomfort comes learning. And, only through learning can we evolve.
FDR delivered the nation from despair.
Chomsky informed and inspired generations of writers, philosophers and regular people.
Taibbi inspired me to write.
Glenn Greenwald taught me to question the nature of the surveillance state.
The fact that John Lennon was an asshole doesn’t make the music bad. Makes him a bad guy who made great music.
The art and the artist. The conflict is ever thus.
I know this. My children don’t give a flying fuck about any of these people. Not yet, at least. And, if and when they ever do, they’ll be reduced to names in history books or old video clips on some platform. They won’t personally have meaning to them, but their contributions to society will, whether they know it or not. I’m all about tearing down their personal legacies as human beings and preserving their work.
There is zero conflict in my soul about admiring Noam Chomsky’s work and being wholly disappointed in him as a person. I will forever fight the urge to moonwalk when “Beat It” comes through the speaker, but it’ll be there. I’ll get chills listening to JFK’s soaring rhetoric while knowing that he wasn’t an unreachable deity, he was a scumbag of the highest order. It just tells me we have miles to go as a species, and that a better future is possible if we can align the grand visions of young new thinkers who are willing to cancel these paragons of society while preserving any intellectual gifts they may have bestowed. That’s progress. That’s the natural feminine character that a General System Theory requires to think more holistically about the world.
Above it all. Lest there be any confusion. Let me conclude by saying conclusively…
Tucker Carlson is a fucking asshole with no redeeming qualities.
Matt Taibbi has lost the plot and is no longer offering anything of substance other than to line his own pockets.
And Uncle Noam…brilliant mind, terrible person. There. I said it.
Here endeth whatever this was.