VF.com provides an (extremely) in-depth look at the folding of The Exile – an English-language Russian newspaper co-edited by Matt Taibbi, son of NBC reporter Mike Taibbi, and Mark Ames, a frequent contributor to The Nation, the Daily Beast, and MSNBC.
The biweekly publication, which launched in 1997, was accused by the Rossvyazokhrankultura, or the Russian Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and Cultural Heritage Protection, of “encouraging extremism, spreading pornography, or promoting drug use.”
The story behind The Exile, as VF.com tells it, is one of two self-appointed iconoclasts who, finding something lacking among their acquaintances and lack of career options (Ames was once told by a beloved college professor that what he’d “have to get used to is that youâ€™ll never get published in The New Yorker“) in America, borrowed Russia — its literature, its history, its unpredictable future — for their own purposes.
The Moscow Ames moved to in the 90s was violent, volatile, exciting, sexy, impoverished, glamorous, liberating, oppressive, hope-filled, depressed, drug-addled and, most importantly, not the U.S. It was, in other words, the ideal place in which to write.
What is quite striking about the VF article is the manner in which Ames and Taibbi’s work for The Exile was described by so many of their peers and/or adversaries as deviant and unique. And, yet, they sound quite a bit like bloggers sucked into the no-hold-barred mire of internet posting and commenting. Their antics, while not anonymous, were in not, in practice, too different from trolling. Both their criticism:
Yet The Exile was too vitriolic to romanticize for long or to consult just its fans. And listening to the critics is too fun. They call Ames and Taibbi, singly or in combination, children, louts, misogynists, madmen, pigs, hypocrites, anarchists, fascists, racists, and fiends. According to Carol Williams, of the Los Angeles Times, “It seemed like a bunch of kids who’d somehow gotten funding for their own little newspaper.” A former New York Times Moscow-bureau chief, Michael Wines, offered a no-comment comment. “I think I’ll pass, thank you,” he e-mailed, “except to repeat what I said at the time, and what Shaw said a lot earlier: Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
…and their content:
What made The Exile so popular, and still makes it so readable, was its high-low mix of acute coverage and character assassination, sermonizing laced with smut – a balance that has also characterized Taibbi’s work at Rolling Stone, where he has been a contributing editor for the last five years. “One of the big complaints we heard for years — really violently angry complaints — was: You cannot mix, in one paper, satire and real investigative journalism,” Ames says. “And we were like, Why?”
are extremely characteristic of the criticisms against and content provided by so many online outlets. Heck, even the lifestyle is similar:
Moving with the Exile guys also meant, if not mainlining cocaine, then at least having access to all the speed and heroin you could imbibe. Ames preferred the former, mixing powdered amphetamine into his drinks, while Taibbi, in a committed relationship for much of his time in Moscow, snorted bumps of white Asian smack.
But, besides the bulk of the article’s word count that is dedicated to what amounts to “subversiveness porn — including tales of debauchery, racism, prostitution and going over deadline — what did The Exile offer? Beyong all the noise and the semen-filled pie hurled at Exile adversary Michael Wines’ face, what made this newspaper important? If its brand of negative, vitriolic rants is neither unique nor, at this point, shocking, what did the Exile provide that could not be found elsewhere?
On the surface, it seemed to present an image of being purposefully at odds with everyone else – the status quo, those in power, those without, those who governed, those who wrote, Russians, Americans. So important was this image that it eventually led to the dissolution of both the personal and professional friendship between Ames and Taibbi when, according to Ames, Taibbi attempted to run The Exile into the ground in Ames’ absence by gunning for success in the States.
Deeper than that, it acted as the extreme voice that was not being heard in Russia nor in the U.S, calling out corruption and injustice with a deep understanding of the muck characterizing the times because Ames and Taibbi had, in fact, deeply immersed themselves in that very stinking garbage.
That said, it’s uncertain how much to trust Taibbi when he says, at the article’s close, “if you romanticize any of that ugliness, Iâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™re missing the point.”