When we last left Rolling Stone‘s political correspondent, Matt Taibbi, he was taking a break from the never-ending primary season. Since then, he’s feuded with Erica Jong, of all people and received his first National Magazine Award nomination in the Columns and Commentary category. We caught up with him recently to ask whether it’s even possible to be more vitriolic than fellow nominee (and defending champ) Christopher Hitchens, who’s churlishly defended the war about as loudly as Taibbi has attacked it and its architects.
So, how do you like your chances? You’re up against several fellow critics of the Iraq War, as well as one of its most vocal defenders.
Well Hitchens won it last year, so it can’t be a surprise he’s in it again. I don’t know who agrees with what he says, but I think those are some of the things you’re trying to do when writing commentary or columns. I disagree with some of the things Kurt Andersen has written too, but he’s obviously a very clever writer. He had a hand in Spy of course, which I kind of worshiped for a while. I don’t know [Hendrik] Hertzberg or [Norm] Brodsky very well, but I am not at all surprised the others were nominated.
Did you choose the columns that were nominated? I thought it was interesting that it juxtaposed two of your more vicious profiles of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee with a positively glowing one (by your standards) of Barack Obama. Is that a representative mix of your work?
I didn’t have any role in it. In fact, I didn’t even know that I had been put up for it. As for whether theyâ€™re representative, I would say yes. I do two kinds of stories for Rolling Stone — these commentary pieces and occasionally a much longer reporter story like the thing I did with Iraq contracts last year. The ones in each genre are pretty much alike, and I wouldn’t say some are more represented than others.
Would you consider them among your best columns, or were there better ones, in your opinion?
The Obama one was difficult for me because, you know, I typically write very negative things about politicians, so it was sort of a departure for me to write about one that I wasn’t completely cynical about. I took a beating for that piece, actually. I received a lot of letters from people complaining I had sold out or had gone soft. It was an uncomfortable piece to write, but I had to do it.
Considering you’ve spent more than a year now handicapping the candidates’ chances, how would you handicap your own chances of winning?
I predicted Fred Thompson would win the Republican nomination this year. I also said that John McCain‘s political career was over back in September and started writing Hillary‘s obituary at least twice in just the last few months. I’m not making any more predictions. I will say that as far as I’m concerned, the nomination was a huge surprise to begin with and I’m more or less just happy to be there. Some people have theorized that since Hitchens won last year, he won’t win this year, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
— Greg Lindsay