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...I guess we should talk about the #TwitterFiles.
Well, I guess they’re still doing this.
The next batch of Elon Musk’s #TwitterFiles will apparently be released later this week. Matt Taibbi handled the first batch. They tried to make it sound like the scandal of the century. It turned out to be a total nothingburger — “a flop that doxxed multiple people.” Bari Weiss will be handling the second batch. Bari Weiss’s whole schtick is blowing little moments out of proportion and declaring them to be proof that the woke mob is the single greatest threat to American democracy.
Neither Taibbi nor Weiss is an investigative journalist. They are opinion journalists with carefully-curated Substack brands. Their big scoop so far is that… Twitter’s General Counsel reviewed a large batch of internal documents before they were handed over to a couple of opinion journalists to write an expose that might harm the company.
This is all so dumb. So petty. And it’s going to get dumber and pettier. The bottom is still a long way down from here.
Over the weekend, I wrote a Twitter thread reacting to Round 1 of the Twitter Files. I thumb-typed it while taking my dog for a walk. I wasn’t planning to write about it on Substack, because I find the substance of this whole ordeal intensely boring. (I just don’t care about Hunter Biden. I see no reason to care about Hunter Biden.)
But the thread, uh, kinda did numbers. And I assume my account is going to be suspended one of these days for writing mean-Elon-tweets. The faux-controversies over how the media handled a manufactured scandal are probably going to outlive the Twitter account where I’ve been opining on them. So I think it’s worth reposting the thread below. I’ll conclude with a few additional thoughts on what we’re doing here.
The thing to understand about the Hunter Biden laptop story was that it was SUPPOSED to be the Trump campaign’s “October Surprise.” Mainstream media and social media were supposed to take the bait and focus on the appearance of scandal for the last weeks of the election. (1/x)
They didn’t take the bait. The New York Post story was shunned. Social media platforms treated it as manufactured propaganda with questionable sourcing. And conservative elites have been PISSED ever since. (2/x)
They’re supposed to be these brilliant media manipulators. Roger Stone and Steve Bannon and the rest of the Pepe Patrol pretend at being these incredibly sophisticated actors, injecting precision memes to bend the public will. But they’re actual just blunt instruments. (3/x)
Trump got impeached the first time for trying to condition congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine on Zelenskyy announcing an “investigation” of Biden corruption. He wanted the appearance of corruption, so he could wrap the media’s attention around it. (4/x)
The laptop was basically Plan B. They wanted everyone to freak out about it for a few weeks. Normally what happens is conservative media shouts about it, mainstream media genuflects and “covers the controversy,” and Bannon and co high-five each other for setting the agenda. (5/x)
It didn’t work this time. They’ve been pouting ever since. It’s a lot like a kid who loses a video game and starts slamming the controller, insisting it’s rigged or the system is cheating. It’s NOT FAIR! Their plan was supposed to WORK! (6/x)
Musk and Taibbi are tapping into that well of resentment. Why should we care about the President’s adult failson who doesn’t work in the administration? Two years later, what’s the scandal supposed to even supposed to be? (7/x)
They’re gonna keep bitching about it for years. It’s going to be louder and emptier than the Benghazi hearings. The scandal is that their clever propaganda effort sank like a lead balloon. And that has to be SOMEONE ELSE’S fault. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. (Fin)
One thing I’ve been dwelling on for the past few days: why did this thread get such traction? The only time I’ve received more shares and likes on Twitter was the Bretbug incident. And I think the answer is, while the Twitter Files are substantively a nothingburger, they are also very effective as an attention-trapping ragestorm.
Elon has anointed himself ringmaster of the Twitter circus. He isn’t always great at it. Sometimes he’s just tweeting stuff like “So many interesting posts on Twitter these days!” (Yawn.) But it seems like he does recognize that Twitter will effectively die as soon as it becomes boring.
The Twitter Files are cheap garbage. But we’ve learned from the past couple decades of American television that people love cheap garbage.
There’s an irony here, of course. Musk keeps insisting that he bought Twitter because he wanted to improve the public square. His one big idea so far is to transform himself into a conservative media reply-guy who amplifies all the worst tendencies of online political discussion. (What a sad, shallow man.)
The Hunter Biden Laptop story is a MacGuffin. But so long as it drives traffic and catalyzes conservative victimhood grievances, it will remain a fixation within the rightwing media ecosystem.
It is, at base, a remarkably boring manufactured controversy. But it won’t go away until it stops being such a good vehicle for grievance-traffic. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it entirely — these grievance-myths can grow out of hand if they are left unchecked.
But, for my own part, I plan on this being the only time I write about the topic. I mostly try to write about things that I find interesting, puzzling, or funny. I don’t see much comedy here, and it seems pretty clear how this all works. The whole thing just seems sad.
There’s no winning the argument over Hunter Biden’s laptop, or over how media organizations and/or tech platforms covered the story. It isn’t a real argument. No one pushing these stories is operating in good faith. It’s an attention-mining tantrum. The best we can do is set some boundaries and wait it out.