I'm Matt Taibbi -- I write about politics, finance and crime for Rolling Stone. I have a blog at Rolling Stone: my blog Thank you all for the great questions, this was awesome. This AMA is officially over. Thank you again!

Here is my proof: I will be answering questions until roughly 11:30 a.m. Ask Me Anything!

Comments: 1383 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

gruasty328 karma

I am posting this question for my 63 year old father, who is in the middle of his commute. He is a dedicated reader of your articles and asks:

“You've now written two well informed and well documented columns harshly critical of SEC Chair nominee Mary Jo White. But Neil Barofsky, author of “Bailout”, former Special Inspector General of TARP and himself hardly a friend of the Too Big To Fail spoke glowingly about Ms. White when her nomination was announced by the President. Any sense of why you two differ so strongly on this nomination? Thank you for your time.”

MattTaibbi430 karma

Gruasty, great question. Neil and I talked about that just the other day. He knows Mary Jo, worked with her, she actually hired him if I'm not mistaken. And I trust his judgement about pretty much everything. So this has been confusing to me. One thing we talked about is that in most cases, the switch she's making, from defending Wall Street for millions to policing it, doesn't really work. But he believes she's in the small minority of people who can pull it off. We'll see. I like Neil a lot, he's an honest person, hope he's right.

3rdCultureKid274 karma

Hi Matt,

First of all, I want to extend my sincerest thanks for making it easy to understand the complicated corruption at the highest levels of our political system. I can honestly say that your reporting is the main reason I still have a print subscription to Rolling Stone. Thank you very much and keep it up.

Basically my question is this: What can be done about it?

What do you think is the ONE thing that the government needs to do to stem the tide of corruption and start fixing things?

What do you think the average American can do to help change things for the better?

Thank you for doing this AMA!

MattTaibbi325 karma

Hello, 3rdCulture. A great question that I struggle with a lot -- normally, "What do we do about it?" isn't really the province of reporters like me. But in terms of the stuff I cover, the obvious thing that needs to be done is that the banks need to be broken up; all of our major corruption problems stem from the Too-Big-To-Fail issue. How we accomplish that is of course problematic. There are two ways it gets done, legislatively and through prosecutions, i.e. the DOJ could charge a bank with something and then make breaking itself up a condition of its settlement. Or the state could legislate changes like the Brown-Kaufman amendment. Either way we need to elect people who recognize the problem and are willing to take those steps. Sentiment for this is growing.

briligerent223 karma

Did you really throw your coffee at Vanity Fair's James Verin when he said he didn't like your book?

MattTaibbi518 karma

I absolutely did throw coffee at James Verini, and it had nothing to do with him not liking my book. Let's leave it at that for now. I'll tell the full story someday.

toobighasfailed210 karma

Matt, a line of yours is lodged in my head: "Organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy." Unfortunately, while the animosity of Occupy Wall Street is still strong in early 2013, the disorganization of the movement might be even stronger.

So, if you were in charge of Occupy Wall Street, what single achievable goal would you (re)organize the movement around?

MattTaibbi314 karma

Again, to repeat, breaking up the banks is the big thing. That should be the Holy Grail of activist goals. Everything flows from the TBTF problem. If that can be accomplished, we're off and running. And it's not farfetched. There are a lot of people even in DC coming around to the idea.

lionsmemorialpool202 karma

Matt, you lived in Russia for a while and wrote about and did a lot of interesting and intense things, like messing with the mob, checking out Siberian prisons, and partying pretty hard. Russia is a place where they kill journalists for merely existing, so my question is: how did you not die?

MattTaibbi441 karma

Purely by accident. Honestly, there were some close calls. A lot of bad decisions while I was there, many of them under the influence. One very funny story I've never told: I once worked with a Russian paper called "Stringer" to wiretap Alexander Voloshin, Putin's chief of staff. We published a week of his phone calls. I was so afraid of the consequences, I stayed out of the country when we published. Upon my return I was detained at the airport for 10 hours. I thought I was going to jail for life. In fact, the Russians were simply concerned that the lamination on my passport was coming up in one corner. They thought my passport was fake. Once they reached the embassy, they let me go. But that was one scary 10 hours.

LawrenceTheGreat160 karma

Did you ever meet Hunter s. Thompson? I know it's been quite a while since he worked for rolling stone. Jw

MattTaibbi441 karma

Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was asked by a book publishing company to edit an anthology of "Gonzo Journalism." Not long into the project I realized there was no such thing as "Gonzo Journalism" as a genre per se, it just meant "written by Hunter Thompson." But I was broke and needed the job. So I called Hunter to ask him what he thought. He said, "That's a shitty assignment." I told him I probably agreed. He said, "How badly do you need the money?" I said, "Badly." He said, "Well, good luck, but I'm not going to help you with it. No offense." I said none taken and that was it. That was the only time I ever talked to Hunter. It was a funny call, though.

BenjaminCarson136 karma

Obama just mentioned new rules for taxing carried interest, do you think anything will be done? Do you see him making any drastic changes to Wall St. in his second term?

MattTaibbi235 karma

Benjamin, hey, thanks for the question, this is a good one to start with. This AMA thing is wild BTW, thanks for being here. On carried interest, don't expect changes. Politics almost annually propose repealing that break. Changes never actually get made -- usually the threat is used as leverage to secure something else they really want. I would bet my house that you won't see major changes to that law.

quietude38110 karma

A lot of people, myself included, are big fans of your writing as a journalist. Whose work do you try to read on a regular basis?

MattTaibbi206 karma

I read a lot of odd stuff on the internet. I check on Zero Hedge pretty regularly, love Jeremy Scahill, I read Glenn Greenwald. Drew Magary is my favorite sportswriter. Lawrence Wright is cool (The Looming Tower was fantastic). I reread Seymour Hersh's old books a lot -- "The Price of Power" is always in my bathroom...

MattTaibbi110 karma

Also read Bill Simmons on sports obviously, we're both from Boston, so there's a mutual-suffering factor there. EDIT: Sorry, I keep forgetting we won all those championships in the last decade. Hard to explain but a Boston sports fan always feels like he's suffering even when he should actually be thanking God on a daily basis that he doesn't live in Cleveland.

BenjaminCarson94 karma

Matt, would you ever tip your hat into the political ring? Please think about it, I mean, look what happened for Elizabeth Warren! I think you would have a major populist pull.

MattTaibbi291 karma

I wouldn't last 10 seconds as a politician. It's a very hard job with a completely different skillset from journalism. Plus, I'm totally unelectable... if you look at some of the early eXile issues, I couldn't win a county dogcatcher race with all that in my past. I wouldn't vote for me.

BdotDS94 karma

Matt, huge fan of your writing. In some bizarro alternative universe, you are left as supreme dictator of the USA, but you only get a month, and any laws you implement are now as good as scripture. What are some of the things you do? What would be the first thing you'd fix and how? Thanks.

MattTaibbi264 karma

First of all, I'd want my official title to be "Interior Minister." I seem to recall that Ivan the Terrible once had a giant frying pan built so that he could roast the captives from a battle in Pskov. The frying supposedly was done in Red Square. I think I might try that with the cast of "Jersey Shore."

PrematureJeevis92 karma

Hi Matt,

I was wondering if there was a legal reason the SEC or other financial enforcement agencies cannot use some of the settlement/court decision money for their operating budgets, as police do. I don't agree with the incentives law enforcement has to pursue the drug war, but if its happening all the time why should the SEC or FDIC ever have budget problems, wouldn't they be one of the most "profitable" branches of government?

MattTaibbi200 karma

I believe last year the government claimed it made 15 dollars in fines for every one it spent on enforcement. I'm not sure why there should be a resources problem when it comes to policing Wall Street, big Pharma (which had three monster settlements last year including Abbott and GSK). We have a gazillion police patrolling the streets in bad neighborhoods in all our major cities, where there is very little potential for major economic damage to be done, while there are, what, 1000 SEC agents policing the whole country? There's no reason it should be that way.

faux_shizzle89 karma


MattTaibbi107 karma


terran121285 karma

You're often pretty cynical about politics and society from your writing. Having worked in DC politics/journalism for the past 4 years, I often just want to get out. What gives you hope?

MattTaibbi283 karma

I get accused of being cynical a lot. I would say I'm the opposite of a cynic. A cynic is someone who recognizes that nothing changes. If I didn't think changing things was possible, I wouldn't be such a long-winded bore about the problems.

MattTaibbi179 karma

I think writers like David Brooks and Tom Friedman are cynics, even though superficially they're a lot more positive than I am.

Huplescat2283 karma

Thanks for taking the time to pay us a visit, and for your insightful and entertaining work in Rolling Stone. If you were an activist, rather than a writer, what do you think you would be working on now?

MattTaibbi206 karma

The thing is, I'm not an activist. One thing people don't realize is that my primary attraction to the subject matter I write about is that it's so interesting from a literary point of view -- I mean the corruption is just so dark and disgusting, there's something almost humorous about it, I'm very attracted to it as a writer. I also love the labyrinthine complexity of the scams. It's kind of the perfect subject for me. On another level, it outrages my social conscience, but that's secondary, if I'm being honest. So do a lot of other things -- I mean, that business yesterday of the government giving itself the power to extralegally assassinate without evidence is monstrous. As an activist, there's no shortage of crazy things to fight against. But to me, the most interesting problem is this financial cartel issue.

chainsaw_warrior70 karma

How do you stay refreshed mentally? Does reporting the things that makes me rage quit reading the news for the day give you the lift you need to continue in itself, or do you find hobbies or a different way of recharging and reporting on more? If I can't even read Greenwald then Taibbi in the same day because I get so outraged, how can you guys write it every day?

MattTaibbi119 karma

Chainsaw, I keep my focus extremely narrow and try to avoid upsetting things when I'm not working. That's why I don't even read much about things like the drone attacks or torture -- my head would explode. On the other hand, I could write ten books about the NFL draft.

bkochjr69 karma

After "The Great Derangement" was released, did any of the people you dealt with undercover in Texas find out about the book? Did any reach out to you/the fake you?

MattTaibbi94 karma

Yes, they did reach out. Well, one of the characters did. I haven't been good about getting back to her. I know she's a big fan of Bill MAher, because I always hear from her anytime I do that show.

sharkbait43056 karma

Hey Matt, any good behind the scenes stories from your early mornings on the Imus in the Morning show? I always enjoy your commentary with that crew.

MattTaibbi72 karma

I love Don. He's always been great to me. One very funny thing is that he dependably reams me out about how much the titles of my books suck. When you see us chatting off camera in breaks, it's usually about that.

nopointinnames46 karma

If bankers were a particular type of sandwich, what type of sandwich would they be?

MattTaibbi82 karma

Not sure, but I think it would have both Haggis and farina as ingredients.

nowhathappenedwas36 karma

A common criticism of your work is that your colorful rhetoric detracts from your serious and substantive reporting.

Do you see any merit to that critique? Do you feel the rhetoric is necessary to keep readers engaged?

MattTaibbi98 karma

I think without the color it would be very hard to get large numbers of people to read about credit default swaps and so on. It's a challenge from a writing point of view to creative a narrative about this world that makes the subject matter accessible to people who aren't into it naturally. Again, I find the crazily complex stuff these people dream up fascinating and I'm trying often in my work to let readers share vicariously in the excitement and wonder I feel in learning about it all. I'm sure some people think that detracts from the seriousness, but I feel pretty sure that rhetorically, it's all a net plus.

dberesheim33 karma

Have you ever received a refutation of an account of events you given, specifically from those within finance? I read both your work and mainstream financial publications. As I am sure you're aware, the authors of the latter do not hold the highest opinion of you or your work. I am curious as to whether or not this ever plays out directly, or merely in the volley of articles back and forth?

Stated plainly, do the people you write about ever send hate mail?

MattTaibbi93 karma

I'm very often criticized by people on Wall Street, but I get just as many people from that community contacting me and helping me with what I do. A lot of what people take issue with, when they do criticize me, is the fact that I don't have a background in finance and I'm presuming to have opinions about things they think I don't really understand. But when you ask most of those critics to point out something I'm wrong about, usually what they're quibbling about is a conclusion, not a set of facts. So for instance, when I did my story on Goldman, I quoted a hedge fund guy who said that Goldman selling bad mortgage bonds while it was shorting them at the same time was a classic case of securities fraud – “the heart of securities fraud” was the quote. I had numerous people, like Megan McArdle for instance, jump down my throat about what an absurd notion that was. But it was a view that many people on Wall Street had – I got the idea from a millionaire hedge fund manager. Some people didn’t see anything wrong with what Goldman did, but I did and do. A year or so later, Goldman was facing a massive investigation by both the DOJ and the Senate for engaging in that very sort of activity.

Again, almost all of my sources are from the financial world. I’m obviously not going to come into a subject like this that’s so broad and complex and start making wild end-run calls about this or that. I’m listening to people on all sides of the equation and making a decision about whom to trust, whose point of view seems most valid. That’s what journalism is and you always do that, no matter what the subject is. With finance there is a very consistent criticism of the big banks and their misuse of government influence that I hear from all corners and the people who have this view are both very convincing personally and very consistent with each other. So that’s where this critique is coming from. I may not be an economist, but all journalists do what I do – listen to people, conduct interviews, and draw conclusions from what you hear.

th0rsday32 karma

Hi Matt, I'm a sophomore at Bard College, and I was just curious as to what you thought of Bard as a school. Also where did you live here anyways? Toasters or Tewks?! Do you make regular visits to old man Botstein?

MattTaibbi38 karma

Hi Th0rsday. I lived in South Hall. Loved Bard, wrote an article last year about it.

bumbo_tumbo31 karma

This is a weird question, but did you ever write a piece with a parenthetical about Battlestar Galactica bring one of your favourite shows of all time?

MattTaibbi54 karma

I definitely did not, because I watched my very first episode of it Monday night. I do like the show, though. I recognize a lot of actors from one of my other favorites, the Canadian cop show "Da Vinci's Inquest."

MattTaibbi47 karma

Can I ask why you ask?

aak518929 karma

I used to intern at Democracy Now! and I met you once. You still writing that piece on ID's?

MattTaibbi26 karma

Yes, I remember you. That will be in my next book I think.

Pancho_26 karma

Hi Matt, thanks for doing this. I'm sorry if this has been covered in other questions but I recently heard Sen. Carl Levin asked about the failure of the Department of Justice to prosecute any bankers for the 2008 meltdown on The Young Turks. I think you're left in little doubt what he really thinks and I believe he really just wants to let rip about his true feelings. I'd like to hear your comments about his comments, thankyou. http://youtu.be/fKA4hsfg-TQ

MattTaibbi34 karma

See a story we have coming out next week in Rolling Stone -- much of it is devoted to the research by Levin's subcommittee into the activities of HSBC.

sting_lve_dis_vessel24 karma

Hi Matt,

You met me a little over a year ago in a book signing in Brighton right after you signed a magazine for three giggling teenage girls. I'm in that bearded leftist demographic. My question is: You are a regular critic of the entire system of finance, of wars, of lobbyists, and of stuff like Iraq war contracts, but you have never translated that criticism into one of capitalism generally. Indeed, you defend capitalism and assert that these kinds of things are perversions. Why?

MattTaibbi49 karma

I get that question a lot. My view on this is, if there's something fundamentally wrong with modern industrial capitalism, we'll find that out when we actually see it in practice. But when it comes to modern Wall Street, we don't have the data to make that assessment, because there's so much anti-competitive collusion and intermingling with government power. Anyway those larger questions -- what sort of economic system we should live in -- are kind of above my pay grade.

m1a1000mph23 karma

You tackle a lot of contentious issues with powerful people. Have you ever been afraid for your life because of a story you were looking into?

EDIT: Grammar.

MattTaibbi47 karma

Never. When I worked in Russia, I had friends who were Russian reporters who really did have to worry about those things (in fact two acquaintances -- I won't go so far as to say they were friends, but I knew people like Anna Politkovskaya -- were killed). But someone like me only needs to worry about litigation. I really... I get that question a lot, and it seems to me that people misunderstand the risks of reporting in a country like ours. The way to defeat journalists in this country is to ignore them, not kill them.

completej18 karma

What are the best and worst parts about being on the Bill Maher show?

MattTaibbi35 karma

That show is terrifying to do. Huge studio audience, huge TV audience, and you have to fight to get your comments in. Whatever people think about Bill, when you're on that set, you really appreciate how quick he is to keep that show flowing the way it does.

InfamousBrad17 karma

Matt, after reading Griftopia, it became even more obvious to me that right after the bubble burst, you somehow got the money (I'm assuming from Rolling Stone) to travel as much as you needed to, and spend as much time as you needed to, to interview hundreds of people about it. That you were doing first-hand reporting, at a time when everybody else was just quoting press releases or (if they were really ambitious) quoting what they heard on CSPAN. It's why yours is the #1 book I recommend on the subject.

But lately you haven't been doing as much of that; the sources you cite lately are (like the hacks back in 2008) what your sources call you and tell you on the phone and what you see on TV. What would it take to shake loose some more travel expense money so you could do so more first-hand reporting? And if we did, who do you want to interview now that you can't afford the money or time to track down and spend time with?

MattTaibbi22 karma

I still travel a lot, as you'll see with my next book. But what you're describing has a lot more to do with time constraints, and age, and being married, than lack of funds. I don't have the ability to go spend weeks at a time in some faraway place anymore.

raven_hood17 karma

Do you do as many drugs as Hunter S. Thompson did?

MattTaibbi31 karma

I think Hunter at his peak probably did more drugs in one week than I did in my last five years in Russia.

kimchifart16 karma


What is the single most thoroughly corrupt entity [institution, person, practice] you have come across during your career?

MattTaibbi36 karma

I had a Russian reporter friend, Leonid Krutakov, who was trying to trace some money that disappeared from the Russian treasury. He followed the cash from bank to bank, transfer to transfer, until one bank listed the destination of the next bank in line as an address on the outskirts of Moscow. Leonid found the address and it turned out not to be a bank at all, but an electrical exchange box on a telephone pole. I'm not sure how they effected the actual theft, but I remember the punch line was that somebody had transferred tens of millions of dollars to a telephone pole. That was pretty much the best corruption story I ever heard. The top 10 are probably all Russia stories.

dinosaurtailfeathers16 karma

Have you ever felt like your life was in danger because of a story you've written?

MattTaibbi32 karma

It's amazing how often this comes up. Maybe I'm naive, but nobody kills journalists here. They just let them rant and rave and get drowned out by reality shows. Much cheaper!

carrie196815 karma

If you have one particular story you are proud to have written, what would it be and why? Thanks for what you do...been enjoying your work for years. I especially love you during election years.

MattTaibbi22 karma

My favorite piece of all time was something I wrote after New Year's Eve in Moscow called "10 Seconds in a Moscow Police Station."

iwontconfirmmyemail15 karma

How did your father's connections help your journalism career?

MattTaibbi29 karma

I should answer this, since it seems to come up a lot. My father was always supportive of me growing up. But he never once helped me get a job in journalism. My first gig in the business, with the Moscow Times, I actually got through family friends, a couple my parents knew in their college years who had worked with the Moscow Times editor in her previous job in Paris. After the Moscow Times, I worked at the eXile, which I started myself with Mark Ames. While at the eXile, Rolling Stone did a story about the eXile, which is how I met the editors there. So the only time anyone ever made a call for me was back when I was about 22 years old, and even that only got me the opportunity to submit freelance articles for the Moscow Times. Again, it's not that my father actively didn't help me -- he would have if I'd asked him to -- it just never came up. My father's an excellent TV reporter, he's really old school, and he taught me a lot, but our two businesses really don't intersect much.

taco_perfecto15 karma

I absolutely love your writing and your strong investigative skills. But do you ever worry that your use of profanity hurts your ability to be taken seriously by more "mainstream" media, and as such, lessens the impact of your investigative reports because less people read them/absorb the information found in the stories.

MattTaibbi39 karma

I keep waiting for someone to notice that I've really toned that down in recent years.

kiltrout13 karma

Hello Matt. How do you maintain your independent point of view while writing for a large corporate publication like Rolling Stone? There must be things you know you cannot say, now that you are a part of this bureaucracy. Maybe you have never had the reason to say these things, and maybe you never will, but certainly the threat of losing your oh-so-prestigious position has become so familiar as to become embedded in your writing in ways you cannot recognize.

Also, why do you want to destroy the internet? I mean, you do know what a Luddite IS, right?

This message has been brought to you, Matt Taibbi, by the editorial staff at the inexorable Internet Chronicle, your one and ONLY source for all things fulfilling and true.

MattTaibbi85 karma

I used the term "Luddite" because I was having such a hard time even logging in to Reddit, because I'm old now, not because I really want to destroy the internet. As for me working for a corporation, you might want to look up the meaning of that, too. I'm not sure if Wenner media is technically a corporation or not, but in a de facto sense we're owned by a single individual who has never once edited my work, even when he violently disagreed with me. I'm always amazed by these people who think I'm part of some conspiracy because my magazine sells ads. Exactly where am I supposed to be holding back? By not reporting the truth about 9/11? I mean really.

DAMAE12 karma

Do you interact with the other writes often? Do you have round table discussions to develop avenues for your stories to follow?

MattTaibbi18 karma

Writing is a pretty solitary profession, you don't see writers hanging out a lot -- the best ones are cranks/curmudgeons, I think I'm heading in that direction.

jpcorner11 karma

Hey Matt, I'm a Junior at Bard -- who were your favorite professors? Have heard your name come up in classes a fair bit, and was just wondering.

MattTaibbi18 karma

Ben LaFarge and Peter Sourian were my guys there. LaFarge was incredibly good to me. Say hello if you see either!

JohnnyTsunami2310 karma

You've obviously dealt with some pretty heavy subjects. To do what you do and how you do it must take a lot and I'm sure you've gained some valuable experience. How do you deal with death? The fact that one day you'll be gone, disappeared from existence. Hearing this answered from someone whose opinion I trust would be wonderful.

MattTaibbi18 karma

I don't deal with death. Like most people, I run screaming from the thought of it. Also, I don't look back -- as Satchel Paige once said, someone might be gaining on you. So basically I don't look in either direction and try to stay just busy enough so that I don't have time to think about it.

KazamaSmokers8 karma

Did you go to J School?

MattTaibbi9 karma

No, I just grew up around a buttload of journalists.

GoodGodAllMoney8 karma

If you had to leave America, which country would you choose to live in?

MattTaibbi25 karma

Thailand probably. Great food, excellent people, elephants...

Fandorin5 karma

I used to real the eXile religiously. How much of what you wrote about life in Moscow was bullshit and how much was actually reality? I always had trouble believing that anyone could party so much and actually survive largely unscathed.

MattTaibbi5 karma

Sadly, it was pretty much all true.

VanBurenOG4 karma

Would You Rather Fight a Horse-Sized Duck or a Hundred Duck-Sized Horses?

MattTaibbi7 karma

A horse-sized duck, no question. And that's probably the best question I've ever been asked.

thedaveoflife3 karma

Matt, You spend a lot of time demonizing finance but I am wondering if you believe that there are some good people who work at large banks and financial companies and if these institutions do serve some purpose in the modern world?

MattTaibbi11 karma

That's a very odd question. It implies that I think everyone who works for a bank is evil. Most of my sources work in the finance industry. My entire view of this slice of the world is informed by those people. The people who are villains in my articles are primarily the top executives at a handful of Too-Big-To-Fail banks, and most of what I criticize them for is perverting the legitimate functions of banking and preventing honest people in the business from doing their jobs correctly. Moreover the single biggest criticism I have of these people is their reliance upon political connections and the government to bail them out of trouble and secure competitive advantage against smaller, independent banks. My whole point, in other words, is that the few bad apples at these firms undermine the creative energy that the good people on Wall Street would otherwise be devoting to kick-starting the economy. if you really think that all I do is demonize finance, I don't think you've actually read my work.

neither_party3 karma

Don't you feel any need to attempt to be objective in your reporting?

MattTaibbi4 karma

There's no such thing as objective reporting. All reporting contains a point of view. Even if you're writing in the third person in the New York Times, there's bias in which facts you choose to present, and in what tone you use, what's in the headline... I believe it's better to be up front about the bias and let readers see it.