'Rolling Stone' reporter weighs in on politics

Matt Taibbi discussed covering candidates, political journalism ethics and Russian satire to Maxwell Auditorium audience.

What's wrong with political journalism today is not what is being said, but what is not being said. Just ask Rolling Stone magazine’s Matt Taibbi, who spoke in Maxwell Auditorium on Wednesday evening.

Taibbi's lecture –- which was sponsored by the Syracuse University College Democrats and Jerk magazine –- spanned just more than an hour, and focused on how political journalists do not cover everything they should.

During his lecture, Taibbi said he believes national issues are often cleaved in half. “It's either a Democrat's belief, or a Republican belief; there's nothing in between,” he said.

Taibbi said he believes that political journalists are not outright lying; rather, they just ignore certain issues.

“There is nothing inaccurate, they're just leaving out stuff,” he said. “If the two parties agree, we don't cover it.”

The lecture began as a bit of autobiography. Taibbi grew up with a family of journalists, so his first inclination was to stay away from the field, he said. He chronicled his admiration for writer Nikolai Gogol, particularly his satirical story, “The Nose.” Taibbi said it was Gogol’s satire that inspired him to move to Russia.

“I wanted to do what Gogol had done for me,” Taibbi said. “I wanted to cheer up depressed teenagers with comical stories.”

He eventually began practicing journalism, he said, because after his graduation from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, he had “no other real skills.”

After his appreciation for Hunter S. Thompson's “Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ‘72,” Taibbi said he wanted to work on the campaign trail. He followed Howard Dean for Rolling Stone leading up to the 2004 election.

“The campaign journalists' job is to hammer their theme into the facts,” Taibbi said. “If the candidate isn't right, they'll make him right, fit him into the box.”

Taibbi continued his talk by exploring current issues, like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and explained the way politics are covered with an analogy: “Political reporting is a Venn diagram. They don't tell you about the stuff in the middle,” he said. “The stuff in the middle, like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, has a complicated back-story that you can't fit into sound bytes for cable news.”

Many students, like magazine journalism sophomore Juliana LaBianca, said they enjoyed Taibbi’s lecture. “His speech wasn't what I was expecting, but it was very interesting,” LaBianca said.

Magazine, newspaper and online journalism graduate student Michael Lu said he was proud that the university was able to host Taibbi.

“This was fantastic,” Lu said. “Seldom do you get the chance to meet one of your favorite journalists.”


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