Friday Fun Link II: The Most Deranged Newspaper of Our Time, Co-Starring Matt Taibbi

American newspapers, as we've long grown accustomed to, are semi-gilded palaces of decline. Almost none of the behind-the-scenes stories about them anymore radiate a single ounce of fun, experimentation, or pointless, juvenile bravado.

The grand exceptions to that rule are expatriate newspapers, which at their best and worst are filled with mal-adjusted weirdos, journalistic dreamers, never-ready-for-prime-time washouts, and locals with a taste for the kink, all tilting at windmills, drinking way too much, and relentlessly grinding themselves out of business. I was lucky enough to work in that world for seven years, and like everyone else in the fraternity of journalism exile, I looked from afar with a sense of wonder and dread at the exploits of the craziest of 'em all: Moscow's vile and fearless eXile.

Vanity Fair has a new profile out about the paper, which lasted from 1997-2008 and helped launch the career of putative Hunter S. Thompson successor Matt Taibbi (who makes a starring turn at the end, throwing coffee in the reporter's face, and acting like a thin-skinned lunatic). Though I may be the ideal audience, I think there's fun enough for the whole family. Some excerpts:

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 [founder Mark] 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."

Of course, a pig is probably not the farm animal that comes to Wines's mind first when he’s reminded of The Exile. It was Wines, then the Times's Moscow-bureau chief, who, having won The Exile's coveted Worst Journalist in Russia March Madness contest in 2001, was typing in his office when Ames and Taibbi rushed in unannounced and, by way of congratulations, slammed a pie in his face. The pie was made with fresh vanilla cream, hand-puréed strawberry, and five ounces of horse semen. [...]

Ames and Taibbi usually rejected [social invitations] to throw their own debauched Exile parties or to get back to their regular hangout, the Hungry Duck, a place Ames, not given to squeamishness, describes as a "vile flesh pit." Ask Moscow veterans about the bar and the most common response is a long, regretful groan. "Everything you've heard about it is conservative," Peter Lavelle says, a hint of fear in his voice. "That place changed people." [...]

What The Exile lacked in resources it made up for in ritualistic public humiliation. For one stunt, Ames and Taibbi, armed with forged stationery purporting to be from the St. Petersburg mayor's office, hired the American public-relations giant Burson-Marsteller to help put a nice spin on the city's police-brutality problem. Burson-Marsteller, at the time doing a lot of work in Russia on behalf of American companies, happily took the job, and The Exile published the correspondence and phone transcripts. Taibbi masqueraded as an executive from the New York Jets and tried to recruit Mikhail Gorbachev to move to New Jersey to become a motivational coach for the team. Later, reporting from Manhattan, he exposed Wall Street's complicity in 1998's disastrous ruble devaluation, bought a gorilla suit, walked to Goldman Sachs's headquarters on Water Street, and sat down on the lobby floor for lunch, announcing to the security guards, "If Goldman Sachs can make a $50 million commission selling worthless Russian debt, then I can come into their offices in a gorilla suit and eat a sandwich on their floor."

Whole thing here. Reason interviewed Taibbi back in 2007, and we've run a couple of pieces over the years from former eXilee Alexander Zaitchik.

UPDATE: I neglected to link to this 2001 Reason review of the Taibbi/Ames co-production The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia.

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  • Thelonious_Nick||

    Did the paper close due to lack of money, or was it closed down by Russian authorities? Or something else?

  • Matt Welch||

    It's in the lede of the VF story.

  • Michael||

    I love occasionally revisiting old articles just because of gems like this...

    Taibbi: Giuliani is the one who would continue this whole business. Even more than Bush, he believes this stuff, that we have to be actively interventionist abroad, and if he were to become president, he would continue the secrecy and using government power for questionable ends. This is a guy who is much more power-hungry—and is really turned on by the exercise of power—than the rest of the candidates, and he’s the one I would really worry about.

  • Mike||

    They are still around, you know.

    http://exiledonline.com

  • John Tagliaferro||

    So the untelevised revolution was covered by a paper nobody besides Matt read is now on a website that may not sustain the onslaught of a H&R linking.

    Nice!

  • Mike||

    They moved stateside and went online only.

  • Kolohe||

    So they're exexiled?

  • ||

    Now this is journalism I can enjoy.

  • Wow!||

    Love the alt text on the reason girl!

  • John Tagliaferro||

    +1

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Thanks for the link, Matt. Good stuff.

  • Fluffy||

    So these guys can make a horse semen pie, and they've never attended a Dick Cheney event?

    What's up with that?

  • Atanarjuat||

    They're probably wary of getting gunned down by Secret Service.

  • ||

    I'm glad they mentioned John Dolan - he was one of the highlights of that paper, a very good writer and critic. The War Nerd (who may or may not in fact be John Dolan) was also one of the best parts of the Exile.

    I don't know if you can really understand the Exile out of context of its time and place. Part of the joy of the Exile was the contrast between the attitude of Taibbi and Ames and the earnest well-scrubbed careerists at the Moscow Times. Or the lazy journalists like Wines who used the Moscow dateline as an excuse to file any tired shoddily researched story knowing the US audience would happily lap it up.

  • Matt Welch||

    Carol Williams, whose quote in that piece is the least surprising thing about it, is the embodiment of one side of that divide.

  • Colin||

    I still have fondness for Prognosis. You should be very proud of that endeavor.

    I wonder if it would still exist if it weren't for a certain Ms. F.

  • Matt Welch||

    Competition is a good thing. So is having a beautiful corpse. Thanks for the nice words!

  • ¢||

    Looks like no one's reading the article. Good. Don't. It's punishingly shitty.

    I made it about six paragraphs in before my brain froze in self-defense and my "page down" finger locked. Is it even about anything? It reads like a "rogue journalist" template that hasn't been filled in.

    Vanity Fair is mind-destroying trash. The Exile wasn't. I miss it.

  • ||

    Matt, thanks for commenting.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Hehe.

  • emerson||

    There was also a book of their greatest hits called The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia. Highly recommmended. As is Taibbi's book Spanking the Donkey, his depressing and surreal look at the 2004 campaign.

  • ||

    He also started the Buffalo Beast when he came back from Russia. It kind of had a similar flavor. It's changed a bit since he left the paper, but it still puts out some quality satire.

    www.buffalobeast.com

  • ||

    OMG

    I remember way back in 2005 when I was studying at SUNY Buffalo, I saw a Buffalo Beast on the floor of the library. It was full of the extremely awesome cartoons/illustrations lampooning Islam, Mohammad etc. Mind you this was the crazy time when embassies were being firebombed due to published cartoons in Denmark, and Western journalists were apologizing for their Danish brethren and swearing never to offend Islam ever again.

    This was a complete breath of fresh air, especially for a leftist lampoon publication. Was a fan of Buffalo Beast in Buffalo :)

  • Robert||

    the paper, which lasted from 1997-2008 and helped launch the career of...Matt Taibbi


    "Helped launch"? Then what were all those pieces of his I read & enjoyed in the NY Press before that?

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