Briahna Joy Gray Asks Matt Taibbi the Right Questions

Matt Taibbi was surprised to get a confrontational interview from Briahna Joy Gray, who like him, is linked with the horseshoe theory of politics (left and right are the same). The occasion for the interview was that Taibbi has been revealing the Twitter files, the leaked documents from the Jack Dorsey era of Twitter.

Gray is a much more nuanced thinker than Taibbi and frustrates both the Trumpenleft (Paul Street’s genius term) and the Brandonleft (the part of the left that keeps being shocked by Joe Biden’s “betrayals”). See Joshua Frank’s aptly named piece recently in CounterPunch.

Now onto the interview of Taibbi by Gray. This is behind a paywall I normally don’t have access to. But Gray is one of the leftists worth supporting, just as Counterpunch is. She’s a fair, smart, and engaging interviewer. She asked what she said her fans wanted her to ask (myself included). She asked Taibbi not so much about what was in the Twitter files (suppression of the right-wing) but more so about what wasn’t (suppression of the left wing).

Gray’s line of questioning is informed by what we all have observed in Taibbi and much of the left these days. A clear drift towards the “populist” right which in reality is just the politics of the petit-bourgeois who perpetually see their privilege in decline. To be fair to Taibbi there is a structural problem going on which C. Derick Varn has addressed well. With a decline in the ability to do real journalism for a living, we see many journalists taking up what they can do from their coach, which is to engage in a certain kind of politics that can only be right-wing (more on this later).

The Twitter files are a mix of these things. Let’s face it. It’s Taibbi’s best work by far in years. There is something there. The intelligence agencies getting involved in Twitter censorship is important. The problem Gray had was the editorializing of Taibbi which framed the censorship to be mostly of the right-wing, not of the left wing.

However here again Gray’s astute reading of Taibbi’s agenda lately doesn’t cut all the way through. When Gray pressed Taibbi he said, and this is fair, that what he found on Twitter was mostly right-wing censorship but this was not the main discovery. The main discovery was the players involved.

Gray wondered if Taibbi was looking in the right places, and if Twitter’s new ultra-right CEO Elon Musk, was hiding things from Taibbi. Matt admitted he had a limited amount of Twitter’s files he could get at once and that he wasn’t really looking for left-wing censorship, rather he was following what he saw as the main story: collaboration between top-level executives and an intelligence agency to censor Twitter. It just so happened that the censorship was right-wing.

Gray was rightly skeptical of this but how could any of us know? Let’s assume Taibbi is telling us all he saw and while he can’t see everything let’s assume he is generally targeting the right people on Twitter. There’s a scenario in which Taibbi is completely right about Twitter and at the same time Gray is right to interrogate the ideology behind the project.

It’s clear why Taibbi was chosen by Elon Musk to do this project and why the Republicans want him to testify about it. But Taibbi argues, that as a journalist, the motivation of the source doesn’t matter, what matters is the information revealed. This is hard to argue with. And the same can be applied to Taibbi himself. Just because he may be doing the Twitter files to further a right-wing agenda doesn’t mean there isn’t important information along the way. In other words, facts are facts no matter if we like the messenger or not.

That being said Gray is looking in the wrong place if she wants to find the censorship of the left. It may be perfectly true that Twitter is censoring the right more than the left. Why is that? Because the left isn’t on Twitter. The left is on the streets. Getting murdered every day. Getting charged with domestic terrorism for peaceful protest. Getting their heads beaten in by cops. Getting fired from their jobs. This is where the left is. This is the kind of censorship that’s hard to cover in an age where journalism isn’t supported in a structural way.

Now there are other kinds of less dramatic things going on too. The algorithms that bury the left. The corruption works well with fascists like Trump and bad with social democrats like Sanders or AOC. Those trying to unionize get punished. Those defending their land getting moved out. There are ways. Some go easily. Some pay the ultimate price. But the censorship of the left is so obvious and so much more than speech it is clear that anyone who doesn’t see it just spends their days online and doesn’t see the working class at all, let alone the left.

It is possible that the right-wing spends more time whining on Twitter. Should we be against their censorship? Sure. But it would be nice if the left was put in the proper context. It’s unfortunate that Taibbi has to editorialize that the left is weak and cowardly and no threat to power while the bourgeois white nationalist right is the underdog.

Could Taibbi’s thesis be right when he’s looking on a liberal media space where no threat to power is happening anyways? Sure they might hate the Trumpsters. It’s not the biggest story but it’s the story that will be covered.

Gray continued to try and make a leftist intervention into Taibbi’s claim of acting without bias and just presenting the facts. Everyone has bias, especially those who say they don’t, but facts are helpful no matter what and hard to come by in the age of the editorial.

All I’ve been doing really is editorials and at some point, I ran into the same rut as many of the lefties who bash the left now has. They claim the left is dead. That’s merely an excuse to not engage. It comes from bourgeois guilt. We feel bad when we can or will not intervene to change society.

There are more than two options. We do not have to choose between paying the ultimate price and bashing the left because we are guilty for not paying the ultimate price ourselves. Most of the time we are in the middle and we must learn to navigate this space.

Unfortunately, the useful information Taibbi has brought to light has been buried by a narrative that the right wing is the heroic underclass. This was Musk’s intention, and we can all agree to disagree on what Taibbi wants. Our task is the same as Gray’s. We must use this information to reorient ourselves toward where the left is and isn’t in this story.

The mantra of going offline is just as lousy as telling someone to get sober or go on a diet. If it works for you, great. We are happy for you. But trying to control others’ enjoyment can only lead to more resentment. We must instead recognize where our enjoyment begins and where our politics ends.

Right-wing enjoyment and politics are one and the same. Their entire politics is to enjoy life as much as possible by hurting as many people as they can. For us we feel conflicted about enjoyment. We can’t seize it but we also can’t let it go. What we want is, like the recent Oscar-winning film “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

We don’t only enjoy life. We love it. We don’t only want to overcome censorship. We want freedom. The left has a sort of idealism that cannot be completely boiled down to material things. The left is an everlasting light and those who do not see this are censoring their own hearts. This too must be overcome through the revelation of truth.

In a world filled to the brim with ideology, the concept of straight journalism is nothing to sneeze at. We should want journalists who hold everyone’s feet to the fire. Seeing the Biden administration do the largest drilling project on federal land without journalists holding them to account is an example of this.

But Biden isn’t the left. He just isn’t. Playing the game of the media likes Biden more than Trump and therefore the right-wing deserves sympathy only means you spend too much time with the media and not enough with the institutions that run people’s lives. As always there is a lot more left out of a story than put in. There is only so much time we have in this life and while the Twitter files may be a step up for the Trumpenleft it is time for me to log off.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at