The Possible Presidential Aspirations Of “Rolling Stone”

Jan 30th, 2008 // 7 Comments

thomyorkeeee.jpgOnce again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, a look at the new issue of Rolling Stone:

Six months ago, your very own Keyboard Krybaby assessed the issue of Vibe in which the magazine’s staff more or less endorsed a Democratic candidate for POTUS. Pageviews for that column were anemic in the days after it was posted, and they have received no boost since that time.

It doesn’t strain credulity to infer from this that frequent visitors to this particular aggregate were then not invested in the presidential race. But Google or Technorati drive-bys in search of Obama-related content didn’t seem to help either.

So, since KK will be analyzing one aspect of Rolling Stone‘s Presidential-race reportage this week, he’s happy that the cover of the mag’s Feb. 7 issue bears the image of a man whose visage, music, and musings are music blog chum.

RS runs with Radiohead this month in order to give the physical incarnation of In Rainbows a push: contributing editor Mark Binelli’s piece, “The Future According to Radiohead,” depicts the band members as family men ensconced in Cambridge, England. Associate editor Brian Hiatt’s “Soul Kitten” notes that Chan Marshall is no longer a godawful mess; Alan Light’s three-star review of Jack Johnson’s Sleep Through The Static reads as if it deserved two stars; and Christian Hoard seems a lot less enthusiastic regarding Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut than his three-and-a-half star rating would warrant. Notably, Robert Christgau’s review of the Whigs’ Mission Control reads as if a copyeditor tried to clean up the Dean’s phrasing but rendered it equivalent to the work of an ambitious ninth grader.

So since that’s out of the way: Rolling Stone has employed contributing editor Matt Taibbi as a National Affairs correspondent since 2005. He’s the son of NBC correspondent Mike Taibbi and in the ’90s co-edited The eXile, an alternative paper oriented toward Americans living in Moscow. His co-editor, Jeff Koyen, went on to run the New York Press, an alt-paper started by churlish libertarian/right wing ass-kisser Russ Smith to function as a thorn in the side of the Village Voice. Koyen succeeded in turning the Press into an engaging publication, and Taibbi was its star scribe.

As the paper’s star, it’s fitting that Taibbi penned the item that will be the best-remembered exponent of Koyen’s tenure at the paper: “The 52 Funniest Things About The Upcoming Death of the Pope.” Immediately, various elected officials called for Koyen and Taibbi’s heads.

While Koyen was forced to quit his job as editor, Taibbi strolled straight over to Rolling Stone, smelling like a goddamn rose. His National Affairs columns have been bracing from the get-go: he is most emphatically not a member of the clubby Washington press corps. He is from time to time referred to as the new Hunter Thompson, although that has more to do with his disinclination to peddle Beltway tropes than to do gonzo-ish shit on the trail. His preferred sport is with Republicans, though he’ll often fuck with the Democratic establishment.

Such is the case with his column in the current issue, “The New Nixon,” in which Rolling Stone‘s original nemesis is conflated with the junior senator from New York. Accompanied by a Ralph Steadman-lite illustration of a conflated Hillary/Tricky Dick (alongside, presciently given Monday’s anointment from the senior senator from Massachusetts, a JFK-ized likeness of Sen. Obama), Taibbi heaps scorn on the Clinton machine.

After an implicit tip of the hat to now-departed, consistently-ignored-by-Beltway-journos-but-beloved-by-lefties candidate Dennis Kucinich, Taibbi compares Clinton pollster Mark Penn (often referred to as the Democrats’ Karl Rove) to Jabba the Hutt, recounts Penn’s frequent quasi-slurs regarding Obama’s youthful indiscretions (“everyone familiar with the Clintons and how they operate,” he writes, “could have set their watches by the Hillary camp’s inevitable decision to start reminding America of the dangers of electing a black teenager on coke”), suggests that Sen. Clinton never really quit being a Republican, compares her obsession with vast conspiracies arrayed against her and courtship of “invisible Americans” with those of Nixon’s, and opines that Obama is a pussy for not telling Clinton, Penn, and their surrogates to go fuck themselves.

This column, like every other written by Taibbi for RS, is candid, insightful and fearless. You’re not going to read anything of its sort in other mass market publications, staffed as they are by editors and reporters who temper their output with eye to future access: don’t want to burn bridges with any pol who may grant favors later, right?

But here’s the rub. In another month or two, either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama will have prevailed as the Democratic candidate. And RS‘s owner/editor/publisher Jann Wenner (who, somewhat inconveniently, became an early Howard Dean adopter a few months before John Kerry secured his party’s nomination) will then get in line and marshal his magazine’s resources to whichever has won. Incidentally, KK would have thought, given Wenner’s long-standing Clinton advocacy, that RS would have gone for Sen. Clinton by now. But maybe he’s annoyed that the Clintons didn’t do more for his BFF Al Gore and is now charmed by Obama.

This is all to say that once a nominee is selected, Taibbi probably will be instructed quite firmly that he is to stop criticizing Democrats now, and to focus on the perfidy of the eventual Republican victor. What will Taibbi, a journalist who seems possessed of much integrity, do then?

  1. Ned Raggett

    Great piece and ends on a perfect question. You do have to wonder how long certain charades get played out.

  2. Anonymous

    oxford, not cambridge.

  3. Feh Am Legend

    Well reviewed, anono-sir. I look forward to reading this.

    On a completely side note: I think the argument could be made for the NYP releasing the term “dirty sanchez” into the popular vernacular. Back in, what, the late 80s?, it was the nom de plume of a “music critic” for the Press whose defining critical approach was to rip on everything. Funny stuff; apparently not online. Rumored to be a fairly high-profile odd-ball alt.rock-er (okay, Mike Doughty) but I had no inside info. Anyway. I or no one I knew had heard the term dirty sanchez; many readers of the paper assumed it was just a racist joke.

    Now it’s at least one punchline in every “edgy” comedy that comes down the pike. But I’m guessing they were one of the first.

  4. Anonymous

    Sorry, I still think Matt Taibbi is annoying as fuck. Way too impressed with himself to be the next Hunter Thompson.

  5. Michaelangelo Matos

    Doughty long ago given himself away as Dirty Sanchez. (I enjoyed that column too.)

  6. heyzeus

    Needs more music.

  7. Feh Am Legend

    @Matos: Thanks. I did google it, but got mostly links to shit about Terminator, which, come on, even then most right thinking folks knew was a stupid pen name and probably entirely fictional.

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