Musk's media renegades: The anti-establishment writers including Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss chosen for the 'Twitter Files'

Musk's media renegades: The anti-establishment writers including Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss chosen for the 'Twitter Files'
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  • Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, and others were given access to the so-called "Twitter Files" by Elon Musk.

  • Weiss and Taibbi are controversial figures who struck out alone after working for major media outlets.

  • They share Musk's anti-establishment outlook, and have been granted the inside track on a major story.

When the "Twitter Files" were released in lengthy threads by independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss last week, the findings caused much debate among media experts and commentators.

While some heralded the documents as proof of big tech censorship, others described them as a"nothingburger" which did not significantly add to the public understanding of how Twitter handled some of its most controversial problems.

Musk handpicked the reporters to give access to internal material, and his choices were telling — all are writers who have gone against the tide on salient issues like trans rights and COVID-19, and are openly hostile to mainstream US media.

Weiss and Taibbi both abandoned high-profile roles to pursue their own reporting, and are scathing critics of established outlets in their Substack newsletters.

That view is broadly shared by Musk, who spends time arguing and mocking the media online (Insider had been among his targets in the past).

Here is some more about the figures Musk chose to be his messengers:

Matt Taibbi — the "red-pilled culture warrior"

Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi.Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

In his Twitter Files thread on December 9, Matt Taibbi detailed how former president Donald Trump was banned from the platform.

Taibbi's tone in describing an "erosion of standards" where Twitter execs "violate their own policies" mirrored his own disillusionment with the people who hold the power to tell the world's stories.

Taibbi is a journalist and author who has been active since the 1990s, most notably working as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

There, he focused on politics and finance, famously writing a 2010 article describing Goldman Sachs as a" great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity."

From around 2015, Taibbi started weighing in on the debate around cancel culture, and became more hostile to the mainstream media where he earlier earned a living.

Taibbi left Rolling Stone and moved to Substack in April 2020, often writing posts detailing how mainstream media was "destroying itself," and taking contrarian positions like writing in defense of vaccine skeptics at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also interviewed Tucker Carlson in a post that Ben Cohen of The Banter Newsletter described as a "puff piece" that "paints Carlson as a victim of liberal hysteria" and "a brave truth teller railing against the establishment."

Taibbi was also sympathetic to Carlson's claim that he was being spied on by the National Security Agency, for which he never produced any evidence.

In October 2021, New York Magazine called Taibbi "one of the most celebrated investigative journalists of his generation" due to his fierce reporting on Wall Street and the financial crisis, but who had become a "red-pilled culture warrior" in the same bracket as Glenn Greenwald.

Bari Weiss — contrarian who quit the NYT with a bang

Bari Weiss.Screenshot/MSNBC

Bari Weiss focused her Twitter Files thread on "shadowbanning" — a practice where some content is quietly suppressed. She discussed screenshots of how Twitter employees making "blacklists" and limiting certain trending topics and accounts.

Some saw a smoking gun, proof of longstanding claims by conservatives of censorship. Others argued that what Weiss described was simply what all content moderation looks like.

Weiss also spent years in the heart of US media, in her case writing op-eds for The Wall Street Journal and later The New York Times, where she was one of the paper's few conservative writers.

She particularly focused on issues of gender and was criticized for arguing against trans activists and in favor of traditional understandings of gender.

She resigned from The Times with a scathing attack on her then-employer, saying she had been bullied by her colleagues at the paper because of her views.

In her resignation letter, Weiss said The New York Times was "caving to the whims of critics on Twitter." She was praised by Republicans, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump Jr.

Weiss set up a Substack in January 2021, and later an outlet now called The Free Press. She has a podcast called "Honestly" which has frequently hosted guests with gender-critical views including Julie Bindel, Katie Herzog, and Jesse Singal.

Like Taibbi, Weiss has described herself as a liberal who believes the left have gone too far.

Michael Shellenberger — environmental writer who defies consensus

Michael Shellenberger
Michael Shellenberger.San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Author of "Apocalypse Never" and "San Fransicko," Michael Shellenberger, is a controversial figure among environmentalists.

In his Twitter Files thread published on December 11, Shellenberger shared Weiss and Taibbi's findings, as well as adding context about the complexities of Twitter suppressing certain search terms such as "kraken" — a word associated with QAnon, but also the name of a company.

Musk may have seen in Shellenberger a similar tendency to go against the grain.

While his writing has focused on the environment and climate change, Shellenberger believes global warming is "not the end of the world," according to an interview in The Atlantic. His views have brought him backlash from the scientists where the general consensus among environmental experts is that climate change is a real and very serious problem.

Shellenberger has advocated for homelessness reform by providing mandatory treatment for people with mental illness and drug addictions.

Shellenberger also ran for governor of California in 2018, coming 9th of 27 candidates.

Supporting cast, cut from the same cloth

Taibbi, Weiss, and Shellenberger have been the main writers of "Twitter Files" post since Musk began the project, but they also credited a host of supporting writers, seeming to share a similar anti-establishment tone.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Leighton Woodhouse has written for publications including The Intercept, Gawker, Newsweek, The New Republic, and Vice, and was credited by Shellenberg as a collaborator.

On his YouTube channel, Woodhouse has posted two videos about homelessness in California, in collaboration with Shellenberger. He also has a Substack titled "Social Studies" where he writes about "the two opposite extremes of American society" — the "elite," and the homeless.

On his Substack, Woodhouse said he too became disappointed with the mainstream media since Trump's election, saying he "watched the journalism profession abandon its curiosity about the world and slide into lazy political activism and boring party line orthodoxy."

Weiss also credited a host of other writers for helping her assemble her reporting.

Abigail Shrier
Abigail Shrier on The Joe Rogan Experience.The Joe Rogan Experience

Abigail Shrier is a journalist who has focused her reporting on criticisms of transgender people, including trans women's involvement in women's sports.

She is the author of "Irreversible Damage," a book that argues there has been a "sudden, severe spike in transgender identification among adolescent girls" since the 2010s, and blames gender dysphoria on mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and anorexia. However, there is no scientific evidence that so-called "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" is a real phenomenon.

The book received criticism from trans activists for being alarmist and misgendering trans and non-binary children.

Dr. A.J. Eckert described the title alone in an article for Science-Based Medicine as "inflammatory and misleading, and clearly intended to alarm concerned parents," and said the research and evidence in the book was "minimal."

Nellie Bowles and Isaac Grafstein are two reporters who write for the independent news website The Free Press, which is edited by Weiss. Bowles used to write for The New York Times, where she covered gender equality in the tech world. Her recent work included a controversial interview with Jordan Peterson.

On its welcome page, The Free Press describes itself as "a new media company built on the ideals that were once the bedrock of American journalism."

It cites apparent media bias and lack of objectivity by mainstream journalists as the need for an independent publication.

Correction: December 12, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated details of Weiss's media activity. She hosted the writers Julie Bindel, Katie Herzog, and Jesse Singal on her podcast, they have not all contributed to her website. Helen Lewis was erroneously listed as a contributor.

Read the original article on Insider