This week, Jim Jordan plans to hold yet another congressional hearing about Twitter—and his star witnesses selected for this committee have faced accusations of factual inaccuracies, journalistic misconduct, and bias. Their reporting on the “Twitter Files” has been called into question and both have increasingly embraced right-wing grievance politics and conspiracy theories. Even though the House Oversight Committee just held a committee hearing last month targeting Twitter, Jordan and his MAGA “weaponization” committee have made it clear they intend to focus on debunked conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances about social media instead of the top issues Americans are actually facing.
Matt Taibbi’s Ongoing Analysis Of The “Twitter Files” Airs Right-Wing Grievances. Matt Taibbi is a controversial journalist who formerly wrote for Rolling Stone before shifting his focus towards right-wing grievances, culture war issues and so-called cancel culture. In December 2022, Twitter owner Elon Musk announced that he would be releasing a set of internal documents from Twitter, known as the “Twitter Files,” in numerous installments to be published by Taibbi. Over the past four months, Taibbi has released at least half of these installments, describing FBI warnings about election disinformation and suggestions about certain users, federal law enforcement warnings about foreign influence and foreign propaganda and Twitter employees’ reactions, and Trump’s suspension from Twitter (among others).
- Taibbi Agreed To Unspecified “Conditions” In Exchange For Reporting On The Twitter Files. The release of the Twitter Files is a deliberate, coordinated attempt to paint Twitter as a co-conspirator in an insidious government censorship scheme. Taibbi described the hours before the release as “among the most chaotic of my life, involving multiple trips back and forth across the country,” and even admitted that he had to “agree to certain conditions” in exchange for the documents. He also revealed that Twitter owner Elon Musk “gets a kick out of seeing all this stuff come out on Twitter.”
- Taibbi Reported Exaggerated and Inaccurate Conclusions About Partisan Bias In the Twitter Files. Taibbi came to inaccurate conclusions about the Twitter Files on at least one occasion. As Rolling Stone pointed out: “Matt Taibbi, who published the first installment, pointed to emails showing Twitter honoring requests from Biden’s team as a smoking gun that the platform’s moderation decisions were political, but researchers soon discovered that the tweets in questions were revenge porn that violated the platform’s policy.”
Matt Taibbi’s Reporting Has Been Called Into Question. Taibbi has come under fire from fellow journalists for credibility issues with his reporting.
- Taibbi Ran A Scandal-Ridden Tabloid Accused of Harassment and Ethical Improprieties. While running a tabloid in Moscow called the eXile, Taibbi was accused of organizing a fake sting operation to harass a fellow journalist, and faced backlash over an article about sexually harassing underage female employees. Rolling Stone described his tabloid as a series of “misogynist rants, dumb pranks, insulting club listings and photos of blood-soaked corpses, all redeemed by political reporting that’s read seriously not only in Moscow but also in Washington.”
- Taibbi Gave Credence to Disinformation On COVID-19 Treatments. Over a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, Taibbi lent journalistic credibility to widely-debunked claims that the medication Ivermectin could be used to treat symptoms of COVID-19, writing an article framing the discourse as “internet censorship.” Though medical misinformation can have serious, deadly consequences, Taibbi denounced the backlash he faced for seriously engaging with misinformation, arguing that journalists “should be permitted to write about certain topics without being painted as a supporter of what they report on.”
- Taibbi Dismissed Credible Warnings in Reporting on Foreign Affairs. Despite critiquing the FBI and CIA’s warnings to Twitter about potential foreign election interference and propaganda, Taibbi has a poor track record with making calls on foreign policy. Most notably, his reporting on Russia has been based on false assumptions and missing information. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Taibbi “dismissed warnings of an imminent invasion as ‘information warfare,’ and responded to critics by calling warnings ‘baseless’ and ‘a big international PR win for Putin.’” Over a year later, he was forced to admit that he ignored credible sources and apologized for inaccurate analysis.
Michael Shellenberger Published Portions of the “Twitter Files.” Shellenberger is an environmental activist who has become a vocal advocate for conservative politics in recent years. In spite of his clear lack of policy expertise on big tech, social media, law enforcement, or free speech, he published portions of the “Twitter Files” at the behest of Elon Musk. In a drawn-out, editorial narrative thread published on Twitter, Shellenberger has accused the FBI of conspiring to suppress a New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election.
- ‘He Doesn’t Have Evidence’: Journalists Derided Shellenberger’s Twitter Analysis As Mere Framing. Shellenberger’s colleagues have derided the narrative as lacking proof: “And the story Shellenberger wanted to tell was the one the New York Post amplified: The FBI tried to cast the Hunter Biden story as misinformation. But he doesn’t have evidence to that effect. The Post’s story is headlined, “FBI pressured Twitter, sent trove of docs hours before Post broke Hunter laptop story,” capturing the intended narrative. […] As for the “pressure”? That’s all framing as well. […] In the context of the moment, that focus made sense. In Shellenberger’s narrative, it is made to seem nefarious. And the New York Post — like Musk, eager to cast Twitter and the FBI as bad actors — is happy to elevate Shellenberger’s presentation.” One journalist described Shellenberger’s analysis as “predicated on an unfailingly ungenerous interpretation of select documents.”
Michael Shellenberger Has Increasingly Embraced Right-Wing Conspiracies. Shellenberger has increasingly pivoted to right-wing grievances in his messaging. He received a great deal of media attention from Fox News and Newsmax after claiming that he had been “censored” by Facebook. Now, his Twitter feed is littered with culture war tirades using conservative talking points about “wokeism,” critical race theory, environmentalism, and so forth.
- Shellenberger’s Latest Articles Target Right-Wing Grievances. Perhaps the clearest indication of Shellenberger’s rightward turn is the subject matter of his writings. He has made his partisan stances clear in op-eds published in the New York Post and Fox News, with headlines like “Californians are starting to reject progressive policies—but not fast enough,” “How left-wing activism got taken over by ‘adults’ who act like infants,” and, “Elon Musk chose us to report on the Twitter Files. Here are the disturbing things I learned about the FBI.”
- The House GOP Has Used Shellenberger As A Contrarian Witness At Other Hearings. Shellenberger has served as the House GOP’s contrarian “star witness” in other hearings. In August 2020, he appeared before the House Oversight Committee as a GOP witness to speak on climate change, despite his lack of formal expertise on the subject matter, after complaining that he was “smeared” by House Democrats at an earlier hearing.
- Schellenberg Spread Lies and Conspiracy Theories About January 6. Schellenberg has long been a conspiracy theorist about the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. As early as Jan. 7, he shared a conspiracy theory about rioters being paid actors. In one of his most controversial Substack newsletters, Schellenberg downplayed the events of Jan. 6. He minimized efforts to overturn the 2020 election and mocked the threats posed by foreign election interference, writing, “it hardly constituted a near-coup,” and blamed “the extremism of both the Right and Left.”
Shellenberger Launched Unsuccessful Independent Campaigns For California Governor in 2022 and 2017. Shellenberger’s gubernatorial campaigns relied on right-wing media: “Shellenberger appeared on a recent episode of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ dedicated to Newsom’s reelection campaign, where he claimed to expose the governor’s ‘lies.’” During an interview, he admitted: “I’m going to be doing Bill Maher a week from Friday, I’ve been on Joe Rogan twice, I have something like 10-20 times more social media followers than any of my opponents, so we feel really confident we’re going to come in second on June 7. I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t feel confident I could come in second.”