“Twitter Files” reporters Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger held firm Thursday against an onslaught of attacks from Democrats who referred to them as “so-called journalists” and demanded they give up their sources during a tense House subcommittee hearing.
“The Republicans have brought in two of [Twitter CEO] Elon Musk’s public scribes to release cherry-picked, out-of-context emails and screenshots designed to promote his chosen narrative — Elon Musk’s chosen narrative — that is now being parroted by the Republicans,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI), the ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
Plaskett — who could be described as a “so-called congresswoman” since she cannot vote on the House floor — then dismissed Taibbi, 53, a veteran Rolling Stone journalist, and Shellenberger, 51, an author of award-winning books, as “so-called journalists” whose reporting contained no bombshell revelations.
“Three weeks ago, House Oversight had this hearing with actual Twitter executives, who had actual first-hand knowledge about what happened in 2020,” she said in her opening statement. “And that didn’t go so well for the House Republicans because real evidence showed that there wasn’t coordination between Twitter and the federal government as they like the American people to believe.”
She claimed “all the so-called ‘Twitter Files’ really showed was a discussion on content moderation” and that Taibbi and Shellenberger were only chosen by Republicans to “help them out politically.”
“Ranking member Plaskett, I’m not a so-called journalist,” Taibbi shot back. “I’ve won the National Magazine Award, the I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and I’ve written 10 books, including four New York Times bestsellers.”
Plaskett also downplayed revelations earlier this week that the Federal Trade Commission had demanded Musk turn over the names of all reporters who were granted access to Twitter’s internal records.
“On Tuesday, the majority released an 18-page report claiming to show that the FTC is, quote, ‘harassing’ Twitter,” the delegate said before sarcastically adding: “Oh my, poor Twitter.”
Taibbi had criticized his “former colleagues in mainstream media” for failing to cover the FTC demands, adding that it was “particularly infuriating” since neither he nor his fellow ‘Twitter Files’ colleagues had asked for “asked for nor received access to private user data” — the agency’s ostensible justification for the request — even as “the Files themselves are full of instances of government agencies improperly asking for the same.”
“Which journalists a company or its executives talks to is not remotely the government’s business,” Taibbi said on Twitter. “This is an insane overreach.”
Other Democrats showed a similar disdain for Taibbi’s guarding of his sources during the Thursday hearing.
“What was the first time that Mr. Musk approached you about the writing of the Twitter Files?” asked Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) later in the hearing. “I just need a date, sir.”
“I can’t give it to you, unfortunately, because this is a question of sourcing, and I don’t give out — I’m a journalist; I don’t reveal my sources,” Taibbi said.
“It’s not a question of sources — it’s a question of chronology,” she responded.
“No, that’s a question of sourcing,” he said.
“So you’re not going to tell us when Musk approached you?” she asked again.
“Again, congresswoman, you’re asking a journalist to reveal his sources,” Taibbi said.
“So then you consider Mr. Musk to be the direct source of all of this,” Garcia said.
“No, now you’re trying to get me to say that he is the source,” Taibbi responded. “I just can’t answer your question.”
“Well, he either is or he isn’t,” she said. “If you’re telling me you can’t answer because it’s your source, well then the only logical conclusion is that he is, in fact, your source.”
“Well, you’re free to conclude that,” Taibbi said, before Plaskett and subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) jumped in.
“What he has said is he is not going to reveal his source,” Jordan said, “and the fact that the Democrats are pressuring him to do so is such a violation of the First Amendment.”
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz also sought to discredit Taibbi’s reporting by citing the mere fact that he agreed to testify before the GOP-controlled committee.
“Being a Republican witness today certainly casts a cloud over your objectivity,” she said, before attacking the “Twitter Files” as a story “spoon-fed” by Musk to further the billionaire’s priorities.
“Journalists should avoid accepting spoon-fed, cherry-picked information if it’s likely to be slanted, incomplete, or designed to reach a foregone, easily disputed, or invalid conclusion,” Wasserman Schultz went on before asking Taibbi: “Would you agree with that?”
“I think it depends,” Taibbi said. “Congresswoman, I’ve done probably a dozen stories involving whistleblowers. Every reported story that I’ve ever done across three decades involves sources who have motives.”
Wasserman Schultz said Taibbi had “crossed a line” with the “Twitter Files” by allegedly accepting Musk’s invitation, and heavily implied he did so to line his pockets.
“Is it true that you have profited since you were the recipient of the Twitter Files,” she asked.
The reporter responded: “I think it’s probably a wash, honestly.”
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