Author and journalist Matt Taibbi fielded scathing questions by House Democrats on Thursday as he sought to defend his contributions to the so-called “Twitter Files” during a hearing for the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The hearing became tense at times, with the top Democrat on the panel, Del. Stacey Plaskett (U.S. Virgin Islands), repeatedly pushing back against the top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Jordan and others in his party allege federal agencies have been unfairly targeting conservatives.
In an attempt to prove that point, new Twitter CEO Elon Musk allowed a swath of internal company documents to be leaked late last year to a conservative-leaning group of journalists and commentators. The resulting articles supposedly proved that, under its previous leadership, Twitter had pushed a progressive agenda onto users and worked with federal agencies to silence conservative voices on the site. But critics say it came up short, merely serving to illustrate how difficult it is to moderate content on a large social media platform.
Taibbi testified that the Twitter story was “by far the most serious thing” and “the most brave story” he had ever worked on, surpassing even the financial crisis of 2008.
The weaponization committee had requested testimony from both Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, another writer who worked on stories about the alleged censorship.
Democrats on the House panel used the source of the Twitter Files to question the legitimacy of any conclusions drawn from them.
“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,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), quoting from the Society for Professional Journalists’ code of ethics.
“Would you agree with that?” she asked.
Taibbi replied, “I think it depends.”
Wasserman Schultz then pointed to Taibbi’s December 2021 appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, where he said: “Once you start getting handed things, then you’ve lost. They have you at that point and you gotta get out of that habit. You just can’t cross that line.”
“You violated your own standard,” Wasserman Schultz said, over Taibbi’s objections.
Taibbi also took issue with the lawmaker’s suggestion that he profited from the Twitter Files, increasing his follower count and newsletter subscribers.
Taibbi started by saying he had “also reinvested” before being cut off.
“You made money. Yes or no?” Wasserman Schultz asked.
Taibbi replied, “I think it’s probably a wash, honestly.”
Wasserman Schultz persisted: “No. You have made money that you did not have before, correct?”
Taibbi replied, “But I’ve also spent money that I didn’t have before.”
At another point, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) asked whether Taibbi had been provided records of the Trump White House asking Twitter to remove a tweet by model Chrissy Teigen, in which she called then-President Donald Trump a “pussy ass bitch.”
Taibbi began, “No, but that’s probably because ... ”
Connolly jumped in: “Probably because it didn’t confirm the bias that this is all about ... ‘the left’ attempting to control content when in fact the evidence is the Trump White House most certainly attempted to control content on Twitter.”
The Twitter Files provided evidence that the FBI had reached out to social media companies with a warning about the Hunter Biden laptop story published by The New York Post just before the 2020 presidential election. The agency worried that the story could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the election, as foreign adversaries did in 2016.
Asked whether he believed it was “a legitimate objective” for the FBI to try to “stop foreign interference in our elections,” Taibbi said: “I think it’s a legitimate objective to stop actual interference.”
“OK. I don’t know what the difference is, but that’s fine,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) responded.
Taibbi later pointed to emails between Twitter staffers who questioned the FBI’s assessment of foreign interference.