Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
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exiledonline.com
Book Burning Club / October 27, 2017
By Mark Ames

I got an email earlier today from a journalist asking me if I saw allegations swirling around social media calling me a “serial rapist” and “child rapist” and worse. Since this smear campaign has jumped like a wind-whipped fire from troll networks to the mainstream digital media world; and because some people genuinely confused or concerned by the allegations want to know my response — I’ve decided to post my email reply. (Also note I plan to update this piece with more material…) 

* * *

The eXile was satirical, and most of the people using my own satire to smear me are being deliberately misleading or obtuse. We were always described as satirical (I wrote a short post on this awhile back when some people were asking about the smears, listing various sources who also described us as satire—The Nation, Bill Moyers, Committee To Protect Journalists, Guardian, and so on). It’s also there in The eXile book: in my first chapter I interview one of many fake invented characters (“Johnny Chen”); I “quote” the US Embassy spokesman agreeing with me that Moscow’s expats should be incinerated and have their ashes fired off into space. The book cover is a stupid cartoon featuring penis-shaped onion domes (the original cover was supposed to be Yeltsin sitting on a toilet reading The eXile and looking depressed, but our publisher made us take the one on the book.) I was always very up front about our style — mixing satire with journalism with no regard to boundaries, something you’re not supposed to do.

This recasting of The eXile as something other than satirical began a few years ago with the alt-right, when white supremacists Jim Goad and Gavin McInnis had a weird obsession with trying to discredit my reporting, and Goad started running articles and tweets calling me a child rapist. [Goad, who was sent to prison for assaulting his girlfriend and breaking her skull, was unhappy with a piece I posted about him and McInnis. He spent the next few years trolling me, my employers and media colleagues, explaining to fellow white nationalist Brooks Bayne his goal was to “force” me “to wear the Rape Jacket”.] Then Breitbart ran a smear on my eXile-era work claiming it was not satirical and that I was an actual rapist, and therefore my Koch reporting should not be trusted. And from there that smear was picked up by anyone my journalism and politics upset— libertarians when I went after the Koch brothers’ networks, neocons in response to my criticisms of US policy towards Russia. And, well, here we are.

The eXile was produced in a very different world and context, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia of the 1990s, when virtuous neoliberals oversaw and ran propaganda cover for one of the most horrific and disastrous experiments on a country in modern times. Millions of Russians went to their graves early in the 1990s; it was the complete degradation of a people and region. We covered the story in the opposite way that everyone else around us did — satirical rather than “objective”. The Clinton missionaries propagandizing for Yeltsin were publicly virtuous while lying and looting and laying waste. So we were publicly grotesque immoral idiots, but we got the story right. The dominant metaphors for the American colonial project in Russia were rape and prostitution; we took those metaphors as fundamental to what was really going on, and tried to make our readers as uncomfortable as possible. We approached this shocking appalling reality—with a shocking offensive satirical aesthetic. I can understand if people today, with no gut concept of what the Yeltsin-Russia context was like—and it was totally alien to America-2017, a different world —if they think it was wrong for us to approach it satirically; or if they think our satire was bad and reprehensible and immoral as satire (some of it makes me utterly cringe today). But come on, you can’t take over my mind and tell me what I was thinking and intending as a writer at that time.

I haven’t directly responded to the smears and the false recasting of our eXile-era work until now, because the whole point of a smear is to get you to respond. And once you respond and deny it, that becomes a story unto itself. But now I can see it’s blown way out of proportion, it’s moved beyond the world of trolls, as happens so often on Twitter. So let me state clearly: It is not true that that The eXile work was not satirical. It is not true that I was an actual “serial rapist” or rapist or harasser or assaulter of any sort. I never raped, harassed, assaulted anyone, and it sickens me that I’m dragged into having to make this sort of denial. All of those “accusations” come from me. They come from my own satirical work. I’m the self-accuser, the only accuser— as absurd and meta as this is.

To answer your other question, I would have to see exactly what passages Matt attributes to me, though it’s entirely possible he’s referring to passages I wrote. In our more offensive satire I often put my name to it for added effect. It was more shocking and disturbing that way, and I wasn’t too interested in non-fiction journalism in the earlier eXile years especially. Matt generally did not put his name on the really offensive satire that we did— he was doing journalism from the start.

One final thing about being attacked for satire: The Russian government shut down The eXile 9 years ago. They labeled our satirical material “extremism” and I was even accused of “extremism” by the head of Putin’s youth group Nashi. You can read about it here:

https://cpj.org/2008/06/englishlanguage-paper-closes-because-of-state-hara.php

However terrible the Kremlin’s attacks on The eXile were, one thing I’ll give the Putin regime is that at least they were honest about satire. If they hated it, they shut it down. Satire is not a legal defense in Russia, and the Kremlin didn’t care about satire as a cultural or aesthetic defense. Here in the US, satire is a defense, legally and culturally. Which perhaps is why this American way of smearing me, by defining my aesthetic and my thinking 15-20 years ago for me, is perhaps more frightening than the Kremlin attack. Because at least the Russians were up front about attacking our satire because they hated it. So here, people who dislike my politics and my journalism try to discredit me by trying to deny my older eXile work was intended as aggressive shocking satire, and try to discredit me by smearing me as a “serial rapist” rather than engaging my journalism. It’s infuriating and deeply disturbing, and it’s succeeded in whipping up online social media mobs harassing me, my friends, my colleagues, my employers, and even family. There are some people who are genuinely unaware of the historical, cultural & political context that The eXile’s satire arose from, and as a result they’ve been shocked and appalled assuming (or being misled to assume by others) that it wasn’t satire but straight non-fiction truth, and I’m truly sorry about that. Perhaps it would require another book written from today’s world, from outside the Yeltsin-era context, to give a better sense. But most of the people who’ve been pushing this smear are malevolent cretins, and this proves for the umpteenth time that this world belongs to them.

* * *

The journalist then asked me to respond to a tweet by Casey Michel, a young neocon mentored by Michael Weiss.

Here is my response:

I didn’t write that small print, nor did Matt. If you’re honestly asking, perhaps our publisher put it it there for some merchandising reason, or perhaps it’s because in some of our more straight chapters, especially Matt’s, many powerful people the book names in corruption and criminal scandals are real people with real names. You’re allowed to smear yourself and your invented characters; you have to provide backup evidence when you name others like Berezovsky (who was very litigious) , Chubais, Shleifer, Hay. We did have to provide enormous amounts of backup evidence/material to our publisher’s lawyers on corruption and criminal allegations in our book against powerful figures who we named. You can smear yourself, so long as you don’t sue yourself or your publisher for letting you smear yourself. As I said, we did not keep a simple boundary between satire and journalism, and the aesthetic approach to everything was satirical, which is why the newspaper and book looked like they did. Our satire was not the sort of facile parody brand of satire that Americans tend to think of as a synonym for satire. We didn’t put up giant signposts like The Onion and Colbert, deliberately so. But it was satirical. If you’re seriously trying to find out if we were a satirical publication and our work was satirical, and you’re relying entirely on some small print in the front of the book and ignoring everything else, then there’s not much I can do here.

It’s funny that you’re citing Casey Michel, who’s been smearing leftists opposed to neocon policy in Russia as “Putin dupes” and “Putin’s fellow travelers” and worse for the past few years. We are on opposite sides of Russia policy, and he has an ugly public record of smearing his leftist opponents with McCarthyist attacks, rather than engaging their arguments. I’ll repeat this: I made these “allegations” as satire, about my alleged horrible character as satire, along with all sorts of self-smears meant to make me look like the most loathsome expat in Moscow. Where the bar was already extremely low. I wrote them as satire and I’m telling you they’re satire. And as I said, most others who followed us and wrote about us described our eXile work as satirical as well. Are you suggesting that I’m both credible and not-credible at the same time?— 100% credible when I satirically smear myself, 100% unreliable when I explain it? This is just surreal.

I’m sorry but I have to repeat this: “Johnny Chen” who I “interview” in the first pages of the book is an invented character, who wrote outrageous club reviews and raped his way through Moscow while working for USAID as an adviser (according to our invention). He was “replaced” later by an invented Lonely Planet Canadian liberal named Stuart Pratt, then a fratboy pig named Dan Higgins, then an arrogant oligarch’s son named Denis Salnikov, and so on. The small print at the front of the book is wrong. Which would be a mildly amusing sidenote, under other circumstances.

—Mark

* * *

I’ll be adding to this post when I have time. There’s a lot more to say, both about the satirical context  and the very different worlds of horrible — Yeltsin’s Russia & Trump’s America — that inspired the satire, and inspired the social media mob party. I also want to show a more detailed timeline of how this smear developed, and who’s been pushing it. Nearly every person pushing has been  disingenuous in the most grotesque and ridiculous ways, as these mob movements tend to be.

Just an example — Koch employee Elizabeth Brown of Reason magazine had never said a bad word about me until I exposed her publication’s very non-satirical work promoting Holocaust deniers, Nazis and South Africa’s white-rule apartheid. Naturally, Brown’s response was to discover how outraged she was by my eXile writings, accusing me of being a rapist — in an several-thousand-word article she wrote defending Roosh V from online media mobs. Her defense of Roosh was headlined “How Maryland ‘Neomasculinity’ Blogger Roosh V Became an International ‘Pro-Rape’ Villain. A case study of collective catharsis through call-out culture and moral panic as meme.” In her long defense of Roosh, she smeared me and Taibbi as actual rapists and sexual harassers, with this flat-out lie at the heart of her argument:

“The men never claimed at the time that it was satire or fiction.”
Or take James Kirchick—just two days after smearing me pretending to be outraged over The eXile, he was publicly defending actual serial sexual harasser Leon Wieseltier, his fellow neocon warmonger, because god forbid someone should mischaracterize repeated sexual harassment offenses.

You get the point. I’ll have more later…

Update: Showing how little I paid attention to the small print in the front of the book — then or now, at least compared to every other sleuth swearing by this one page as “proof” we wrote pure non-satirical non-fiction factual facts — the name Johnny Chen (one of our fake personas) is listed as a contributor on the very same page that declares the book “non-fiction”. (h/t Yasha)

For ace McCarthyist sleuths like Casey Michel, this page is like the Bible of Damning eXile Truth — wonder how he could’ve possibly missed this?

***

 

Read more:, Mark Ames, Book Burning Club

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