[WARNING: This Article Contains Strong Language]
When author and journalist, Matt Taibbi, sat down at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday to discuss his latest book, titled: I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, about the life and death of Eric Garner, he was confronted with some of his past works and remarks.
In a subsequent Facebook post, Taibbi wrote about the confrontation and offered an apology:
It was a pleasure last night to sit and talk at a Harvard Bookstore event with the excellent Robin Young of NPR’s Here and Now. The topic last night was my new book, “I Can’t Breathe,” about the killing of Eric Garner. At the end of the discussion she asked some difficult questions about my past, specifically about my Russian newspaper, the eXile.
In particular she asked about a passage from the eXile book from 1999, in a chapter written by my former co-editor Mark Ames, in which he brags about harassing women in the newspaper office. The behavior he describes is reprehensible. It is also, like a lot of things in the eXile, fictional and not true--I have never made advances or sexually suggestive comments to any co-worker in any office, here or in Russia.
While the events described are not a biographical reality, this is not to say I don’t have regrets about the eXile, which was conceived as a giant satire, whose purpose was to be an ongoing embarrassment to the expatriates who came to Russia to spread the American way. In my younger mind this sounded like a good idea, a cross of Andrew Dice Clay, The Ugly American and Charlie Hebdo. But in practice it was often stupid, cruel, gratuitous, and mean-spirited. I regret many editorial decisions that I made back then, and putting my name as a co-author on a book that used cruel and misogynistic language to describe many people and women in particular. I hope readers can forgive my poor judgment at that time.
Young may be referring to the following passage, written by co-editor, Mark Ames (excerpt pulled by The Daily Caller):
"You’re always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs. It’s not funny. They don’t think it’s funny,” Kara complained. “But… it is funny,” Matt said. We have been pretty rough on our girls. We’d ask our Russian staff to flash their asses or breasts for us. We’d tell them that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they’d have to perform unprotected anal sex with us. Nearly every day, we asked our female staff if they approved of anal sex. That was a fixation of ours. ‘Can I fuck you in the ass? Huh? I mean, without a rubber? Is that okay?’ It was all part of the fun.
After Taibbi published the note on Facebook in which he insists that the events described in his book, The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel In the New Russia, "are not a biographical reality," Yahoo News’ Garance Franke-Ruta posted the following to Twitter:
Franke-Ruta continued, posting screenshots from a 2000 interview with Taibbi and his co-author, Mark Ames.
During the interview, Taibbi says: "Mark and I both left America for pretty similar reasons. Being here makes us have panic attacks. It’s hard to explain, I guess. There’s just no sex and no nothing, you know?"
In one passage, Ames and Taibbi talk about Russian girls who "like to live while they’re still young and attractive."
In another, Ames talks about the "white god factor" of living in a place where "tens of millions of people live in dire circumstances ... which means sexual opportunity for me."
And then there’s this:
To be fair, much of what’s being said is coming from Ames. However, there isn’t any note of Taibbi objecting to Ames’ remarks — and if he did, it didn’t make it into the interview.
Whether the book was non-fiction or a work of satire remains unclear, as Taibbi directly contradicted the passage from the book that states that the "characters and events depicted ... are real."
As of publication, Taibbi has not made any further comments regarding the controversy.