This Week’s Best Profile – The Exile

Not a person, but a thing. The Exile, an ex-pat newspaper in Moscow:

What made The Exile so popular, and still makes it so readable, was its high-low mix of acute coverage and character assassination, sermonizing laced with smut—a balance that has also characterized [Matt] Taibbi’s work at Rolling Stone, where he has been a contributing editor for the last five years. “One of the big complaints we heard for years—really violently angry complaints—was: You cannot mix, in one paper, satire and real investigative journalism,” [Mark] Ames says. “And we were like, Why?” Taibbi wrote on subjects ranging from Washington and I.M.F.’s policy in Russia to Moscow prisons, labor strikes, and religious cults. He hung out with crime bosses, cops, and rogue politicians and wrote a series in which he lived the lives of ordinary Russians for days and weeks, working as a bricklayer, a miner, and a vegetable hocker and attending a Moscow high school. He was among the first foreign journalists to speculate openly on the connection between a series of suspicious apartment-building bombings and Putin’s ratcheting up of the Chechen War, now a mainstay of the anti-Putin canon.

James Verni writes about the now-defunct paper, started by Americans Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi, for Vanity Fair. In addition to being popular, they did things like this:

It was [Michael] Wines, then the Times’s Moscow-bureau chief, who, having won The Exile’s coveted Worst Journalist in Russia March Madness contest in 2001, was typing in his office when Ames and Taibbi rushed in unannounced and, by way of congratulations, slammed a pie in his face. The pie was made with fresh vanilla cream, hand-puréed strawberry, and five ounces of horse semen.

It runs on a bit long, but the end is worth the wait for pure shock value. It’s a simultaneously inspiring, horrifying, romantic, depressing story.

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