WORTH REPEATING: How Matt Taibbi Got His Edge

Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames, co-editors of The Exile, a subversive English-language newspaper based in Moscow, whose decadelong run came to an abrupt end in 2008. Inset: A Boris Yeltsin cover accompanied by a typical Exile headline. By Martin von den Driesch (Taibbi and Ames)

VANITY FAIR: Chronic contempt may have been a sane take on turn-of-the-millennium Moscow, but in life, generally, it’s an unsustainable one, and eventually, inevitably, Ames and Taibbi came to hate each other. Oddly, the Wines incident seemed to mark the apex of their volatile collaboration and the beginning of its decline. By that point the partying and penury were catching up with them—Taibbi was for a time a full-on heroin addict—and the paper was faltering. “You can’t live like that for that long in a place as intense as Russia and not burn out,” Jake Rudnitsky says. The notoriety made it worse. “I’m sure both of them heard stuff like ‘You’re really good, the other guy sucks.’ Stupid coked-up Aerosmith Steven Tyler–Joe Perry rivalry stuff,” Kevin McElwee says. According to Exile staffers, Ames and Taibbi would get into screaming matches in the office. “Matt and Mark would argue bitterly. Matt would ask him, ‘Why are you so angry?’” one writer recalls. In 2001, Ames escaped to the U.S. for almost a year to do research for a book and to come down off a four-year speed binge. Taibbi stayed on, reluctantly.Shortly after Ames returned to Moscow, in early 2002, Taibbi left for Buffalo, New York, to start a new paper, The Buffalo Beast. Ames says Taibbi made it clear he didn’t want Ames’s help. According to some, it was Taibbi’s plan all along to parlay the Exile buzz into Stateside success. “[The Exile] gave him the Western platform he always wanted,” says Andrew Meier. Ames agrees. “I never thought I’d get anything of mine read. Matt never suffered from that worry. It was his birthright to be read,” he says. “He wasn’t ever comfortable with his own anger. Matt’s fate all along was to end up in a privileged space. He knew that and realized that if he could take an unconventional route there it would make him much more interesting once he arrived.” Ames claims that while he was gone Taibbi mismanaged The Exile, running it into debt and embroiling it in a libel lawsuit with Russian hockey star Pavel Bure after Taibbi ran a prank story claiming Bure’s then girlfriend, tennis player Anna Kournikova, had two vaginas. Ames says Taibbi pushed him to take on Bure, a hero among some of Moscow’s less humor-inclined underworld figures, knowing that it might endanger The Exile and Ames’s safety, even his life. “He wanted out of The Exile and he wanted out of my shadow. He was pretty clear that he wanted The Exile to go down,” Ames says. MORE

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