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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: The eXile Loses Early Sting




I am not sure my publishers at Independent Media would concur, but, apart from The Moscow Times, there is one more English-language newspaper that has played a noticeable role in forming Moscow's journalistic landscape. It is the eXile, which bills itself as "Moscow's only alternative" (to The Moscow Times, I assume).


A shoestring operation in which four-letter words would be a mainstay of the style guide if the newspaper ever had one, the bi-weekly has done a huge job, whether you love it or hate it. The very fact that most English-speaking Muscovites either love it or hate it shows that eXile editors Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames are not exactly wasting their time.


Of course, the eXile covers The Moscow Times with the gleeful hatred that Rupert Murdoch's newspapers have always demonstrated for their competitors. Everything at The Moscow Times irritates the eXile, though it was at the MT that Taibbi once did some impressive work as a crime reporter. Seeing that this space more or less belongs to me, I could also kick the eXile in this column, but I do not want to, for the simple reason that I have often found it funny and refreshing.


The eXile grew out of a sorry little newspaper for Russia-hating expats called Living Here. Some Moscow old-timers still remember it, but I am sure even Ames, who worked on it, would rather forget it. The eXile became what it is now f a hot topic of discussion at many a party and a publication written up in Rolling Stone and Newsweek f by turning around and attacking its own readership, the Moscow expatriates. EXholes, the eXile calls them.


Of course, Ames and Taibbi are down on Russia, too, but that alone would not have endeared them to their readers. Russia is easy to paint black. Try doing that to yourself and the few people in town who share your native language and you will find out that it is somewhat harder. Between writing columns about their and their peers' sexual misadventures and publishing ultranationalist author Eduard Limonov's I-hate-the-West pieces, the eXile has given it a good try.


In the end, I think Ames and Taibbi helped to bring about the inevitable f the blending in of Western expatriates with the locals. If you read the eXile, you cannot seriously try to carry the white man's burden in Russia. In fact, just being American may become a burden after reading the eXile with its savage treatment of the American press corps in Moscow and NATO's war in Yugoslavia.


Taibbi played semipro basketball in Mongolia before he hired on to edit the eXile. His fame as a prankster survived in Moscow while he was away and was revived when the eXile started playing its practical jokes on people ranging from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's flunkies to Western economic analysts. Many people were offended by the prank calls Taibbi placed and by the resulting eXile pieces. Many of those who did not bear the brunt of the jokes, naturally, laughed.


Some of those who have been less than amused once waged a war against the eXile on Johnson's Russia List. Some of the contributors to the Internet list called for barring eXile stories, after one documented what appeared to be a rape by the writer. David Johnson, who runs the list out of Washington, refused to bar eXile f to his credit, I think. In a society that acknowledges freedom of speech, even the rape piece deserves a place, although hardly one of Pulitzer prize-winning glory.


The eXile is very "alternative" and that is how it positions itself on the market. The problem is that the paper is becoming a victim of its own success. Favorable coverage in Rolling Stone, of which Ames and Taibbi are so proud, lends them the mainstream credibility that does their cause no favors. The two editors have written and have been promoting a book about their adventures at the eXile. It makes a mainstream journalist like me wonder whether they have taken a shortcut toward the same tired kind of celebrity that I might achieve by, say, winning the Pulitzer.


Like a grunge band that hits the big time, the eXile may remain a good example of its genre no matter what other "underground" people might say about selling out. The thing is that the early, penniless, exciting months of the eXile will never come back, and as a reader I am sorry that this is so.