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To answer question of the previous reviewer, the reason why both authors spend some time describing their own lives, is so that you can understand what drove them to Russia. It is very important to understand the huge difference between the mentality of Russians and most Westerners.
Also, be prepared that this book is far from being politically correct. If you're a woman, most likely you will be offended by some of the passages. There are some extremely sexist things in this book. However, I think one should study them because they
reflect the untold feelings of many men.
The book is divided into eight chapters, four written by Ames and four by Taibbi. Many readers have complained that Ames' sections of the book are Waholianly dull, too petty, personal, splenous, what have you, while praising Taibbi's sections for their directness, adherence to and expressed admiration for basic journalistic principles and (false, false, false) relative modesty. But I will go on the record as admiring both.
Ames... poor Ames. A lot of his stuff will make readers cringe, but for every one of his self-pitying narratives about scabies or his girlfriend or his dependence on speed whenever left to get an issue of the eXile out by himself, there are still gems of hilarious realism like the following:
"What people forget in every article ever written about drugs is one simple, basic fact. PEOPLE TAKE DRUGS BECAUSE THEY'RE FUN. That's it. There's no mystery to the drug thing. Peiople drink water to quench their thirst, they have sex because it feels good; and they do drugs because they're fun...
Even Hunter S. and William Burroughs couldn't stait it that plainly;: they elevated drugs to the mythical level, keeping mum on the single most obvious, dangerous fact. So I'll repeat: PEOPLE DO DRUGS BECAUSE THEY'RE FUN. It's no different from alcohol or roller coasters except that drugs are A LOT BETTER."
Co-author Taibbi observes later in this book, after a brief reflection on his childhood growing up in the newsrooms of Boston and New York, that "If, as a consumer, you want good newspapers, you're not going to get them if the reporters are people who only reluctantly tell you the truth. Ideally, you have a bunch of people who are outcasts, even sociopaths, who get off on telling people the whole truth because that's the point: The other parts of society - government, business, etc. - have to be able to function while trusting the public to know the worst."
In these two quotes we can find the eXile, and this book, in a nutshell. Ames and Taibbi are two people who get off on telling the truth, and make no bones about the fact that they do get off on it. Hence their infamous "Death Porn" section, their version of a police blotter, in which the goriest crimes they could find in Russia that week are recounted with mocking slapstick horror, in true tabloid fashion, complete with cartoons illustrating basic, recurring story elements, i.e. a little Thanksgiving turkey to indicate the victim was "carved up like a turkey", a piece of Swiss cheese to indicate "riddled with bullets," a hamburger bun with a human haand sticking out of it to indicate cannibalism (quite prevalent out in the provinces where people, still waiting lo these many years for the goverment to pay their back wages, have little to do but hack each other to pieces and eat each other) and, my favorite, a squad cap next to a vodka bottle to indicate an "investigation ongoing."
But Death Porn and little drug and scabies excursi notwithstanding, why should you read this book? Because it also tells the story of a newspaper that has been a huge pain [...] to an expatriate community in Moscow that has done little to actually help convert Russia to a free-market economy or to prepare its citizenry to live in such an economy. Those whom Ames and Taibbi have skewered over the years in their paper have been both highly-placed Russian oligarchs who have taken state corruption to unbelievable new levels (I would refer readers especially to Taibbi's in-depth look at Anatoly Chubais and his loans-for-shares program which should have been a global scandal but was deemed "too complicated" to cover in the western press), and American and British consultants who lived the high life spending foreign aid money on luxuries for themselves, investing it with each other's mutual funds, and creating scandals like the Investor Protection Fund, meant to bail out poor Russians whose first forays into private investing led to their being defrauded (to date the IPF has not paid out one rouble to any bilked investors - but it made one mutual fund manager a lot of money for many years!).
But this book is not to be read as an exercise in schadenfreude: most of the worst villains in the eXile's hall of shame are Americans, and it is a theme throughout the book that once Americans are in any way freed from the usual constraints on their behavior, they are the most corrupt, scaly lizard-beasts one can find anywhere. Even an ordinary suburbanite, once she lands in Russia, winds up threatening gangland hits on the authors [...].
And it could happen here, if we ever cease to keep an eye on each other, on our elected officials,and on our press. For, as Taibbi notes with dismay, the age of those outcast sociopaths is gone; today's "reporters," at least in the western press in Moscow, have become "a bunch of corrupt, cheerleading patsies," largely because there is no longer any competition between papers, magazines, networks, what have you, and thus there's no one paying attention to the accuracy, fairness, or relevance of what is coming out of those Moscow bureaus - and thus no reason for western journalists in Moscow to work very hard at all.
The authors leave open the question of whether this might not be true in other parts of the world or back home, but it does make me wonder about what I'm reading about what's going on in Kabul, in Israel, and in Cheyenne.
I know too many reporters to be able, truthfully, to say that nothing like that can happen or has happened here. I've done it myself, run stories without double-checking facts, accepted sources' words as gospel because of my personal fondness or respect for those sources, left out story elements I didn't think my readers would understand... I just never got called on it.
I fervently wish that there could be more papers like the eXile in the world, while knowing that there can't be: it is only Ames and Taibbi's unique position - out of the reach of American libel laws and unread by the officials whose corruption they expose in Russia because they print in English - that makes the eXile possible.
But in a perfect world, there would be an eXile in every city, Death Porn, pornographic club reviews and all. [...].