“What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.” —Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit
Chapo Trap House sucks lol! The exclamation alone should be argument enough for such debased careerist chauvinism the likes of which seep out of Chapo Trap House. Yet naturally, the podcast does exceptionally well with its target audience of Something Jacobin goons and former channers who have graduated to hard-hitting, celebrity idol-worshipping, Hall of Justice The Intercept. The podcast actually reached such a point in popularity that of course the only logical next step was to begin branding themselves with sordid appropriations of fascist motifs and asking their fan club, endowed with the Turkish Grey Wolves namesake, to pitch in with their generous donations so all can continue to hear them wretch on about how the presidential election is still worth castigating over or banter about which color coordinated troglodyte will furnish their jobs with “more fun” whilst razing nations. They think it’s the blue one.
Of course, Chapo would just be another blip in the political podcast sea of rancidness if it weren’t for the niche Internet status of the three lads that run the show. One in particular is Felix Biederman, the former @swarthyvillain, Greenwald meat-shield, and Nazi-technocrat sympathizer. Why Biederman is the most interesting of the three stems from the perch he has landed himself atop: an odd little political satire site known as Cafe. Here Biederman and fellow Weird Twitter vet Virgil Texas earn their bread from slinging their irony shtick to dumb hipsters. And what is most interesting about this Chapo standout, who has been known to lament the absence of his own Omidyar-like sponsor, is that he now finds himself sitting comfortably with another e-commerce financier who has decided to make the venture into digital media.
After selling e-commerce startup Quidsi with partner Marc Lore to Amazon for a cool $540 million, Vinit Bharara started his newest venture, Some Spider, in fall 2014. The company is an umbrella for multiple subsidiaries of which include: Scary Mommy—a forum-based sight designed for “imperfect parents”; The Mid or Club Mid—which is overseen by Scary Mommy’s original owner, Jill Smokler; and Cafe—a digital media political satire publication. Cafe was originally launched in September of 2014 but shutdown and relaunched in May of 2015. Bharara’s original ambitions for Cafe seem to contradict how the site materialized in actuality. He insists it is a site for “building community” and about “relationships” with the people who interact on the site likening it to his forum-heavy Scary Mommy. Apparently, Cafe was nearer to this setup during the initial launch. In another article, Bharara alluded to the possibility of Cafe connecting readers with advocacy groups. His stated ambitions for the site’s first—as well as second—iteration sound more like a Vice knock-off or some experimental e-commerce-meets-Reddit project. But none of this seems to represent the current manifestation of the site, which almost exclusively consists of Beltway political satire. Which seems surprising from a risk-return perspective, and extremely curious when we examine the execs he was able to nab.
While assembling his team for Some Spider and Cafe, Bharara managed to poach a number of industry vets. Vice President of paid products for The New York Times Paul Smurl left behind a 12-year tenure at the publisher to join the Some Spider team as company COO and President. Smurl agreed to join Bharara after they had been introduced through Bharara’s brother Preet who is the current DA for the Southern District of New York and of whom I will speak more later on.
Next we have former New York Times CTO, Rajiv Pant who was pegged to “oversee technology, product and design” at Some Spider and who worked closely with Smurl at their former publisher. While at The Times, Pant, together with Smurl, helped develop the publisher’s digital subscription service into a $200 million annual profit asset. The tech whiz also has retained media experience working at the former Tribune Publishing, now known as tronc.
Perhaps the most important member of this crackerjack squadron is a one Blake Zeff who has been the most notable of the hires. In 2002, Zeff started out as an aide for then Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. He remained with Schumer until 2005 and a year later, Zeff became Communications Director for the Democratic Party of New York. During the 2008 presidential campaign Zeff was made spokesperson for Hillary Clinton and after Clinton dropped from the race, Zeff transitioned into the position of Director of Communications in New York for Obama’s candidacy. Afterwards, he was positioned as Director of Policy, & Director of Conviction Review Bureau under the Attorney General of New York and remained until he joined Salon as political editor and began writing for several other publications. Blake Zeff currently holds the position of Editor-In-Chief at Cafe and apparently aids in writing the site’s lead “columnist,” parody-pundit Carl Diggler, co-writing alongside Biederman and Texas. To pull all this together, a New York state, top-brass Democrat and former Clinton spokesman now pens satire as a fictional character online. Odd trajectory, isn’t it?
For reference, the character of Carl Diggler is most notable not only for his trite satire but for his ability to (luckily?) predict primary nominations better than professional statisticians. Biederman, Texas and most likely with assistance of some sort from Zeff, have somehow been able to call 89% of all presidential primary election outcomes in 2016. They have taken a liking to rubbing this in the face of election data analyst Nate Silver going so far as to even launch their own site SixThirtyEight (a play on Silver’s FiveThirtyEight) and line their own stats along side Silver’s for an added na-na-na-boo-boo.
So, on our top level we have the owner who is an e-commerce aficionado who financed Some Spider’s launch with his own $5 million, two experienced NYT execs, and a blue-blooded Democrat who has direct ties with Clinton, Obama and, one would imagine, nearly the entire political landscape of the state of New York along with various political publishers. So why in the fuck did they all decide to quit their former jobs and band together to launch a vacuous political/media satire half-a-site like Cafe?
The developing trend of e-commerce stalwarts buying up media is a relatively new phenomenon. Amazon owner and former Bharara business associate Jeff Bezos bought out the Washington Post in 2013 and Pierre Omidyar of Ebay of course founded Snowden-cove First Look Media with Greenwald that same year. But compared to both of these sites Cafe isn’t talking about all that much. Both the Washington Post and First Look would undoubtedly consider themselves “serious” media outlets and both range widely in subject matter. Yet, Bharara had some seemingly compulsive idea to personally finance a narrow outlet for a few hackneyed comics and Weird Twitter nitwits to hone their craft.
Is it possible that’s all Cafe is? Perhaps. But if the owner of Diapers.com is a player enough to once have had Amazon shaking in its knickers and was able to cut a deal for half-a-billion, then one has to wonder: if Cafe isn’t in fact an investment misstep then what is the catch? It appears inconceivable that this site would be capable of pulling a profit large enough to overturn the risk of investing $5 million out of Bharara’s own pocket. How likely is it that that site is bringing in that much traffic with as little content as exists on it? Why do Bharara’s ambitions for Cafe prior to relaunch appear to differ so immensely from the end product? And why was the original forum-based site shutdown for its current unimpressive replacement?
One last potentially notable connection. Vinit’s brother Preet Bharara, as was mentioned earlier, is the current District Attorney of the Southern District of New York and has been since Obama granted him the position in 2009. Preet has garnered a reputation for “cleaning up” in New York with regard to white-collar crime in both political and corporate corruption. The attorney also has an extensive portfolio ranging from his office’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal to prosecuting hackers of Anonymous and former Lulzsec stalwart Sabu, who famously flipped and collaborated with the FBI to avoid jail time, which all operated under Preet’s own Complex Frauds Unit. Having also once worked alongside Zeff while he was Director and with the remaining adjacent parties considered, he seems worth at least mentioning.
With this Chapo thread traced to a man who not only made a half-billion dollar deal with Amazon but who also remains close enough with Cafe columnists to print his name on the staff list, how aware might Bharara be of these lads’ extra-curricular activities? I’m sure they had to have presented resumes or portfolios or records of past work of some kind. Bharara must on some level be aware of the “comedic stylings,” vigilante trolling ops as well as the company they bring with them. But by some chance if not then surely Zeff, their Editor-In-Chief and fucking co-writer for their primaries predication savant, must. Point being that Cafe has taken interest in these peddlers’ wares and it is of an enterprise that seems ensconced in a layer of bullshit.
There is a line between the avenues of satire and deception. Will Menaker has practiced conflating the two around the web, as has Biederman, and Texas (who we should note began “taking an interest” in Twitter during the Green Revolution in Iran), and as have all of the other irony bros during their rounds trolling corporations until they get the joke. But these pathetic attempts at subversion do nothing to the amorphousness that the status quo has shown itself capable of time after time. Their gross exercises do nothing but take an emery board to their esteemed hegemonic administrators for whom they manicure a more affable presentation through the highly sought constructive criticisms that these petit-bouge whiners so willingly provide. Irony bros are comedic ideologues merely facilitating the lines of approved bourgeois dialogue as postmodern customer relations management. And that is exactly why their toothless postures land them so close to such compelling tycoons.
They know what they are doing whether they bullshit here or obscure the truth there or actually tell it from time to time. These mugs are wannabe spooks who would sooner suckle at Crabapple’s teat than repudiate their own fascist tendancies and so they obscure their enterprise with a deceptive “lel.” Suspicions at this point are warranted, but for now, let these compradors scuttle on back to their Democrat supervisors and let us see what they scribe for Diggler’s next presage.