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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Peter Thiel and his network of "liberal" goons

Back in February 2022 I floated my suspicion that many IDW-friendly new media people were being financially supported by Peter Thiel.

I asked him about the term Thielbucks, and how true it was that the Thiel Foundation was funding a network of New Right podcasters and cool-kid cultural figures as a sort of cultural vanguard.

“It depends if it’s just dissident-right think-tank stuff,” he told me, “or if anyone actually does anything.”

“I don’t know how that became a meme,” he said about Thielbucks. “I think I would know if those kids were getting money.”

“We fund some stuff,” he told me. “But we’re not funding an army of meme posters.” He told me that he and Thiel had met with Khachiyan, one of the cohosts of Red Scare. “Which was cool,” he said. “Their podcast is interesting.”

I asked if there was a world in which they might get funding from Thiel. “Maybe, yeah,” he said. “We fund some weird stuff with the Thiel Foundation.”

Of course not everything that scary Bible-quoting Peter Thiel funds, like racist anti-trans Quillette, is a secret. 

I finally realized this because I saw recently that Big Think was promoting Steven Pinker, and decided to look at who is behind Big Think. Not only Peter Thiel, but Larry Summers, mentioned on this blog in the past year for his support of Quillette neo-Nazi editor Bo Winegard.

Both Pinker and Summers are considered by some to be liberals, since Pinker was a vocal Obama supporter and Summers worked for the Obama administration.

I already knew there was a Pinker-Thiel connection since Pinker has published in Quillette, but I've often wondered if there were other Thiel vehicles paying Pinker directly, in the way that Pinker also takes money from various Koch vehicles, as in the infamous Unsafe Space tour.

And speaking of the Unsafe Space tour, Pinker's remarks there were defended by disgraced journalist Jesse Singal.

Pinker and Quillette have been promoting Singal's career for years. 

I don't doubt that Singal takes money from Thiel. 

In an article from 2018 in Jezebel:
Private messages posted on a closed discussion forum and provided to Jezebel demonstrate that Singal is, in fact, aware of the criticism he has received for his Atlantic cover story and his coverage of trans issues more broadly. He’s just uninterested in hearing it, dismissing the bulk of it as an example of trans community “groupthink” and uninterrogated in-group bias, which prevents us from reporting on something like adolescent transition as fairly and accurately as he can. (Jezebel has repeatedly reached out to Singal for comment; he had not provided one as of our publication time, but we will update if he does.)

From one such exchange:
There should, of course, be more trans writers and artists. But…trans people, like members of any other group, have their own prevalent forms of groupthink. Time and time again my reporting and research has conflicted with what [the biggest-name trans activists have] told me[.] On other issues, of course, I would trust trans people more than anyone else—who better to talk about the humiliation of living in a state with a ‘bathroom’ bill, or the difficulty of getting hormones, or other stuff that only trans people have to deal with? But overall, no, I don’t think trans people are more qualified to write about the tricky science stuff going on here than I am. I’d just be lying if I said otherwise.
Singal posted these messages in the discussion forum of a closed listserv he belongs to, hosted on Google Groups. The listserv, per its “About” page, aims to provide an “off-the-record discussion forum for left-of-center journalists, authors, academics and wonks.” It has been around for at least eight years (I found discussion posts dating back as far as 2010), and has just over 400 members (403 at the time of this writing). These members include New York Times best-selling authors, Ivy League academics, magazine editors, and other public intellectuals—in short, a lot of important people who influence public discourse through their written work. They use the listserv’s forum to discuss current events, news from their respective fields, articles they’ve read, articles they’ve written, and other topics of public importance. There are a number of threads about trans stuff, and they read like a greatest hits of the past decade of trans-related cultural anxieties: whether Chelsea Manning would pose a threat in a women’s prison; Janet Mock’s contentious 2014 interview with Piers Morgan and the “Twitter mob” she inspired; Elinor Burkett’s New York Times piece about Caitlyn Jenner and womanhood; comparisons between Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal; erasure of the word “vagina”; saying “pregnant people” vs. “pregnant women”; and a number of Jesse Singal’s articles over the past few years.

It seems pretty clear that Singal has been posing as a "liberal" journalist for years in order to promote an anti-trans agenda, which has existed at the Thiel-funded Quillette since at least 2018.

And much testimony indicates Singal has been wildly successful. I wrote about his "pioneering" work recently, as noted by Tom Scocca.

Threatened, Abbott and Paxton felt around for a weapon—and a wedge issue was close at hand. The initial groundwork of this maneuver was laid by fringe narratives from “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (TERFs) and the far right. But in their campaign to mainstream the ideology that backs trans hatred, those bigots have not been entirely alone. They have been able to count on the help, conscious or not, of popular, liberal-minded writers—among them a cisgender, self-appointed expert on all things trans: Jesse Singal. Behind a veneer of empathy and concern, Singal has supplied anti-trans narratives that the right has found appealing. Singal would insist that he is not personally transphobic. Nevertheless, his writing on the subject has contributed to the wave of transphobia that is already beginning to have concrete ramifications for policy, endangering the well-being and the lives of trans people.
Singal recently deleted his Twitter account. Some have suggested it was from embarrassment when it was revealed that Singal may have violated journalistic ethics.

I think Jesse Singal has no personal experience with a sense of shame.

I think rather he's being rewarded by the Thiel organization for a job well done and is moving to a higher, even-better remunerated stage in his career, much like Thomas Chatterton Williams was given a wingnut welfare gig shortly after the Harpers Letter. 

(And of course Singal has already taken money from Koch. One of his gigs was defending the Harpers Letter.)

As Blake Master said, when asked who Thiel was funding:
“It depends if it’s just dissident-right think-tank stuff,” he told me, “or if anyone actually does anything.”
Another "liberal" media person I think is on the Thiel payroll is anti-abortion "leftist" Elizabeth Bruenig. Peter Thiel backs anti-abortion candidates like Masters and Vance.

The clearest parallel is to the anti-trans pundit Jesse Singal (with whom Bruenig maintains an unsurprising friendship). The vast majority of trans people can read a Singal piece and see an argument for rolling back trans rights, but his rhetoric is carefully hedged so that some well-meaning Boomer parent can believe he’s “just asking questions.” Reproductive rights advocates can read an Elizabeth Bruenig piece and see that she’s against them. People on the sidelines often have no idea why those advocates are upset. 
Bruenig’s slipperiness allows her (like Singal) to make an argument significantly to the right of the one she claims to be making. Still, the argument is clear. Consider a sentence from that 2014 piece on “pro-life liberalism:” “Since we care enough about the outcome of pregnancy to insist against abortion, then we must continue to care about the outcome when abortion is no longer a legal option.”
I think Jesse Singal likely inherited his ethics from his father.

Is it fair of me to mention that Singal's big-shot lawyer father was picked up for soliciting a prostitute? Well, is it fair of Jesse Singal to stick his nose into transpeople's business, thus aiding and abetting - either fecklessly or for pay - the far-Right in its search for a vote-getting scapegoat? 

And speaking of sleazy little fascists who want to stick their noses into people's business, Peter Thiel wants to track your menstrual cycle.

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