Maybe Putin’s spies were onto something.
In June 2015—nine months before targeting the Hillary Clinton campaign, and a full year before the world learned about their hacking of the DNC—Russia’s military intelligence division tried to hack the accounts of journalists, including a number of Daily Beast reporters and alumni.
Most of the other targets were at far larger, more entrenched media outfits. But the Beast was fast becoming known for a ferocious style of reporting—grabbing every scoop it could, and causing mischief for thugs like Putin along the way. Maybe that’s why the Kremlin’s digital propaganda arms, Russia Today and Sputnik, targeted us dozens of times in 2015 and 2016. Maybe that’s why the Russians’ allies in the disinformation campaign, Infowars, screamed that we were “neocons,” and went after the Beast again and again and again.
It wasn’t completely clear then—at least, not to us—how just how explosive The Daily Beast’s formula of high-octane reporting and no-fucks ethos could be. Maybe the conspiracy nuts and the Kremlin goons understood something we didn’t.
Things started to come into focus, though, when a reality television star lowered himself down a golden escalator to scream about Mexican rapists in front of a paid throng. His fixer warned us to “tread very fucking lightly” the next month. Then his campaigned blacklisted us. Then he started winning.
Hunter S. Thompson had a saying: “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Things got weird in a hurry. Luckily, the Beast always had a little bit of a freaky side—as obsessed with sleaze TV as with high-minded affairs of state. It fit the times. We busted Trump for his use of illegal labor and his 9/11 lies. We analyzed his hair and the way it “shimmers with product, [like] the thin chains of a classy necklace you might gift your third wife.” We uncovered his tolerance of sex assault on the set of The Apprentice. We unveiled the hidden hand behind a National Enquirer hit job, and talked to a porn star who got an icky proposition from Trump while he was in a hotel room with Stormy Daniels.
It wasn’t about picking a political side. It still isn’t. Democrats and Republicans in Washington have worked to jack up inequality. Obama and Trump made targeting journalists a priority for their Justice Departments. Presidents of both parties have taken disastrous actions that undermined America's standing in the world—invading Iraq, withdrawing from the Paris accords, letting Syria burn. The Daily Beast is not just going to sit on its hands while the corrupt and the clueless crash this country. Like my predecessor and brother-in-arms John Avlon likes to say, non-partisan doesn’t mean neutral. Free speech, free expression, freedom from prejudice, and the rule of law—these are American ideals. We’ll stand up for them, no matter where the attacks comes from.
It’s not even about politics, at least not completely. We’re in the middle of a cultural tug-of-war, too. And the Beast isn’t going to stay on the sidelines. In the years leading up to the #MeToo era, we exposed one Hollywood creep after another. We unmasked Silicon Valley rich boys as shitposters and wife-beaters. We championed the breakthrough artists standing up for human dignity—from Beyoncé to Aretha. And we stood up for common sense, when celebrities and major corporations kept peddling pseudoscience. (Gwyneth, for the love of God, leave America’s genitals alone.)
Meanwhile, we kept tearing off the camouflage concealing the attack on American democracy. We revealed accused Russian spy Maria Butina’s infiltration of the conservative movement. With software sleuthing and classic reporting, the Beast discovered Russian-led rallies on U.S. soil and showed how “Guccifer 2.0,” the self-proclaimed DNC hacker, accidentally unmasked himself as Russian military intelligence officer. We never found out if he was the one who tried to hack us. But congressional investigators told us privately that our reports suggested new avenues to explore. Information that we first revealed became part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of the Kremlin troll farm and of the Russian intelligence officers who digital broke into the DNC. A few months later, the feds arrested Butina; she tried to claim that she couldn’t possibly be a spy, because she stayed in the United States after The Daily Beast exposed her.
Helping this team in its detective work has been a singular thrill. I’m not gonna lie, though—it hasn’t been easy. The digital journalism game has never been easy. The triumphs are eclipsed at the speed of the internet, and the mistakes spread even faster. The economics have gone from brutal to are-you-kidding-me. We’re lucky if we go consecutive days without a threat from a Moscow oligarch, a corporate potentate, or a Washington baron.
But digital reporting—in particular, the Beast’s brand of digital reporting—has never been more important. The lies coming out of Washington and Silicon Valley are produced in such quantity and such a pace that an old-school approach to journalism simply can’t keep up. The world is so dark so often that a staid recitation of the day’s horrors will cause audiences to turn the news off altogether. Journalism today has to paint in bright colors, have a sense of wit, and give up any attachments to the powerful. It’s gonzo or go home.
No wonder the media landscape has started to tilt in the Beast’s direction. Our columnist Rick Wilson’s book recently hit #1 on the best-seller list, and our “McScam” yarn touched off a Hollywood bidding war for the ages. Some of the big papers are now cool with calling a lie a lie. They even run headlines on occasion that are no longer designed to put you to sleep. Calling bullshit on fake science and fake news has become almost a media cliche.
But while these media titans are doing remarkable, iconic work—another Pulitzer-level investigation every few days, it seems—they’re never going to have our underdog sensibilities, our voracious appetite, or our willingness to embrace the weird. They homogenize their reporters; we celebrate their eccentricity. They keep their journalists in narrow lanes; we beg our writers to roam free.
That's what allows our journalists to do what they’re meant to do—pursue and expose the truth against those who'd conceal and pervert it. Here’s the thing, though. We can’t do this alone.
The next phase of The Beast relies on you—your tips, your interest, your willingness to join our team. We busted a Silicon Valley favorite, uncovered an ugly episode from Omarosa’s shady past, and nailed down the #MeToo allegations at NBC News, all because readers pointed us in the right direction. We need you to keep those tips coming. When we dispatch writers to cartel country or Melania’s hometown or to meet the mustache dancer of Allahabad, that takes real resources. When you join our membership program, Beast Inside, it helps ensure our ability to send journalists to the world’s backstreets and dark alleys. It steels us when the next wave of state-sponsored hackers and trolls come after us. Tina Brown and Barry Diller planted a remarkable seed 10 years ago—something glossy, saucy, scrappy, speedy, and altogether new. Let’s keep it growing together.