Happy holidays! Thanks for reading The Backstory—our weekly digest of the best work of the week at Puck.
It was another terrific week here at Puck: Tara Palmeri broke the news of Biden’s pipsqueak challenger; Dylan Byers offered a talmudic study of the latest CNN coverage; Tina Nguyen penetrated the Capitol Hill High School cafeteria, where the “saboteurs” are flinging trays; Eriq Gardner broke down the extent of Elon Musk’s legal quagmire; and Teddy Schleifer had the dish on the unfolding S.B.F. political whodunnit as Bill Cohan revealed his ill-fated Middle East fundraising journey with The Mooch.
Check out these stories, and others, via the links below. And stick around for the backstory on how it all came together.
Eriq Gardner amasses Elon’s legal bills and Baratunde Thurston ponders post-peak-Musk America.
Matt Belloni captures how David Zaslav and his ace cost-cutting C.F.O. defined Hollywood this year.
Julia Alexander reveals the four life lessons that the streamers learned in ’22.
Bill Cohan reveals how S.B.F.’s fundraising adventure in the Middle East with The Mooch foreshadowed his demise.
Teddy Schleifer reports on the emerging mystery around S.B.F.’s campaign finance nightmare.
Dylan Byers offers a close reading of the latest CNN smoke signals.
Tara Palmeri has the latest on the power-hungry Dems quietly imagining a post-Biden world.
Tina Nguyen deciphers the agony and ecstasy of the MAGA “saboteurs.”
Julia Ioffe reports from inside Kalorama on a new Biden-Xi power dynamic.
Listen to the latest episode of The Town, which Vulture just listed as one of the top 15 pods of the year.
Dylan and I offer predictions about our culture’s most consequential mediacos on The Powers That Be.
Meanwhile, I also encourage you to take advantage of our article gifting feature. You can share our work with your colleagues, friends, and family. Subscribers are entitled to 5 article gifts per month.
|As things begin to wind down for the annual end-of-calendar reflective fortnight of hibernation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the most fascinating and stunning story of the year might not have been the midterm elections or The Great Netflix Correction, to steal my partner Matt Belloni’s excellent coinage. It might not have even been the January 6th Committee, either, or Elon Musk’s much belabored conquest of Twitter, or even Putin’s atrocious attack upon Ukraine, which was met with profound and overwhelming bravery and fortitude by Zelensky’s patriots and charges.
Instead, the endlessly unfurling Sam Bankman-Fried saga seems to be the quintessential scandal for our times: a tale of the preternatural ability of an unbathed, attention-hungry manchild to engender the adulation of Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley and the media before allegedly vaporizing billions, being disrobed in plain sight, and winding up in a rat-infested Bahamian prison. S.B.F. was extradited to New York this week; he will now be sequestered in home confinement at his parents’ place in Palo Alto under a $250 million bond. For the sake of comparison, that’s 25x Madoff’s bond. (S.B.F. has claimed that he did not wittingly commit fraud.)
Naturally, the story reveals as much about the culture as it does the principals involved. S.B.F. came out of nowhere, quite literally, in the past few years and was immediately sanctified as a patron saint of a new economic era. Any profound pause at his lack of financial experience seemed muted; instead, he was widely considered some sort of crypto Doogie Howser, an M.I.T. grad who parlayed a year at a hedge fund into a $32 billion company. Both sides of the aisle were flooded with his contributions, Larry David delivered his Super Bowl ad, World Series umpires wore FTX badges on their blue jerseys. Then, of course, it all seemed to fall apart in an instant.
At Puck, we remain fascinated by what’s next for S.B.F.—but also, naturally, how we got here in the first place. This week, my partner Bill Cohan published the scintillating first entry in his new series, The S.B.F. Chronicles, which focuses on the stories of the people who saw the young man up close before his fall from grace. This first entry, The Bridge Loan to Nowhere, focuses on a trip that S.B.F. took to the Middle East this fall with Anthony Scaramucci to secure $1 billion in extension financing as, apparently, a capstone to his previous round. S.B.F., after all, had recently purchased a minority stake in The Mooch’s hedge fund. And, in return, The Mooch opened his Rolodex to help his younger partner—allegedly long on capital, but short on relationships.
What ensued, however, was a wild entanglement that may have hastened S.B.F.’s current predicament. As The Mooch recalls to Bill, S.B.F. was surprisingly loose-lipped in conversations about his competitors, and those personal slights might have backfired in previously unimaginable ways. If you have some time this weekend, I highly suggest curling up with The Bridge Loan to Nowhere. It’s a fascinating story, all about power and ego, and the sensitivities of the ruling classes, and it’s precisely the sort of tale you can only find at Puck.