For all the power and influence of the world’s wealthiest people, how much do you really know about them? No, I’m not talking about their ghostwritten books on leadership. I’m talking about the harder questions: What do they care about—and what do they only pretend to care about? How much do they actually donate to charity, pay in taxes, or secretly spend on political campaigns? What do they think about the curdling resentment toward billionaires as a class—the fear that they are too rich, too powerful, too omnipresent in our collective psyche? What do those critics get wrong?
I am a reporter who, at my core, cares about inequality. But what I’ve noticed along the roadside Casey’s of rural Iowa, the ballrooms of The Venetian, and the Victorians of Pacific Heights is an alarming paucity of deep reporting on these questions. We only cover one side of inequality: We in the media have long illustrated what it is like to be outrageously poor in America, but we have done a pitiful job of illustrating what it is like to be outrageously rich. Our subjects don’t make it easy for us, to be sure, but that’s no excuse: It just calls for stronger relationships, extra phone calls, more on-the-ground reporting. After all, I’ve always seen my beat covering the ultra-wealthy as public-service journalism: it helps to reveal, at a fundamental level, how our politics and economy actually work.
That’s why I’ve joined Puck—and why you should too. Out here in Silicon Valley, I’ve sat through a lot of awful pitches for new media companies. Yet I was instantly drawn to Puck, ever since it was sketched out to me over coffee at the Ferry Building in early 2020. I didn’t get the chance to join Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the beginning of All Things D or even Recode, but I’ve always wanted to take a risk and help start something new, free of the vestiges of a legacy brand or outdated business model.
And more importantly, it was immediately clear to me that the team at Puck thought of the world through the same prism that I did. Puck understood that the mega-rich weren’t just anonymous asset allocators, but cultural arbiters: they are our American Dream and our American villains; our Saturday Night Live hosts and our Bo Burnham ditties. Some reporters specialize in covering complex systems. That’s not me. I have always cherished stories about people, and Puck promises to deliver those.
The team also shared the core thesis of my writing, whether I’m reporting on politics in Washington or technology in San Francisco: This is all one world. Michael Ovitz advises Marc Andreessen, who lobbies Mitch McConnell, who raises money from Paul Singer, who invests in Ovitz. At Puck, we cover Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington, and Wall Street not as separate broadsheets of a print newspaper, but as subdivisions of a universe that is actually one big, elite club. It’s not a coincidence that so many of my colleagues—Peter Hamby, Tina Nguyen or Baratunde Thurston, among many others—are writers who don’t neatly ascribe to one beat or another, but who live in the white spaces in between.
I’ll be honest: I’ve always felt a little out of place in Silicon Valley because I don’t particularly care about capital-T Technology—you won’t find me scooping major news about Alphabet’s corporate structure or Facebook’s next innovation in VR. I would rather take you behind the curtain of how the sector’s big winners like MacKenzie Scott, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are remaking society in their image.
I’m always amused that some people on the Internet think I am a billionaire bootlicker, while others insist I am some raging, pitchfork-wielding class warrior. The truth is less facile, and far more interesting. I want to interrogate these people’s soft power by examining the gray zones, the tradeoffs, the edge cases. And the way to answer those hard questions, as always, is not through more tribalism—but through better journalism. If we’re arguing based on press releases and tweets from either side, we’re doing it wrong.
If you’d like to have a conversation—about the world as it is, and yes, the world as we want it to be—I’d like to invite you to join Puck. You can subscribe right here.