Transcript – America This Week, June 7, 2024: “America’s Grand Inquisitor”



Listen to Episode 92

Matt Taibbi: Okay. Welcome to America This Week. I’m Matt Taibbi.

Walter Kirn: And I’m Walter Kirn.

Matt Taibbi: Walter, how are you doing? Where are you? That’s always the first question.

Walter Kirn: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I don’t know, but I do know this week. I am in Montana, Livingston, Montana, the only town I know whose farmer’s market includes a grizzly bear awareness stall.

Yesterday I was at the farmer’s market down in the Sacajawea Park named after the native guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and there were a couple of nice young park rangers manning a stall among the fruits and vegetables. And on the table were the skulls of four different kinds of bears so that kids can come and kind of operate the jaws of the bears.

The largest was a Kodiak, an Alaskan version of a grizzly bear, then a grizzly. And there were pamphlets about how to survive bear attacks and how to walk together in groups and make noise and things like that.

Matt Taibbi: Do you have bears in your town?

Walter Kirn: Not in the town. Well, no. There are black bears that walk through the town, but as yet, there are no grizzly bears. But out, I have a cabin outside of town, Matt, that you’ll have to visit someday with your kids and your wife so that you can experience, because I know you have bears where you live, but so you can experience the big Montana bears that walk through knowing that you are food and that you know you’re food and they have the confidence of the apex predator is what they call it.

Matt Taibbi: Yeah. They’re hilarious. I think bears are … The funniness on bears is underrated.

Walter Kirn: It really is. I mean, Russians have specialized in bear humor for a long time. Americans are a little less versed in bears, but at this place, my dad who had retired there and died a few years ago, loved having the grizzly bears around. And as he was getting older, one time a friend of his came to me and said, “Walt, your dad’s letting a mountain lion live under the porch of his house and we think it’s dangerous. Could you please talk to him?” He was in his early 80s.

And I went in and I drove out. It’s about 20 miles out of town. I said, “Dad, apparently there’s a mountain lion living under your porch. The neighbors are concerned. They don’t think it’s maybe healthy for you to have a killer of people and dogs living at your house.” And he’s like, “God damn it. Tell them to leave me alone.” So you can see where I got my attitude about a lot of things, but.

Matt Taibbi: That’s going to be a good comeback to our story later.

Walter Kirn: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Matt Taibbi: Right?

Walter Kirn: Yeah. But anyway, so I’m glad to be back here. I’m glad to be among animals that wish me the worst. Keeps me on my toes, puts things in perspective.

Matt Taibbi: They’re mostly indifferent, I think, right? But if you were to run at one clanging a bunch of pots, I would think they would wish you the worst.

Walter Kirn: They are mostly-

Matt Taibbi: Oh, you mean the people?

Walter Kirn: Well, no, no. I’m saying I’m glad to be back among animals that want me to die. They don’t want to kill me necessarily today. They don’t have a need to eat my body today, but they might at some point. But yeah, it keeps you in the pyramid, not at the top of the pyramid, in the middle of it where I think all people should-

Matt Taibbi: Absolutely-

Walter Kirn: … see themselves to keep things in context.

Matt Taibbi: Yeah, I think people should naturally live in an environment always where they’re somewhere beneath the top of the food chain. I think that’s helpful. Yeah. We saw a bear just the other day.

Walter Kirn: What was it doing?

Matt Taibbi: It was walking back to the forest. They come down here to, on garbage pickup day, they scrounge and then they go back to where they live. I got a pretty good read on where they’re heading now, so I’m thinking about going out and taking a look, so.

Walter Kirn: That’s the investigative reporter in you. Where? I see a bear, but where is it going and what does it want?

Matt Taibbi: Exactly, exactly. So big week in news. We obviously had a little criminal trial take place last week while I was in Toronto, where I went to the Rogers Centre to watch the Blue Jays win a game with a walk-off home run, which was cool, but the world kind of went nuts when Donald Trump got convicted.

We both picked this wrong. We both called it completely wrong, and in hindsight, I’m kind of wondering what we were thinking. I mean, look at The New York Times headline, slightly understated. But then everybody just went bananas with the kind of ding-dong, the Witch is dead celebrations. I mean, what did you see first? What was the first item of news that you saw?

Walter Kirn: As far as us getting it wrong, did we predict that he would not be convicted or was it that I said, I don’t expect him to see him in prison?

Matt Taibbi: I thought it was going to be a hung jury, and that was the thing I put my cards on, so I was completely wrong.

Walter Kirn: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I can’t remember my prediction, which is one of the blessed things about being my age. I’ll remember my correct predictions, but the other ones just dissolve into thin air.

What did I think? I thought, I’ll be honest with you, I thought everything has changed suddenly. It really hit me that we had entered a new era. It was like there was a game that we’ve played for a couple hundred years and now there’s a new rule. Like in football they had field goals, and then they had safe touchbacks or whatever. Then they had touchdowns, and now they’ve got something called the scuttleback.

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