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Jun 2, 2024, 9:28pm EDT
media

Transcript: Vivek Ramaswamy on BuzzFeed, politics and media

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Nayeema Raza: So first question: Explain what you’re trying to do with BuzzFeed. Is this a play to achieve what Elon did with Twitter, but with lower stakes and a lower price tag, or something else?

Vivek Ramaswamy: Well, look, I laid it out pretty clearly in the letter I sent to the board, I enjoy creating value. That is something that I’ve done in my career as an entrepreneur, I’ve always had an instinct as a value investor as well, and I see a lot of value destroyed by the way this business has been run. I’m not in the phase of casting blame or pointing fingers at one individual versus another. 

But the fact is, this was a potentially very valuable business at the time it went public. Certainly a lot of people with a lot of money backed it on that premise. And it has cratered on the back of a lot of business failures that I believe are still correctable. There’s a lot of different businesses and a lot of different industries that could fit that description, but my particular interest in the media did come from my interface with the media over the last year and a half, that taught me a lot of things about how the media landscape works.

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And so for me, it’s a combination of a mission orientation to create the kind of media company that I think the public deserves, but to do it in a way that creates what I view as potentially massive shareholder value. It’s a lot of fun, it’s also productive. But I think that’s going to require massive, drastic, strategic change to a business that is patently in trouble. I think that this is a business that has admitted some of its failures from a business perspective, but they’re really just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, when I think a complete overhaul is required. And when I saw nobody else stepping up to the plate to do it, I saw an opportunity. And I believe in driving change through the private sector for the better, creating value in the process, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.

Ben Smith: Well, as somebody who cares a lot about BuzzFeed, although all that abstract stuff sounds great for me. I should say, I was also there probably for the single worst business decision we made, which was not selling to Disney for $500 million back in 2014, so I will not lecture you on value creation. But a lot of people do think that this venture is a bit like your campaign in that it’s a lot of money, a lot of attention, but ultimately, there’s no way for you to get the votes. Jonah Peretti votes: 64% of the stock. How’s that gonna work?

Vivek: There’s so many circular references that I’ve had even in the 48 hours since my stake was initially reported, and since my letter went in to the board — the media’s reporting of it — that actually almost proved my thesis for how broken and in some cases idiotic, downright low-IQ, the media really is in situations like this.

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Ben: Wow, thank you. Was it that good a question? I think that was a pretty straightforward question, Vivek. This is a company with two classes of stock. 

Vivek: And I’ll give you a straightforward answer. It was preamble to an obvious point, that I’m just disappointed that people in media can’t take notice of, because there’s a gap in business understanding. So ordinarily, if you have super-voting shares, yes, absolutely, you’re the person who decides the governance of the company. 

There’s a curious fact about this company that the entire reporting of that line of thinking completely missed, which is — I would add to a list of journalistic failures that grows every day — this is a company that has more debt than cash. That debt comes due this December. So anybody who thinks that Jonah Peretti is the person in control of this business because some piece of paper says he has voting rights over the shares is delusional, to borrow a word from the subtitle of your own book describing the same industry, Ben. It’s delusion.

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I’ll leave it at this for now: The game theory of a traditional situation, where you have founder-controlled shares versus an outside shareholder, changes completely when you have debt that comes due that’s deeply underwater from its conversion price, and that comes due at a moment where the company has less cash than debt [and] is losing money on a growing basis. I’ll leave it at that for now. But I think somebody who has basic intuitions of how those situations play out would maybe rethink the idea that Jonah actually has full control of this company.

Ben: Just playing that out, there’s sort of an obvious logic to taking the company private in that situation. And I’m curious if that’s the direction you’d want to take it.

Vivek: Look, I think there’s a menu of options available. Frankly, I haven’t had my first meeting with the company yet. I’m always a big believer in any issue, business issues included, to make sure you get the best arguments for the other side, air them, understand them deeply as though they’re your own, to really figure out what’s best, especially in building a business. I think that’s critical, right? If the goal is actually creating shareholder value, you want to understand. I’m looking at this from the outside, and I do think that we’re in a moment of this business’s life where an outside perspective would be useful. It’s hard to argue with how the stock price has performed and the business performance that some massive change is needed. So I’m hopeful that I’m bringing that fresh outside perspective.

Nonetheless, I’ve got to acknowledge that I don’t have all of the information and history and context that the existing management does, too. And so I’m going to hear that out, wear that argument as though I’m in there with them, and then come to what I believe is actually the right, best [conclusion]. You could think about a range of tracks for the plumbing of this. People talk about going private. Are there things to do with the debt? Are there things to do with other ways of financing or growing or shedding parts of the business? I laid out my current views in the letter, and hopefully you can share that with your audiences, because I do think — it’s like six pages or so, but it’s not exactly the way that CNN characterized the letter.

Nayeema: I think it’s seven pages. And we did read the letter. You kind of outline a three- pronged strategy. You want to cut costs, you want to pivot to audio and video, and you want to bring a diversity of thought into the BuzzFeed equation. You mentioned publishers — content creators like Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, perhaps Aaron Rodgers. But I want to ask you, because there’s this wave of conservative media—

Vivek: Can I just pause you right there?

Nayeema: Of course. 

Vivek: What you just described was exactly consistent with the rest of the media reporting on this, which the headline said [that I’d] bring Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson in. I’m just gonna pause right there for one second, because I think it’s really, really important. Since you quoted my letter, I’m gonna ask you to quote it correctly. I did not say Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, Aaron Rodgers. I said, what you need is to have the courage to engage with the full cultural and political spectrum, from Candace Owens to Destiny, from Tucker Carlson to Bill Maher, from Aaron Rodgers to Charles Barkley. And so it’s interesting that you just did the exact same thing.

Ben: Let me actually try to engage that criticism, because I think that’s an interesting point. But I think the reason that that’s the headline, is because if I said, “I want Fox News to engage with Vivek Ramaswamy,” that’s not news, and that’s extremely boring, because it’s obvious. And if I say, “I want Fox News to engage with, and to give Hunter Biden a show,” that’s news, because that’s pretty surprising. News is often about things that are surprising, rather than things that are obvious. And the reason I think, at least from my perspective, that it’s more interesting that you would bring Tucker Carlson to BuzzFeed than you would bring kind of a center-left mainstream person to BuzzFeed is because it’s surprising. That’s what defines news.

Vivek: It’s a good conversation here. I just want to say one thing in response to that, right. Because Ben, you’re a smart guy.

Ben: Flattery will get you everywhere.

Vivek: I’ll give you that. But I think it’s important to recognize this — I don’t say this as a compliment here, I say it as somewhat of a criticism — is that you’re able to elide the essence of what just happened there, and the essence of that media reporting, because you’re right.

Ben: No, I think you’re saying that we’re being unfair to you by saying that the most interesting thing about your letter was the sort of rightward turn toward BuzzFeed. And I think that was authentically a really interesting thing. Can I ask you about the substance of it?

Vivek: The essence of the point, just to smoke it out: I think the thing that’s actually really interesting, is the idea — forget whether you’re platforming one individual or another, the whole thesis of that section of the letter, and what remains, in my view, a good opportunity for Buzzfeed to pursue — is to be bold by saying that we will engage with ideas across the cultural and political and lifestyle spectrum in a way that no major media business is doing today. [It’s] not dunking on BuzzFeed by dancing on their grave with conservative voices. No.

Nayeema: In fact, that’s not what you’re doing.

Vivek: It’s engaging in dialogue which I think we’re missing, and it’s useful, I hope.

Nayeema: It seems that part of the thesis that you have for a broadened media platform is that some of these conservative media platforms that have risen that would have only contained the three voices I just named — places like Parler, Gettr, Rumble, even Truth Social — they are struggling as a business. So this idea of catering to a single audience, as it were, is not working. Is that part of your premise of investment, that you really want it to be broad?

Vivek: There is an opportunity that’s untapped. And the untapped opportunity, I think, is to have one platform where, on the same platform, you have different voices engaging. And I use the word platform a little bit imprecisely there, because what we’re talking about here is actually a publisher, right, which is different than an X, or a Truth Social or any of these other platforms. It’s the unique opportunity to create a publisher that actually does the service for its audience for screening for quality of content. That’s an important service. 

But it seems that every other publisher who’s providing that service is providing another service that many audiences don’t love, which is also screening for the ideology of what they’re able to hear. So if you could separate those two things — of screening as a quality filter for what their audiences get, but affirmatively actually engaging with dissenting voices, not just on questions of news or politics, but across the cultural, ideological, sports, lifestyle spectrums — that’s interesting to me. And the collective of all of those things that you named, in terms of actually incorporating diversity of thought into your own ranks, into the voices that you platform as a publisher, in terms of moving in the direction of content creation, and going in the direction of the creator economy, which I think is a more promising business direction than digitized print — you actually create something that BuzzFeed is missing today, which is really the only way for one of these businesses to differentiate itself. Which is a brand.

Right now, most people know BuzzFeed, the name. Nobody knows what it actually means. And I think the ability to use some of the things that I suggested doing in the letter with humility, with an actual sense of grace and honesty, admitting some of the prior failures — the failures are obvious. It’s like the ketchup stain on your shirt phenomenon; everybody sees it, but you actually can win your audience over if you’re the person to admit it. Use that sense of vulnerability and honesty to build a brand that not only BuzzFeed but so many other media companies like it lack today.

To the extent you’re gonna have a corporate player in media at all, I think brand is essential, because pretty soon, it’s all going to be commoditized, if it isn’t already, if not by AI already, by human beings who are behaving like AI, doing same same cut-and-paste reporting. The thing that’s really going to differentiate a media company in the future is actually going to be the brand created by that human honesty, and using AI and other tools to actually manage the costs, in a way that this business just hasn’t done to date. And so that’s the way I’m thinking about this.

Ben: I mean, it’s a tough business that you’re thinking about getting into, and one in which there are no new ideas. So we wish you luck, to the degree that we can figure [it out].

Nayeema: Vivek, you said that you got interested in media about a year and a half ago, but as I understand that you’ve been here before. I don’t think this has been previously reported, but you had a call, I think in late 2020, with Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and others, about rolling up a big internet company that would have included Parler and been an alternative to [Amazon Web Services], I believe. And you would have been CEO.

Vivek: I’ve played around with a lot of concepts. One of those led to the birth of Strive, which is the financial services ecosystem. But you’re right. After I left my job in biotech, ... I started a company in 2014, led it as CEO for seven years, ran it according to decentralized principles — [and] I see an opportunity to run a media company in the same way, give people skin in the game, bottom-up, align incentives. And that’s a $8-$9 billion publicly-traded company today, that’s returned over a billion and a half dollars in cash to shareholders, and it’s traded on the NASDAQ. We just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the company last month.

One of the things I’ve been interested in for a long time is, how can I use some of those experiences to drive other change to the private sector. I briefly was intrigued by media. I decided to go the direction of financial services as my next stop. And so my own view is, when you think about driving change to the private sector, there’s two sets of rails that really matter: communications and financial services. And I worry, also for our culture, that those are two of the rails that, forget who the government is in charge, lend themselves to problematic government capture, which is why you need robust, competitive, well-run private alternatives that prevent single viewpoint domination in either of those sets of rails. So I ended up dedicating myself actually, I threw the towel in media. Like you said, Ben, if you’re doing it just for the pursuit of profit, there’s better places to do that than in the media business. … So I went in the direction of financial services.

Ben: Pragmatic choice.

Vivek: After the presidential campaign, though, I interface so much with the media, that kind of pulled me really back in to say: You know what, if I was solely focused on personally maximizing the size of my bank account, I’d probably pick other industries. But within media, is there an opportunity to really drive change and still maximize value relative to the price at which a business like BuzzFeed is trading and show that something can be run successfully with an alternative vision? Yes, that’s what pulled me back in.

Nayeema: In retrospect, is that idea that you discussed with Peter and Elon and others an attractive idea? This kind of roll-up.

Vivek: I said this in the letter as well — people make this mistake. The idea of rolling up assets or divesting assets: that’s not a strategy, that’s a tactic. Right? You need a baseline strategy of what you’re actually doing. And so, does the broad strategy of platforming multiple different kinds of voices and pursuing truth through the open exchange of ideas in a marketplace that lacks it? Is that a good strategy? I think it is, actually. I think a lot of consumers are hungry for it. I think it doesn’t exist today. There’s periods in the past in media where it’s existed. I think it can exist in the future, but in the context of a new media content distribution landscape, nobody’s really tapped that yet. So do I believe that strategy can work? Absolutely. And do I think running it as this multi-manager platform, which is the core model that I suggest for BuzzFeed to run itself — decentralized, give creators skin in the game, so you don’t have to pay large upfront costs, give people that autonomy, rather than centrally mandating what they do, or don’t do? Yes, I think that this is an opportunity to build a multibillion-dollar business. It’s never going to be, probably, a trillion-dollar company as a publisher, but a multibillion-dollar business. I think that opportunity absolutely exists.

Nayeema: [The Free Press, the publication run by] our former colleague, Bari Weiss, raised a concern about the kind of revolving door of media and politics. [The Free Press] said this: “A healthier political environment would be one in which politicians are politicians, and the media is the media.” Vivek, which team do you want to be on? That was [their] question to you. What’s your answer?

Vivek: I didn’t see that. On the basic intuition of it, I generally tend to share [with] anybody who has a revulsion to a revolving door between politics and industry broadly, especially after you’ve been in the seat of actually making public policy. I have deep aversion to [that]. And I think that that’s not a left- or a right-wing intuition. I think there’s people on the left and right who both share that. And so, you know what, if I’d been the President of the United States, which is where I was running for, or if I’d been in a policymaking position in the Senate, I probably shouldn’t come back to the very industries that I had oversight over. I don’t favor that kind of thing, all else equal. I mean, there could be exceptions here or there, maybe, but all else equal, as a general rule I agree with Bari, I’d be against that. 

I am the other way around. I’m an entrepreneur who volunteered to run this country, as U.S. president, as somebody who is patently outside of politics. And the beauty of our process is the people of this country get to decide who actually leads the country. But I’m an entrepreneur at my core. And so I am continuing to do the thing I’ve been doing for the last 15 years, which is building businesses, investing, writing books — I’ve written three books in the past three years, and working on my fourth now — so the combination of that type of content creation, combined with business creation, makes the media a natural place not to ignore.

(After this conversation, Vivek read the Free Press piece and realized he’d misunderstood the context of the phrase “revolving door” in our conversation. He emailed: “I’m against the ‘revolving door’ between people who have served in the government and who go on to specifically monetize their government connections in public service through private business activities. To be clear, I have absolutely no problem with private sector leaders who go on to serve in government, or former public servants who go on to succeed in the private market independently — I’d love to see more of both! But using your connections gained during government service to later enrich yourself is something I don’t like.

“But I see no philosophical problem with someone who aspires to public office becoming a publisher of content, or a publisher of content later running for public office. Our Founding Fathers certainly didn’t see a problem with that. Alexander Hamilton founded the New York Post. Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin would certainly count as a “publisher” or “content creator” in modern times - not to mention engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur too. They were polymath intellectuals who weren’t confined to the lane of “politician.” I think we could use more of that Renaissance spirit in the class of people who lead our country today.”

Ben: I think what [The Free Press] was talking about, though, was journalism. Almost everything you said right now, probably could have come out of my mouth or out of the mouth of the guy who runs CNN, or the New York Times editor: “We believe in having diverse voices.”

Vivek: Ben, may I just—

Ben: Yeah, of course.

Vivek: We’re having a fun debate here.

Ben: But I mean, how abstract it is—

Vivek: You used to run BuzzFeed News though, right?

Ben: Let me get to that. I promise I’m getting there, and we can argue about the specifics, because I would just love to take it to specifics for a minute. The point I was just trying to make was that, I think when people talk about media news in the abstract, we all sort of say the same words. And there’s actually a lot that I really liked in your letter in that context.

But I would say the thing that disappointed me a little were some of the specific criticisms. Because it seemed like somebody had sort of Googled “criticism of BuzzFeed stories,” a lot of it actually from the left and almost totally at random, and said, “Well, look, the World Wildlife Foundation was upset that BuzzFeed News reported, and then the Trump administration acted, on these questions on the way in which they were working with rangers who were killing people.” It was a pretty good story. If that person that Googled it had read the Guardian story they linked, they would have seen that they conceded most of the substance of it. Similarly, there was a dispute with Robert Mueller. I was sort of surprised to see you on his side of it, but sure. There was a big dispute about the Steele dossier that I think is a totally reasonable one, that I’ve written about at length.

But a really core part of owning, of working, in media, and working with journalists, is to have the backs of the reporters that you’re working with. And to come in with what really seemed like pretty random and not particularly deeply researched criticism saying, “Hey, there’s been criticism of a bunch of these stories, most of it from the left, some of it from the right,” which sort of surprised me too — that just felt kind of facile, honestly, and not the way that somebody who wants to employ journalists ought to approach it.

Vivek: If I may respond — as you would acknowledge, of course, you’re not an impartial observer of this.

Ben: No, no, of course not. That’s literally true. And I do care a lot about that place.

Vivek: You were the editor of BuzzFeed News at a time when many of those criticisms came out. So, look, we all have our vantage points, and I just think it’s worth acknowledging.

Ben: Sure, but mine is very close to the page on those. That’s why I guess I’m reacting. I have a very detailed knowledge.

Vivek: Which is a useful, there’s, there’s pros to being close to it too.

Ben: Understanding the details is a pro.

Vivek: You thought it was a facile criticism. Let me know when you’re ready for a non-facile—

Ben: I’m ready for a profound response. Go for it.

Vivek: I can’t promise profound, but I could promise you what I actually believe, which I think is a little bit more nuanced than what you laid out. First, the notion of saying that you’d be surprised to see me offer criticisms from the left and from the right, itself reflects a misunderstanding of the intention. It reflects the same reason why you hear people airlifting Candace Owens and Tucker without mentioning Destiny and Bill Maher, which also came in the letter.

Ben: I think people mostly know you as a conservative political activist running for president.

Vivek: The point I was making is, there is a series of examples that have lost [BuzzFeed’s] audience’s trust. And BuzzFeed’s audience did lose its trust in BuzzFeed. And at the time you left BuzzFeed News, I think you said something to the effect of “BuzzFeed is in great shape, but I know that Jonah has committed to news.” Within two years later, their stock price is in the toilet, they’re loaded with debt, and they have shed their entire news business. So in a certain sense, what’s the message to the journalists? It’s: That model isn’t working. Right? The historical model failed many journalists, who now do not have their job, because BuzzFeed News as a division does not exist.

[crosstalk] BuzzFeed News does not exist, in part, because of those failures. And so it’s not a left-wing or right-wing point or that I agree with Robert Mueller, or I agree with the left-wing critics of the WWF story. [The] point is that an audience[’s] trust has been betrayed. That was an asset that was lost, that in part contributed to the closure of this news division.

The final point here is, I view all of this as the symptoms. You said I’m saying the same thing that you might say or the head of CNN might say, or whatever, Mark Thompson or whoever else. Well, not quite, actually. I think that everything we’re talking about, including a lot of those — what I would call, certainly, some journalistic failures. I give you credit, I read your piece in The Atlantic, you acknowledge you would have done some things differently. By the way, if Jonah said the same thing on behalf of BuzzFeed now, I think that would accrete massive trust and value to his business. But I don’t think I am saying quite the same thing. Because if you say, “talk about diversity of thought,” everybody says it. In that sense, you’re right about it. I believe in facts. You said you want to get the facts. Let’s get to hard facts. [crosstalk]

If you look at the employee contributions, where do employees contribute? That’s public data, thankfully. Of all of the employee contributions that BuzzFeed has recorded publicly since 2010, it’s not that 50-50 was to Democrat or Republican. We’re talking over 99% in one direction, and less than 1% to Republicans. And I’m not saying it has to be 50-50. But if you’re running a business that claims to have diversity trainings, right — they offer mandatory diversity trainings — proclaims the importance of diversity of thought, as BuzzFeed does, and yet, 99.9 or 99.5% of your employee political contributions go in one direction? [crosstalk] And then you look at those journalistic failures through that lens—

Ben: You should see their audience’s political contributions. Like, really. I think, if you look at the audience of Huffington Post, you might also find that their political contributions tilted left. … I suspect the audience is in a similar place, which could be a problem when you’re operating it.

Vivek: That’s a self-fulfilling cycle, and that audience is shrinking versus what I’m saying. 

Ben: So do you fire the audience?

Vivek: You don’t fire the audience, far from it, you attract the audience. You have already fired the audience. That’s actually what’s reflecting itself, is a business that is going down.

Ben: I think there are a lot of good points here, genuinely, but also this is, I do think that this was a bit of a kitchen sink, and having literally written the book about why the social news companies collapsed — honestly, I wish I could say it was because they were doing combative journalism that sometimes made people unhappy. But I think they couldn’t afford that journalism, for a bunch of really interesting reasons you probably understand better than I do, because you went to business school, but that were fundamentally about a bad bet on the shape of the internet. And I agree with you, in some ways, about the way it’s going. I think figuring out how media companies make money out of that is a complicated thing for another podcast.

Nayeema: Vivek, you keep coming back to this idea of diversity. And you’re mentioning Bill Maher and Destiny, which were very much in your letter. But would you be open to more liberal, more progressive voices coming on the platform as well, as you’re talking about diversifying it?

Vivek: Of course.

Nayeema: But you didn’t mention any of those people in your letter that are kind of, let’s say extreme left.

Vivek: I consider Destiny maybe in that.

Ben: Should we get Mehdi Hasan on there?

Nayeema: Yeah, would you have Mehdi?

Vivek: Sure. He’s a smart guy, right? I think he’s a smart guy, absolutely. You know, I think that we would pick at certain bones where we disagree with each other, but the screen would be quality, because I think quality matters, right? You got bad quality on the right, you got bad quality on the left. Screen for actual quality, but above that filter for quality, own the brand of saying that we’re actually fostering as much diverse ideational exchange as we possibly can have.

Ben: But that’s what I want Semafor’s brand to be. You can’t be giving them this advice.

Nayeema: Vivek is a millennial, taking back the millennial brand of BuzzFeed in a lot of ways.

Vivek: There’s room for an ecosystem here.

Nayeema: There is one specific thing I want to say, because it’s not just about being governed by the audience, or the people making the content, but there’s also the basis of fact, right? And this is where I think [the] question of the revolving door comes in. Because what role would you play in this new ecosystem? You were on a presidential stage. You were saying that Jan. 6, “now does look like it was an inside job,” something that has no basis in fact.

Vivek: We can go on the substance of that if you’re interested.

Nayeema: It is the job of journalists to fact-check things like that. So as someone who’s been in the political machine, somebody who has a now well-articulated public point of view out there — just like what you’re saying 99.5% of BuzzFeed employees have, you have a very particular point of view. How is that point of view going to come into the operations of this business?

Vivek: I’ll tell you what some of my own experiences have been in life and building businesses. If you look at, for example, the company that I mentioned before, a NASDAQ-traded multibillion-dollar business, by any measure, in 10 years, one of the most successful companies in the industry in a 10-year period — my number two, who became the number one … has probably more different political perspectives from me than either of you on this call. And yet, we worked incredibly well together to challenge each other and push each other to create a common purpose and mission in something that had nothing to do with the areas where he and I continue to spar, like good friends. We’ll spar with bare knuckles today. 

And I miss that culture in America, actually, I miss that. That used to exist. I mean, that’s part of who we are. I mean, our founding — this country was that, right? Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were sworn political enemies, but then spent the latter half of their lives writing letters to each other, that we’re able to read for posterity. And those end up being better-written articles of opinions than anything we see in the modern landscape. So I want to bring that back. And so what I would say is the way I’d want to run — I’m not proposing to be the CEO of anything at this point.

Nayeema: Well, Elon and Peter thought you were good enough to be a CEO of a much bigger company.

Vivek: I’ve been a CEO.

Nayeema: Of a media company, I should say, a bigger media company.

Vivek: The way I think BuzzFeed has an opportunity to run itself with the strategy that I’ve offered here, is one in which its board, its management and its talent base include the best and brightest across — it’s not just left versus right, because then we’re just talking politics — across a wide range of axes, to create the kind of discourse that we’re just missing today. And I think social media fails a little bit on this mark. I think the algorithmically supercharged nature of how the platforms are run lose[s] that filter of quality, which I think is a service to an audience.

Ben: Now you’re singing our song. Every time you speak abstractly, I love it.

Nayeema: But the specifics matter—

Vivek: I think we start from first principles. Sometimes all of us, myself, I’m sure, included, are clouded by the strong feelings we have on a particular content-driven debate. … You could say, was it maybe even a bad idea to get into some of the specifics in the letter? If you look at how much it distracted people relative to what’s in the heart of there, maybe I should have just left those out in the first letter. But the whole point is, I want to actually start from a bare-bones set of first principles, right? What’s the principle? We believe in pursuing truth. We pursue truth through open ideas. Don’t trust us. Trust the people you listen to and don’t trust any one of them. Listen to all of them.

Nayeema: But here’s the thing. Vivek, I agree with you on these principles. But you, as a presidential candidate, you either need to be the person saying the false things, the things the public wants to hear, or you need to be the person checking those things, catching those things, right? That’s the Bari Weiss question.

Vivek: Nayeema, let me just say. This is just personally getting to know me, right? This is idiosyncratic and not, but it’s fine … Whenever somebody — and this happened a lot in my life, it’s probably happened to a lot of people, every person is watching this too, right, and this is outside of politics, but maybe in the realm of like career advice, unsolicited as it is — anytime somebody tells you, “shut up, sit down, stay in your lane,” I naturally recoil at that. I think some of the greatest things that have happened in American history and some of the greatest—

Ben: This is such an abstract way to respond to a question about having said—

Vivek: Crossing different boundaries. And so no, it’s not an abstract question. You’re saying you picked a lane. For a year, I was a presidential candidate, and I ran openly as an entrepreneur. I said, you know, you described me as part of the political machine. For anybody in the Republican Party who understands the way I ran well, calling me in any way—

Ben: I think it’s that you visibly felt the temptation to tell an audience what they want. To feel the temptation, that is unavoidable at every level of politics, to tell people what they want to hear when they want to hear it. Anyone who watches and I don’t even mean this, anybody who watches any political campaign sees this.

Vivek: We can have that debate. But I don’t think that’s— I’m happy to go that way.

Ben: You know, we’ll have it when you’re my boss at that new (inaudible) BuzzFeed. I hope this job interview went well.

Nayeema: I’m curious, would you bring Ben Smith back to run? Would you, are you going to relaunch?

Vivek: I’m not planning or volunteering to be a CEO of it, but let’s just play this out. Let’s say this is the kind of conversation — this is the kind of conversation I want to be having within a media company.

Nayeema: But these conversations happen, Vivek. I think that’s the thing, Vivek. These kinds of conversations happen at media companies.

Vivek: I don’t think that that’s possible, Nayeema, in a context in which 99.5% of your employees’ political contributions are going in a direction that 50% of your country disagrees with. And I think if you’re really premised on the true, open exchange of ideas, that just couldn’t possibly be the case on the fact that— I’m not saying it has to be 50%, but it is a joke. It is a farce. And I think it is no accident that the first paper the first publication to break the Steele dossier, that would have not happened if it was 99.5%, or 70%, even 50% in the other direction. I think there would be inherent checks and balances in creating cultural debate.

Ben: I do think you really—

Vivek: The goal is to cross start from a blank slate and ask what’s possible if you’re starting from first principles.

Ben: I mean, I think you’ll have an interesting—

Vivek: First principles should be an open exchange of ideas with actual diversity of thought.

Ben: I do think you’ll...

Vivek: Which I think is missing in most media organizations, left and right, today.

Ben: I mean, I do think you’ll have hopefully interesting conversations with Jonah Peretti about this, because it’s, the ideology of journalists is often, you know, demented in various ways, but rarely on a left-right spectrum. My own, in fact, in my own self criticism here, is this sort of radicalism about publishing the thing sometimes, you know, in any direction. But I do think that, I think I look forward to your digging in a little on this. When we said people who come out of politics often kind of project political motives, the way journalists often project political motives onto entrepreneurs. I think you see it all over the place, actually. And so, I look forward to the education of Vivek Ramaswamy on the inside of media businesses.

Nayeema: We should have a follow up.

Ben: This was really, this was really interesting.

Nayeema: We should genuinely have a follow up on this.

Ben: I think these things on the inside are often not what they look like from the outside. I mean, for better and for worse, for sure.

Vivek: If I could just finish in response to one of the points from that Nayeema made earlier, because I think it’s interesting. It goes, it’s important to me as a human being, but I think it’s also important to the essential fluid of our country, actually, is our country was built by pioneers and explorers who were actually Renaissance men that didn’t fall into the pre-categorized lanes where you’re supposed to operate. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod. He invented the Franklin stove. He invented a remedy for the common cold.

Nayeema: He was a satirist. Yeah, yeah.

Vivek: You got Thomas Jefferson, he invented the polygraph test, the swivel chair, he was 33 when he wrote the Declaration, you got guys like Livingston who were ambassadors to France while tinkering around creating the steamship with Robert Fulton. And it’s, I prefer to kind of close on at least a positive point here. We’re talking about business building business or even rebuilding an industry in that, I think we would just all do better, myself included, but maybe if I may invite others who are willing to participate, to sort of take off those preconceived shackles not just on partisan politics...

Ben: Vivek, I think, on this note, I do think I’m gonna run, I’ve always wanted to run for president. And I think that’s what...

Vivek: From first principles, that’s what our founders did. And if we’re rebuilding media, I think there’s an opportunity to approach it with that spirit of the founders.

Nayeema: Three observations. By the way, I agree with you one should not necessarily, in their career, stay in a lane. I do also think that you had the same reaction that Bari had about the revolving door between...

Vivek: The corruption and politics, I agree with that.

Nayeema: And once you’re a practicing policymaker, and third, I do think Ben, you have a bright political future in front of you. If you’re not going back to BuzzFeed with Vivek, which is also, I think, an option.

Ben: I think I’m gonna stay in my lane here. But thank you for coming on Vivek, we appreciate it.

Vivek: You don’t have a lane Ben, you’re boundless, too, I believe in you.

Ben: I look forward to our conversation about being your vice presidential nominee.

Vivek: I respected your article in The Atlantic. I think the fact that you were able to, I don’t agree with everything you even said in that article, but the fact that you could still go back and reflect and say, at least with the Steele dossier reporting, there are some things we could have done differently. I think it’s a good thing. And my advice to Jonah, I haven’t spoken to him yet, but my advice would be, take a kernel of that humility and use that to advance your own self interest in building a brand. And if so, I think that’s a big part of how we run BuzzFeed.

Ben: I would love to be a fly on the wall in that in that conversation, but I doubt you will invite me but thank you for, Thank you, thank you for taking the time.

Nayeema: Thank you, Vivek.

Vivek: Thanks, guys. Take care.

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