Yashar Ali is ready to talk about that magazine profile
A year after being the subject of a less-than-flattering Los Angeles Magazine profile, Yashar Ali is opening up about it for the first time.
On June 9, 2021, Los Angeles Magazine published a story titled, “The Curious Rise of Twitter Power Broker Yashar Ali.”
The profile was a sprawling, nearly 6,000-word list of Ali’s accomplishments as a journalist and sociopolitical kingmaker, along with a slew of vague allegations involving his celebrity friendships and personal finances. For some readers, it confirmed their negative suspicions about the ubiquitous Twitter figure, while others were left unsure of what to think about a man they’d have begged for a retweet just days earlier.
As a media critic, I was struck by how much was hinted at within the profile, but never directly confirmed or debunked. [ed. note: when reached for comment, L.A. Magazine Editor-in-Chief Maer Roshan said that the magazine stands by the story. His full statement can be read at the bottom of this piece.]
And what of the many hints that his reporting lacked the type of rigor one would expect from major news outlets? An example of this can be seen in a sentence stating that Ali “breaks his biggest stories on Twitter and in his Substack newsletter, unencumbered by the fact-checking and legal vetting required by many news organizations.” While Ali has broken investigative stories on his Substack, his HuffPost bylines outnumber those by quite a bit. By his own accounting, 46 out of 53 investigative pieces he’s written in his career were published by news organizations; the other seven were on his Substack. If there were actual issues with the quality of Ali’s reporting, this would have been a great place for the story’s author, Peter Kiefer, to mention them – but he didn’t.
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I haven’t known what to say about this story since it came out nearly a year ago. I’ve never met Ali in person, but we have been in friendly contact for the past five years or so, and I respect a lot of his work. I figured that he’d say something, or that another reporter would follow up on some of the specifics (and non-specifics) mentioned in the story. That didn’t happen. Ali disappeared from Twitter the day after the piece was published, vanishing for more than 200 days. As for follow-ups, there simply weren’t any.
Before I continue, you may want to read the profile for yourself.
In the days leading up to the profile’s publication, Ali was very publicly struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, which seemed to be played up in the profile’s closing paragraphs as evidence of his supposedly manipulative nature.
At 2:33 AM on June 10, Ali tweeted that it had been a “mostly good day,” but that he wasn’t in the clear yet, as far as his mental health was concerned. And that was the last anyone would hear from him publicly for months.
Whatever was or wasn’t true about the story, I worried about him. Depression and suicidal ideation were topics that he and I had bonded over, and it didn’t seem like him to disappear like that. In the back of my mind, I wondered if maybe he really was the “grifter” with “a rather checkered history,” as he had been portrayed. Was he okay? Was he safe? I texted him a few times in those first few months to make sure he was alive and well. Sometimes, he’d respond in minutes. Other times, I wouldn’t hear back from him for more than a month. I still didn’t know what to think.
On January 26, Ali returned to Twitter to tease a story he had been working on about one of his usual foes: Scientology. Before he could publish it, however, he sank back into a depression, shelving the story indefinitely. Ali once again disappeared from Twitter, this time until March 2, when he shared a story with his 700,000-plus followers about Roman Abramovich’s decision to sell the English soccer club Chelsea FC. Since then, Ali has eased back into his old posting habits, increasing his frequency and rediscovering his voice.
I figured that at some point, he would open up to the internet about the L.A. Magazine article. Without a statement from him one way or another, it was hard to know which parts of the story were true, which were false, which portions he felt were fair, and which portions he felt were not. For nearly a year, he’s remained silent on the topic. Ali would like to change that, but it hasn’t been easy.
“For nearly the past year, I’ve had fits and starts where I was going to speak out on the profile, and then found myself unable to do it due to the depressive state and suicidal ideation I’ve been dealing with,” he tells me. “I’ve had enough presence of mind to understand that I can’t handle this half-heartedly, so after each feeble attempt to get started, I would back down.”
Last year, Ali put together a private 63-page memo documenting 49 points of contention – what he believed to be inaccuracies and lapses within the story.
Ali sent me the document last September, and he tells me that it went out to about two dozen other people, as well.
The profile says that Ali “claims he attends [Catholic] Mass three times a week.” In a recording Ali shared with me of his April 23, 2021, interview with Kiefer, Ali clearly states “twice a week” when asked about how frequently he attends Mass. Kiefer confirms by repeating, “Twice a week,” back to him. Is this trivial? Yes. Is it possible that Kiefer found the “three times a week” claim somewhere else? Sure. Even so, in the grand scheme of things, it seems like a sloppy, if minor, mistake — a “brown M&Ms” moment.
Similarly, some of the publicly-available timelines in the piece don’t quite match up. On June 13, 2020, HuffPost published an investigation by Ali about then-ABC News executive Barbara Fedida. According to the LA Magazine profile, “Five days after Ali’s post appeared, ABC fired Fedida, after an internal investigation confirmed that she’d made ‘racially insensitive comments.’” Fedida’s departure from ABC News was actually announced on July 20, more than a month after Ali’s report.
Some of Ali’s issues with the L.A. Magazine feature were minor, but add context to Kiefer’s approach in reporting the piece. For instance, the profile claimed that Ali “ignored several requests” from Kiefer. Ali shared with me an email from Kiefer dated October 21, 2020, inquiring about his interest in participating in a profile. Kiefer followed up on March 10, 2021. On April 17, Ali responded by apologizing for his delayed response, explaining that he missed the second email because he sometimes gets “thousands of emails a day,” but shared his cell phone number so the two could discuss a possible profile. It’s quite a leap to frame the lack of response to a cold email as Ali having “ignored several requests.” To say that he “ignored” the requests would suggest intent, which wasn’t established in the story.
The same goes for the claim that Ali had “canceled food writer Alison Roman.” Roman had criticized Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen in an interview with The New Consumer newsletter. Ali’s contribution to Roman’s downfall was the act of sharing the relevant screenshot from the interview on his Twitter account (which was posted to Roman’s Instagram) and sharing an old photo of what he wrongly believed to be a “Chola” costume for Halloween, but was actually Amy Winehouse. Setting aside whether or not it was a good thing for him to do, it does seem a bit of a stretch to argue that this constitutes “reporting” in a traditional sense, or that he was responsible for her being “canceled.”
Yes, this is a trivial mistake (unless Kiefer has access to information about Fedida’s exit that the public doesn’t), but that still raises questions about how thoroughly some of the other, much more serious, claims were vetted.
The story was widely-read, making it, in Ali’s view, damaging to his personal and professional life.
“Over two dozen significant allegations were not presented to me prior to publication,” Ali tells me. “I repeatedly asked [Los Angeles Magazine Editor-In-Chief] Maer [Roshan] and Peter [Kiefer] – in taped phone calls – if they had told me about everything negative in the piece. Peter told me that he had told me everything, but Maer said that he would not tell me about every damaging allegation in the profile. Maer said this wasn’t a book, and I wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to litigate every negative allegation.”
Ali argues that Roshan and Kiefer “hid” allegations from him, resulting in “significant, damaging errors in the profile.” His contention is, that many readers were led to believe all the claims were true because he didn’t have a response to them in the piece itself.
“I will be sharing some of the most significant errors in the future,” he adds.
It’s still difficult for Ali to discuss this topic, but as we near the anniversary of the story’s publication, he’s determined to speak out. One particularly sore spot for him was how the story dealt with his depression, particularly its authenticity. Ali tells me that he thought he and Kiefer were on the same page:
When Peter Kiefer contacted me to inform me that he was closing the profile, he repeatedly apologized on the phone call for the timing of his call because I had started sharing that morning on Twitter that I was dealing with passive suicidal ideation. When I started sharing with my followers about my mental health, I had no idea what was going to be in the profile, nor did I know when it was going to be closed. While I didn't expect the profile to be a puff piece, Peter and I had multiple mostly positive and pleasant conversations. When Peter informed me that the profile was closing, he said, “I know it's coming at a vulnerable moment for you, and I'm sorry that it did. I did not time it this way.”
I responded, “No, no, you didn't. It's not your responsibility, you gotta do your job.”
Peter also said, "Today was a shitty day for this [the profile closing] to happen. When I read your thing this morning, my heart sank."
That sense of understanding didn’t come through in the final story. Ali continues:
But when the profile was published, it said, "Just days before this story went to press, and in the midst of fact-checking, he shared on Twitter that he was suffering from suicidal ideations." First, the piece was never fact-checked, but more importantly, I started sharing that I was dealing with suicidal ideation before I was even told the piece was closing or what was in it. Before the profile published, I started hearing from people that people at LA Magazine were telling reporters that they were skeptical of the authenticity of what I was sharing publicly about my mental health.
Another frustration of his has to do with what the profile referred to as “a spreadsheet listing the personal emails and cellphone numbers of more than 40 bold-face names, including actresses Busy Philipps, Mandy Moore, and Kristin Davis, along with Piers Morgan, Axios’s Mike Allen, Politico’s Sam Stein, talk show hosts Meghan McCain and Abby Huntsman, and Irena Briganti, the much-feared head of communications at Fox News.”
Ali says that this framing was misleading.
“I know I am a mystery to so many people. So while I’d rather munch on lead paint chips than participate in a profile, I sat down with Peter twice in person and had several more calls with him. I even put together a list of people who had experience with me, from my former assistant to friends from high school to people in media who had experience with me that might be good, and some I knew might be critical of me,” he says. “Peter billed this as some socialite celebrity list instead of my attempt to show I had nothing to hide by including a wide range of people from my life.”
For better or for worse, this piece is part of the record for Ali now.
To this day, there are people on Twitter who share the story. Just yesterday, right-wing radio host Howie Carr tweeted a link to it with the words, “Seeing this conman resurfacing on the internet again. I will just leave this here.”
Ali calls it “an incredibly irresponsible, unethical profile of me filled with lies” that “inaccurately described, as well as lied about, nearly all of my reporting which led people to unfairly question the quality and accuracy of my work” and “sank me into a prolonged period of crippling depression and suicidal ideation.”
“It lied about me turning on my friends in a callous, cold, and calculated way,” he explains. “The profile contains many factual errors that don’t even require private records, they can be found via Google search. The profile was the biggest media and politics story for two days, trending on Twitter for both days. It was shared by a wide variety of powerful and influential people.”
When that happens, of course, the story gets further legs, spawning aggregation pieces like “Yashar Ali Exposed” from The Wrap, which wound up on Yahoo!, which has a far wider reach than L.A. Magazine.
When reached by email for comment, Roshan offered this statement:
Thanks for your inquiry. Of course our article was rigorously fact-checked and legally vetted, and by prior agreement with Yashar, every quote of his that appeared in the story was approved by him. Peter’s interviews with Yashar took place over many months, and at Yashar’s request we even postponed the publication date to give him time to provide us with documents that he said would refute the on-the-record claims made by his former friends and associates. Those documents never materialized.
Incidentally, as Yashar should know as a journalist, tape recording a conversation without the knowledge and consent of both parties is illegal according to California Law. Since Yashar is now selectively making off-the-record interviews available to a reporter, we can only assume that the rest of Peter’s interviews with Yashar are also fair game for future use.
We fully stand by our story.
UPDATE: Ali showed me a text from Roshan that said they were delaying the profile because “Peter thought we needed more time to follow up with some of the friends you suggested he call, and I agreed that more time would make for a better, more complete story.” Ali also told me that the night he got a call from Kiefer that the profile was closing that he asked to meet with Kiefer to show him texts and other documents to fully disprove some allegations but he was told by both Kiefer and Roshan that the easiest thing to do was to simply refute them. In a text Roshan sent to Ali on May 27, Roshan said “Ultimately these are he-said, she-said questions. This is not a trial. We don’t need extensive evidence. Just requires your comment or explanation.”