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What’s Going On with Kara Swisher’s Book Tour?
March 14, 2024

What’s Going On with Kara Swisher’s Book Tour?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The veteran tech journalist is promoting her memoir with tech bros like Sam Altman., Burn Book: What’s going on with Kara Swisher’s book tour?

Last week saw the release of Kara Swisher’s Burn Book, the highly anticipated career memoir from a titanic, justly celebrated veteran of tech journalism. Considering her unique, outsize stature in Silicon Valley, and her decadeslong record of landing bombshell inside scoops about the single most important industry of the 21st century, Swisher’s choice to promote her latest project with the help of famous friends (Don Lemon, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, etc.) certainly makes sense. What makes much less sense, however, is her selection of tech-world executives.

Some of the ‘moderators‘ on her tour include Laurene Powell Jobs, Disney CEO Bob Iger, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Lean In board member Adam Grant. Per NPR’s Steve Inskeep, she personally requested that these folks ‘interview her on stage,’ in a series of conversations she intends to turn into individual podcast episodes. It’s likely these folks are among the ‘many tech moguls’ that ‘Swisher is still fond of,’ as Inskeep wrote, even though ‘when it comes to other tech executives, she is disillusioned’—a tension that allegedly lies at the heart of Burn Book. It’s a perception she has also expressed elsewhere, like in her recent interview with Wired’s Steven Levy: ‘I don’t like most of them anymore. I didn’t want to reflect on them. I’m sick of them. They’re sick of me.’ Not small words from someone who continued to talk up how much she ‘liked’ dudes such as, say, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk and venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, before they all turned their backs on her.

The memoir’s Mean Girls–inspired title, then, promises a scathing, insider-y series of jabs at the media barons and tech ‘disrupters’—many of them straight white men—whom Swisher had to contend with as she worked her way up both industries. As an early witness to the emergence of the World Wide Web, journalism’s digital-transition struggles, the creeping domination of social media, the rise of the tech-mogul celebrity hero, and the subsequent techlash—and as a gay woman delving into sexist, bigoted industries rather unfriendly to ambitious, outspoken people like her—Swisher has been an important chronicler of, and eager participant in, all the shiniest and ugliest developments of the information age. While we stare down the precipice of yet another internet-era transition, an A.I. bull market that’s far scarier and more uncertain than anything that preceded it, it seems an apt time for Swisher to share the lessons of her wide-ranging career.

So … why is she promoting this book by canoodling yet again with the very people further undermining her profession?

It’s clear Swisher is sad about how the mainstream media has been gutted throughout her career, and is worried about what further havoc the A.I. race will wreak (and already has). Yet she gives her stamp of approval to Sam Altman, who’s trying to argue in a court of law that he should get to hoover up whatever copyright material he’d like in order to train his chatbots and image generators? Who’s offering battered news publishers only measly sums to strike deals in licensing their work? Who’s trying to artificially cheapen the sweltering costs of his gadgets by outsourcing content moderation to low-paid, traumatized workers in Kenya and India? (Don’t forget, also, that Reid Hoffman was a founding investor of OpenAI and is hard at work on his own text-generation A.I. products.)

It’s not as if others are much better. Bob Iger has cut National Geographic to the bone and trimmed budgets at ABC News and ESPN. Laurene Powell Jobs bought up big media properties, such as Atlantic Media, only to later junk valuable outlets like CityLab, California Sunday, and Pop-Up Magazine, while approving steep layoffs at the Atlantic itself. Folks like Adam Grant remain devoted to Sheryl Sandberg, the former Facebook executive with whom Swisher has repeatedly expressed her disillusionment, including in this very memoir. (Nell Scovell, a co-author of Sandberg’s Lean In, even helped Swisher write Burn Book, a strange choice for a journalist who by all accounts remains a dynamo with the pen.) And yet, these folks are not just conversation partners but active moderators on this tour. The story of Burn Book will thus be dictated by the very people it’s supposed to hold accountable.

It doesn’t seem as if Swisher cares much about the optics. After 404 Media reported that A.I.–generated replicas of Burn Book were all over Amazon, Swisher merely responded in a winky tweet that she ‘blamed’ Altman. What’s striking about that reaction is that so, so many other authors without the recognition of a Kara Swisher will not be able to so easily weather the risk that such easy spam poses to their livelihoods; it’s already tanking the sales and reputations of smaller writers now denied even the chance to reach a Swisher-type level of prominence. And they can hardly email Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to personally request that A.I. copies be removed from the platform, as Swisher claims to have done.

Frankly, when Swisher runs around with these tech types while promoting a book that’s supposed to be taking them to task—while also touting how she was right all along about how their gizmos would decimate the press she remains a part of—it almost feels as if she’s rubbing it in.


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