I’m rooting for Ezra Klein’s new project to succeed, and he’s brought some first-rate talent (including Brad Plumer and Sarah Kliff) to his new venture. I am, however, puzzled why he would hire a dispositive argument against “contrarianism” like Brandon Ambrosino. (Apparently B. Daniel Blatt was too expensive.) For a representative example, consider this, which was published in the Atlantic for some reason:
What exactly do we mean when we say “anti-gay,” or “homophobic”? Often when I try to understand where my conservative opponents are coming from, my gay friends accuse me of being homophobic. It isn’t homophobic of me to try to understand why someone might be opposed to marriage equality. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt takes courage; dismissing him before considering his argument—well, that seems a bit phobic. Beside—me? Homophobic? I write essays about being gay, and then I publish them, and everyone goes, “Oh yeah, he’s gay.” I have no reservations about my sexuality, so as far as the accusation of homophobia goes: that gay ship has already sailed to Disneyland, with a speedo-clad Tom Daley carved into the bow.
If it’s “anti-gay” to question the arguments of marriage-equality advocates, and if the word “homophobic” is exhausted on me or on polite dissenters, then what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them? Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination. Our language ought to reflect that distinction.
First of all, if Ambrosino is going to try to be witty at his new venue, Vox is going to need content warnings. Second, you’ve heard the Chris Rock routine about people who think you can’t be racist unless you personally shot Medgar Evers? Apparently, Ambrosino finds the argument Rock is mocking intriguing and would like to subscribe to its newsletter. Third, on what planet are bans on same-sex marriage not “discrimination”?
Someone else who apparently shouldn’t be called a homophobe? Jerry Falwell:
Well, what about Jerry Falwell himself? After all, he did blame 9/11 on the gays. He did make that remark during service about “even barnyard animals knowing better than that.” He also did make certain to ban Soul Force, a gay-affirming Christian ministry, from stepping foot on our campus.
But what about when he opened the Liberty Godparent Home to take in unwanted children? Or when he hosted a forum on campus about homosexuality, and invited 100 prominent gay leaders to take part in the discussion? Or when he would drive around campus every night at lights-out to blow his horn and wave goodnight to all of us students?
I never told Dr. Falwell that I was gay; but I wouldn’t have been afraid of his response. Would he have thought homosexuality was an abomination? Yes. Would he have thought it was God’s intention for me to be straight? Yes. But would he have wanted to stone me? No. And if there were some that would’ve wanted to stone me, I can imagine Jerry Falwell, with his fat smile, telling all of my accusers to go home and pray because they were wicked people.
So, in spite of his extensive history of anti-gay bigotry, Falwell is not an anti-gay bigot because 1)he says goodnight to students at his university, and 2)probably believes that violently executing gay people would be wicked. Perhaps Ambrosino’s first article for Vox can be an argument that James McReynolds wasn’t really a racist anti-Semite; after all, to the best of our knowledge he never firebombed Louis Brandeis’s house or hurled boulders at African-Americans who argued before him. And Martin Luther King would never have called out bigotry.
Mark Jospeh Stern comments:
On Wednesday, Ezra Klein’s new media venture, Vox, announced that it had hired Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow, presumably to cover the LGBTQ beat. Vox likely thought that by hiring Ambrosino, the outlet would be introducing a brash, unconventional new voice to a broader audience. I understand the desire to explore exciting and avant-garde ideas. But Ambrosino’s ideas are not brash, unconventional, exciting, or avant-garde. They are reckless, retrograde, and vapid—and hiring Ambrosino reflects startlingly bad, potentially catastrophic judgment by Vox.
…Ambrosino’s worldview, so far as he has one, is primarily comprised of crass opportunism and toxic narcissism. His writing is a quagmire of tedious ideas and sloppy prose; his angry jabs at the LGBTQ community reek of a writer legitimizing his insecurities by presenting them to an audience that should know better. A typical Ambrosino article takes a self-consciously contrarian thesis (Jerry Falwell was a gay-friendly saint, gay-rights activists are bigots) and immerses it in a muddle of casuistry, victimization, and unintelligible nonsense. On first read, his pieces aren’t infuriating so much as they are baffling: Ambrosino ignores the basic principles of journalism and simply spews free-form argle-bargle, as though he’s swinging a bat at a piñata that’s hanging from a different tree.
So why in the world did Vox hire Ambrosino? Certainly, Ambrosino draws a lot of attention—from the worst possible crowd. Breitbart and Townhall are fans, and Glenn Beck even invited him onto his show to perform his tricks on camera. For a young writer, this strategy of aligning yourself with your logical enemies is a smart business move: Outside of GOProud, there aren’t many gay homophobia apologists left, and Ambrosino has proved himself adept at conning otherwise sensible editors into placing his name under their mastheads. Despite his overwhelming mediocrity, Ambrosino has still managed to corner a market niche in under a year, an ascendance now capped off with a plum fellowship at a glittering new venture.
Being a “liberal” who professional bashes liberal values is always the best way for an untalented writer to get ahead.
…Gabe has more. His use of Foucault to claim that sexuality is freely chosen is particularly special.