The way Rob Mariani tweets it, he was responding to the very same imperatives that spread across media outlets of all ideological orientations.
That “someone” wasn’t just someone. It was the British-born Milo Yiannopoulos, who is commonly called a “provocateur” in various profiles and write-ups. Whatever Yiannopoulos is, he indeed has a record of driving audience to whatever platform he happens to visit. He wrote highly trafficked articles at Breitbart News until February; that was when he resigned after a video surfaced of him seeming to endorse pedophilia. The openly gay opinionator suffered another career problem when BuzzFeed last month published a lengthy investigation under the headline, “Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream.” The article by Joseph Bernstein, which includes email correspondence, chronicles how longtime Breitbart chairman — and one-time President Trump adviser — Stephen K. Bannon worked with Yiannopoulos to solidify the site’s relationship with the alt-right, a.k.a. an assortment of individuals known to preach racism, anti-Semitism and other unseemly -isms. As detailed in the BuzzFeed piece, Yiannapoulos reached out to “key constituents” for feedback and advice when it came time for him and a collaborator to write a guide to the alt-right. Those constituents included “a neo-Nazi and a white nationalist,” noted BuzzFeed.
“These new emails and documents, however, clearly show that Breitbart does more than tolerate the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right,” writes Bernstein. “It thrives on them, fueling and being fueled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrum — and clearing the way for them to enter the American mainstream. It’s a relationship illustrated most starkly by a previously unreleased April 2016 video in which Yiannopoulos sings ‘America the Beautiful’ in a Dallas karaoke bar as admirers, including the white nationalist Richard Spencer, raise their arms in Nazi salutes.”
Bob Mercer, a major Republican donor and Breitbart bankroller, announced last week that he’d stopped supporting Yiannopoulos: “In my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate. I was mistaken to have supported him, and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him.” Bannon, meanwhile, reportedly remarked that Yiannopoulos was “dead to me.”
As others ran from Yiannopoulos, the Daily Caller was tacking in the opposite direction. “A Round Of Applause For Kevin Spacey,” reads the headline on a Yiannopoulos column from Friday in which he attacks identity politics as it relates to sexual misconduct and assault allegations against the famous actor. “The purpose of the Left’s categorization of us all into marginalized identities is to establish separate standards of behavior for everyone,” write Yiannopoulos in the column. “If you read left-wing blogs you’d be forgiven for thinking that gay people are perfect paragons of upstanding moral rectitude and the worst thing a black person has done in the last 50 years is break wind at the DMV.”
The Daily Caller initially signaled that Yiannopoulos’s piece was the “first installment in his new weekly column for the Daily Caller.” The continuing engagement wasn’t to be: Not only was Yiannopoulos canned as a weekly columnist, but the Daily Caller’s opinion editor, Mariani, was fired as well.
What happened? Geoffrey Ingersoll, the editor in chief of the Daily Caller, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that he didn’t have a chance to sign off on the long-term arrangement or review the copy in the inaugural column. “In addition to just putting this up on the website, Rob didn’t think to run the copy by me first,” says Ingersoll, who did say that the idea of having Yiannopoulos write something for the Daily Caller surfaced in consultations. But he claims that the regular columnist gig hadn’t gotten proper review. “We would want to be talked in on such a deal. Rob did it unilaterally,” says Ingersoll.
CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported on the dispute over the weekend, and Mariani tweeted in his own defense:
As a general proposition, journalism can never reliably agree on what sorts of scoundrels are allowed to appear in the op-ed sections of U.S. media outlets. Recent decisions by the New York Times to accord space to mercenary-army entrepreneur Erik Prince as well as a “Red Century” series raised social-media hackles. “I would rather the page risk offending propriety, decorum and tradition than worry about paying tribute to them,” wrote Politico media critic Jack Shafer.
A separate issue pertains to Yiannopoulos: Not only have his true colors been exposed by Breitbart, his shtick is played out. “The Left’s gratuitous vandalism of American institutions and its hostility to the principles that have made this country great cannot be fought with essays in magazines,” he writes. “The Left can only win by forcing us onto the uneven playing field of political correctness and constructive dialogue. I choose war.” A Breitbart alum talks about war; the Erik Wemple Blog yawns.
The Daily Caller’s explanation relies to a great degree on process — an editor allegedly running afoul of the site’s leadership. Since taking over as editor in chief, Ingersoll has sought to exert more control over the opinion section, which formerly ran more or less autonomously, he told this blog. “We’re free and we encourage interesting people and … we’re not afraid of hosting voices that offend or that we disagree with ourselves,” says Ingersoll.
Did Ingersoll disagree with the Yiannapoulos column? “It’s become such a mess that I’m not going to touch it at this point,” he says.
As for Yiannopoulos’s checkered past, Ingersoll grants that the Breitbart veteran crossed the line, as exposed by BuzzFeed. However, he says that immersion journalism offers a partial explanation. Citing Janet Malcolm’s classic “The Journalist and the Murderer” and Truman Capote’s work, Ingersoll says in an email that Yiannopoulos “flew too close, got too personal, and burned himself. Really a journalism case study for lines you can’t cross while covering morally dubious people in-depth.” He continues, “As for his comments about when he was a boy, well, also regrettable. Still, the first doesn’t preclude him from writing an oped on Kevin Spacey, and the second gives him first-hand perspective. Above all, we didn’t ‘hire’ him.”