During Super Bowl LI, back in February, with the New England Patriots down early to the Atlanta Falcons, alt-right celebrity Richard Spencer tweeted that he was rooting for the Pats. He explained his pick:
1/ Belichick & Brady support Trump 2/ Three White widereceivers 3/ Consistently NFL’s whitest team 4/ ATL is dreadful.
This week, the Patriots — who won the game in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion — visited the White House, prompting a piece in Politico Magazine entitled “The Alt-Right’s Favorite Team Visits the White House.” It turns out that, if writer Ben Strauss’s roster survey is accurate, the Patriots are not, in fact, the NFL’s whitest team, and that Richard Spencer was wrong.
To which the only appropriate response is the one that should have greeted Spencer’s tweets: Who in God’s rainbow-colored world cares?
Richard Spencer is the most famous white supremacist in the United States, which is a bit like being the country’s most famous concertina player: something for the almanac, perhaps, but nothing to write home about. AltRight.com, Spencer’s blog founded in January, is modestly trafficked, as was its predecessor, Alternative Right. Spencer moves a small amount of Twitter traffic compared with fellow alt-right celebrities such as conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich or, before he was banned from the social-media platform, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. (Both of them have distanced themselves from Spencer.) Unlike Cernovich, who has been approvingly tweeted by the sons of Donald Trump and former national-security adviser Michael Flynn, Spencer has no observable link to the new administration. And when Spencer’s pseudo–think tank, the National Policy Institute, held a conference in Washington, D.C., last fall, about 200 people attended.
Suffice it to say that Richard Spencer is many things, most of them disagreeable. What he is not is important.
Distinguishing between the important and unimportant used to be a central function of the journalistic enterprise: “All the news that’s fit to print,” &c. Not everything was need-to-know; not everything was “representative.” But — and the reasons are many: the Internet, social media, hyperpolarized politics, more — editorial discrimination has become the lost virtue of our media age. Every fraud gets a profile; every nutjob is News.
Richard Spencer is not an interesting person. Seeing everything through the prism of race is, besides infantile, boring, and Spencer’s gobbledygook about “white consciousness” is so much pseudo-intellectual nonsense that he can use to assimilate everything to his poisonous view of the world. Of course he has woolly opinions about football; he has woolly opinions about everything.
The salient question for journalists should be: So what? What should be drawn from the fact that a white supremacist has strong opinions about football teams — or avant-garde jazz, or the South Beach diet, or the Star Wars prequels? What happens when we discover that David Duke’s favorite vegetable is kale?
There are lots of lunatic, even repulsive people in these United States — on both sides of the political spectrum. There are loons who “Sieg Heil!” on their Facebook pages, and there are loons who demand the murder of cops. Some of them even accrue a little following, an apostolate of loons.
But it is a big country. Not everything is a trend. Not everything is a crisis. And journalists would serve their profession, and their readers, better by occasionally recalling that not everything is, in fact, news.
— Ian Tuttle is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at the National Review Institute.