Dave Rubin, the gay, liberal host of The Rubin Report, has become the Left’s latest victim of smearing-by-association, his character having been contorted in Josh Harkinson’s recent Mother Jones article “Cashing in on the Rise of the ‘Alt-Right.’” After describing the funding models of a number of alt-right and neo-Nazi websites and podcasts, Harkinson’s piece notes that Rubin has interviewed such personalities as Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich, the self-described “new right” blogger who has argued that “‘date rape’ does not exist” and regularly peddles conspiracy theories. Originally, it also characterized Rubin as “farright.”
While the term “farright” probably does not merit the legal label of libel, its use in this context was at best lacking in intellectual honesty, and at worst a shoddy, malicious attempt to slime Rubin. Rubin is married to a man and favors marijuana legalization, pro-choice policies, and single-payer health care. He has publicly challenged the regressive Left’s increasingly illiberal attitude toward speech it finds objectionable, but that doesn’t mean he can be characterized as “further to the right than Breitbart” in good faith. And Harkinson seems to know as much. After Rubin called the piece libelous and demanded a retraction on Twitter, the author backpedaled, claiming that Rubin merely “host[s] softball interviews with lots of people who” are “to the right of Breitbart.” Meanwhile, Mother Jones changed the sentence in question to remove the term “farright,” added Rubin’s response in parentheses, and highlighted both changes in a vague editorial note at the bottom of the page.
In digital journalism, such errors and retractions are inevitable. But the conflation of Rubin with literal white supremacists and separatists and the subsequent half-hearted retraction were no accident. Evidently, Mother Jones intended to equate Rubin — who interviews and challenges personalities ranging from Margaret Cho and Hilary Rosen to Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson — with the Internet’s most prominent alt-right extremists.
This is obviously quite problematic. Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the propriety of giving a platform to those with views that engender wide, bipartisan disgust. But Harkinson isn’t interested in having such a good-faith debate; his aim is to silence and de-legitimize those who attempt to air and understand extremist views. Indeed, when confronted with criticism from the likes of Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan, he doubled down on his attack, retweeting clips of Rubin (rightly) arguing that non-mainstream voices are worth engaging with in part due to the failures of the media but also because entities with audiences as wide and engaged as, say, Infowars’ Alex Jones, should be unpacked and understood.
Although this example is particularly egregious, it is by no means unique. The mass uproar over Megyn Kelly’s recent interview with Jones has, to a lesser extent, been informed by the same hostility toward interviews with controversial guests. Lost in the hubbub was that,given Kelly’s professional and prosecutorial credentials, her interview with Jones — who has a massive audience and the ear of the president — carried the potential to be an act of journalistic service.
Jack Shafer of Politico smartly lambasted the “censorious power of the heckler’s veto” that was wielded against Kelly and threatens “edgy, truth-telling journalism” of the uncomfortable variety that explores how someone such as Jones could attract millions of followers. Under the veil of a moral panic, Kelly and Rubin have been stigmatized for the crime of heterodoxy, made to serve as a public warning to anyone else who threatens to deviate from a leftist agenda.
One wonders where this game ends. Back when the term “alt-right” was exclusively reserved for white supremacists with no regard for conservatism as it has traditionally been understood, it maintained a sort of incriminating implication. But every time the Left attempts to tar non-leftists with the same brush, it dilutes the label, just as it has done with every other pejorative that came before. The difference now, thankfully, is that the Internet gives victims such as Rubin a chance to fight back.