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PC Culture

Progressivism as Failure Insurance

Ben Shapiro speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., February 22, 2018. (Gage Skidmore)

After New Yorker staffer Talia Lavin executed one of the most spectacular face-plants in social-media hacktivist history — she essentially accused a Marine veteran of the Afghanistan war of being a Nazi because she confused a tattooed symbol of his platoon with the Third Reich’s Iron Cross — she quickly found herself no longer employed by The New Yorker. But, hey, here she is teaching at NYU and writing for the Washington Post’s op-ed page! Where she just wrote what has to be one of the worst paragraphs ever to appear in that paper, issuing a nonsensical smear of Ben Shapiro for writing a few kind and thoughtful words about the inferno at Notre-Dame de Paris.

Thought-experiment time. What if Lavin had been a right-wing writer who had smeared, say, a disabled gay person of color as a Nazi? Would the Washington Post or any other respected news outlet be eager to publish her thoughts? Lavin would have had to seek another line of work. Being stridently of the Left seems to act as a magical shield against harm. Progressivism is a kind of failure-inoculation. No matter how badly you mess up, you’ll be fine. After waiting a bit, editors will bend over backwards to forgive you and even promote you to the next level. (Writing opinion for the Washington Post beats fact-checking at The New Yorker.)

Lavin’s behavior after smearing wheelchair-using Marine veteran Justin Gaertner (which came in the context of the Left’s broader war against ICE, Gaertner’s subsequent employer) was obnoxious. She issued the following exceptionally thin and unsatisfying apology: “To Justin Gaertner, I apologize, sincerely: all I saw in you was the photo ICE tweeted, and not the human being depicted inside it. It was uncharitable, and the hasty deletion doesn’t change that. I’m sorry and I have voluntarily resigned after three years at the New Yorker.”

Uncharitable! Lavin’s post wasn’t “uncharitable,” it was completely wrong, in addition to being hateful and calculated to ruin a veteran’s career, if not his life, simply because he worked for a government agency Lavin doesn’t like. Calling someone a Nazi goes a good long way past “uncharitable.” Lavin then assumed the classic I’m-the-real-victim pose that has become a highly successful tactic on the left: She claimed she had been targeted by ICE: “I do not think it is acceptable for a federal agency to target a private citizen for a good faith, hastily rectified error.”

The word “targeted,” as used by the Left, today means, “I can say mean things about you, but you’re not allowed to say mean things about me. That would be harassment. If everyone on my side unloads on you, that’s your just deserts, you horrible person. If everyone on your side does the same to me, that’s a flagrant foul.”

Anyway, ICE didn’t target Lavin in the first place. It simply and properly pointed out that Lavin had issued a smear and demanded an appropriate apology. ICE’s statement read, in pertinent part, “Anyone attempting to advance their personal political opinions by baselessly slandering an American hero should be issuing public apologies to Mr. Gaertner and retractions. This includes Levin [sic] and the New Yorker.” Moreover, Lavin’s claim of an error made in “good faith” is risible. “Hey, bud, I only called you a Nazi, no hard feelings, mate!” Lavin worked at The New Yorker long enough to know that you should probably call someone for comment first before publicly accusing him of being a Hitlerite.

No surprise that Lavin was soon hired by Media Matters for America, which is pretty much built on the kinds of attacks she had already proved capable of. But in her Washington Post column the paper didn’t mention that she is affiliated with MMFA. That would have been useful information since the group appears nakedly partisan, at least to anyone with eyes — and if there was any doubt on this matter, the group responded to Shapiro yesterday with the following tweet from its official account: “F**k you and the burro you rode in on.”  The WaPo simply identified Lavin as “a writer and researcher based in Brooklyn.”

As I write, the WaPo has still not corrected or apologized for Lavin’s outrageous smear of Shapiro: She said he was a “far-right pundit” who had “evoked the specter of a war between Islam and the West that is already part of numerous far-right narratives” when he called Notre-Dame “a monument to Western civilization” and “Judeo-Christian heritage.” The same Lavin paragraph went on to insinuate a connection between Shapiro’s thinking and that of Richard Spencer and the mass killer in Christchurch, New Zealand. Lavin’s column was at some point updated to included the following extremely uncharitable sentence: “(On Tuesday, Shapiro called this article ‘simply gross’ and said he called Notre Dame a monument to Western civilization ‘because it is,’ not because of ‘malicious intent.’)” Lavin completely ignored Shapiro’s main point, which is that he hadn’t blamed Muslims for the fire and objected to her insinuating otherwise. The kind of unfair undergraduate-level snark in the added sentence is par for the course at MMFA, but the Washington Post opinion page shouldn’t stoop to this.

You’d think the editors of the leading opinion pages would be exceptionally cautious about publishing Talia Lavin, especially now, after the latest fiasco. Editors rely heavily on their writers to get all of their facts straight. Lavin has demonstrated repeatedly that facts are less important to her than smearing those she perceives to be her ideological enemies. Instead, it seems more likely that she’ll just keep failing upwards.



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