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The Trevino Affair

Did you see that The Guardian off-loaded its new US conservative hire, Josh Trevino, a week after they hired him? They did this not for anything he wrote for The Guardian, but for something he wrote 18 months earlier, for somebody else. Failure to disclose his previous relationship to the subject was apparently a violation of Guardian guidelines. But it is hardly a big deal, and certainly not for an op-ed contributor just starting out at the paper, and having to learn the ropes. Something else must have been going on.

That something else is this: he had offended some pro-Palestinian ultra-sensitivos with some of his pre-Guardian tweeting, and apparently it didn’t take much to cause editors there to crap their pants and fire him. Writing on a Labour website, Rob Marchant — who, though on the Left himself, thinks the newspaper seriously overreacted in firing Trevino — says the paper’s caving to complaints by fringe figures and sacking a writer is disturbing:

Whatever your view on the Treviño controversy, though, there is a rather more disturbing, and difficult-to-avoid, conclusion: that this oddball collection from the fringes of politics, who wrote the letter, clearly have some sway on the editorial and managerial decisions of a national newspaper.

There is a great deal more: some points of interest may already be known to readers of my blog, such as the printing of a puff-piece by unpleasant Holocaust cartoonist Carlos Latuff, or CiF’s running, on Holocaust Memorial Day, of an op-ed by Sheik Raed Salah, hate-preacher and convicted fundraiser for terrorism; or finally, its later op-ed in June, by someone who does not even pretend not to be a terrorist: Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of suicide-bombers Hamas in Gaza. Nice.

An interesting moral and editorial conscience The Guardian has.

UPDATE: From a thoughtful letter a reader sent in:

If Trevino had celebrated abortion-clinic protesters being killed by security guards, would you take the same view? Non-violent activists died doing something that irritated a government, and Trevino applauded from the sidelines. I can’t think of many lower things a “journalist” can do.

The idea that brutality isn’t brutality and unjustified killing isn’t unjustified killing when it’s carried out by Israelis won’t stand up to scrutiny. Plug in any other government and set of protesters, even Putin and Pussy Riot, and you wouldn’t be so glib. Certainly if Trevino had cheered the deaths of Israeli civilians at the hands of an Arab government, you wouldn’t support him, let alone use a phrase like “Israeli ultra-sensitivos.” If Egyptian Christians are shot by soldiers enforcing a blockade, would you say that outrage over a journalist’s smirking tweets marks his critics as “Christian ultra-sensitivos”?

This is only a suggestion, but I’d like to see a more considered post from you about callousness, journalism, and outrage.  You’ve said you’ve regretted praising Hitchens so effusively after his death because of his callous remarks about what Lenin did to Russia’s Orthodox, https://theamericanconservative.com/dreher/hitchens-praise-orthodox-church-russia-persecution/. Hitchens may have been unrepentant; you’ve said you would take back your own cracks about Rachel Corrie.Trevino also repudiated his statements, but did so in a way that seemed less than forthright, and only when the story threatened to deprive him of a prominent outlet.

I’m less interested in Trevino — who has always struck me as an activist not a journalist — than I am in the selectivity with which we mock other people’s sensibilities, when the action at the root of the dispute (civilian deaths in a protest) is one that anybody would recognize as deplorable if his own ox were gored.

For what it’s worth, I apply a different standard to you and Hitchens than I do to Trevino, because even when I disagree with you or Hitch, I think you’re writing in good faith and you’re saying not only what you believe but also something that you’ve had to think about; you’re not simply regurgitating a party line or prejudice.  I’ve never had that impression of Trevino.  But it’s a matter of judgment: there’s no bright line between a partisan hack and a shabby but honest journalist, and even the best have their lapses.

The reader makes very good points, and I acknowledge the justice of his complaint — also the complaint of many of you in the comments thread — that I am letting Trevino off more easily because I don’t sympathize with his target. I suspect that’s true, and I regret that. As I told the reader in my response, I honestly don’t know much of Trevino’s work. We’ve communicated in the past, and hung out for a while at the 2008 GOP convention. I like him, and, as with most people I like, whatever side of the political aisle, I want good things to happen to him. I’m not at all familiar with the greater body of his work, so I don’t know how characteristic this tweet was. Plus, I am very weary of the double standard the Israelis have to endure in US and European media regarding Palestinian violence.

Yet my reader is right: I would not have felt the same way about that sentiment if Trevino were pulling a Hitchens.

I told the reader that the reason I responded the way I did to this is because of the crap I was put through by Muslim activists in Dallas, with them dragging up one thoughtless, highly emotional remark I made on The Corner as an excuse to dismiss as anti-Muslim everything I subsequently wrote about Islamic radicalism, no matter how fair-minded, logical, and well-grounded my criticism and reporting was. Moreover, they campaigned to get me fired. I signed on to their e-mail listserv, and before they noticed my presence, I had downloaded their e-mails among themselves in which they plotted to get me dismissed by the paper, ruin my professional reputation, and make people think I am “David Duke.” Etc.

And I’ve said here many times that I think it will only be a matter of time before people who oppose same-sex marriage, no matter how respectfully they’ve stated the position, will be unemployable in newsrooms, because gay activists and their fellow travelers will consider the opinion itself a sign of deep bigotry, and therefore intolerable.

So this is why I’m so very sensitive when a newspaper’s editorial management caves under pressure from outside activists and fires a writer. My strong tendency is to side with the writer, unless there’s evidence that the lapse was part of a broader or deeper problem (which I don’t know in Trevino’s case; didn’t The Guardian do due diligence?). The reader responded:

Whatever the gay militants might say, it seems to me that the tone is as important as the substance: there’s a world of difference between a good-faith position that one vehemently disagrees with, on the one hand, and outright malice on the other.  It’s the difference between Rod Dreher saying that gays should not be allowed to marry and saying fags should get AIDS and die. Trevino’s remarks — “kill one for me,” or something like that — is closer to the second type.  I don’t think defending robust free speech requires defending that to the extent that an outlet has to publish someone like Trevino — defending robust free speech does mean preserving the right of someone to say such things in private or in public space, of course.  There’s a difference between basic free speech and awarding prestige to malice.

True, and that’s a great last line. I would simply point out that Trevino’s firing was demanded by activists for a crude remark he had written in the past, not something he wrote for The Guardian or after he had been hired by The Guardian. Under those circumstances, I don’t think his dismissal was fair. I certainly don’t think that The Guardian, or any publication, is under a moral obligation to publish something, or the writings of someone, they consider morally reprehensible. But are writers now going to have to have their entire blog and Twitter writing over the course of their careers vetted to see if they’re fit to be employed? Where do we draw the line? This doesn’t really apply to Trevino’s specific case, but if someone wrote something offensive at age 24, does that make him unemployable at age 34?

UPDATE.2: Thinking more about this, it’s long been obvious that Hitchens was an appalling anti-Christian, anti-religious bigot. I didn’t realize the depths of his bigotry until I listened last December to his memoir. That greatly diminished my view of him as a man, but it must be admitted that he was a brilliant writer who wrote many good and brave things. If he still lived, and I were in a position to publish his work, I would do so without hesitation, despite his bigotry. I just wouldn’t publish anything bigoted he wrote.

Presumably Trevino’s writing was seen by The Guardian‘s editors as being of sufficiently high quality that they offered him a position, even though his political views are very different from the paper’s line. Stipulating that his point of view on shooting unarmed protesters was objectionable, why wouldn’t the paper publish him if his work was sound otherwise, and he never gave his opinion on that subject? If Trevino is sacked at least in part because of his offensive opinions on a sensitive subject, then why shouldn’t Hitchens have been as well? Thoughts?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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