It’s insane that in this, the Year of Our Lord 2019, there is any controversy over whether or not it is acceptable to physically assault a journalist, sending him to the emergency room. But that’s where we are!
The reaction online from a disturbingly big subset of the left was glee, rationalization, or both. Endless memes, endless jokes. Plus a lot of silence from those too scared to weigh in on the apparently controversial question of how one should react to masked vigilantes assaulting a journalist.
This extended pretty high up the progressive hierarchy.
Ngo is a conservative journalist whose goal is to document what he claims are the violent excesses of antifa — an argument progressives tend to reject. In the course of filming antifa, which he does regularly, some members of antifa physically assaulted him, and not for the first time, which would certainly seem to lend credence to his claim.
To respond to this with “He was asking for it,” which is what a lot of fairly big-name progressives and leftists did, is insane. Insane!
Read the whole thing. Singal identifies other journalists who have been physically assaulted by Antifa. He’s completely right that it’s crazy that wrongness of this is even an issue. Singal is a leftist journalist who is scrupulously fair, so I take him at his word that “a lot of fairly big-name progressives and leftists” said that Ngo was asking for it. What jumps out at me about the situation are the dogs that haven’t yet barked: many in the mainstream media, who were quick to make a national issue out of demonizing the Covington Catholic boys, even before the full story was in. In the Ngo case, not only was there video that day (captured by a reporter from the Oregonian) showing Antifa attacking Ngo, there was also the undisputed fact that Ngo was taken to the hospital, and kept there overnight because doctors detected bleeding in his brain.
And yet, this hasn’t become a national news story, except on Fox, and on conservative outlets. Why not?
Do you really have to ask?
Reza Aslan infamously posted this:
I just checked his Twitter account, and he has said nothing about Antifa’s attack on Andy Ngo. Mind you, Reza Aslan is not obliged to comment on everything that happens. Still, it’s interesting to compare the reaction of individual progressive writers and commenters, as well as media organizations, to the undeniably true Ngo beating, versus the fake allegations lodged against these high school boys.
This morning I spent a genuinely enjoyable 90 minutes recording a podcast with Ezra Klein. He asked hard questions of me about my own religious and cultural views, and said to his listeners more than once that he was asking not so much to argue with me, but to understand why people like me believe the things we do, and feel so besieged in this culture. We talked a bit about the Covington Catholic thing, versus the Andy Ngo incident. Through my eyes, this is a crystal-clear manifestation of the double standards at work in our media culture.
It’s important to state at this point that as much as I believe the news media are unfair in how they report on social and cultural issues, nothing justifies the way the president and some of his supporters talk about journalists, in a way that comes very close to justifying violence against them. For the record, I have criticized Donald Trump for potentially inciting violence against the media. Here I slammed him for using the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe journalists, and here, back in 2016, I criticized Trump for encouraging his supporters to use violence to eject anti-Trump protesters from his rallies. But so far — correct me if I’m wrong here — the only actual assaults on journalists have come from Antifa.
Anyway, whataboutism isn’t the point, or shouldn’t be the point. It should be true that ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE IT IS WRONG TO COMMIT ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS OR PEACEFUL PROTESTERS.
This is not negotiable. It is a norm of civilized life that cannot be abrogated.
For Whataboutists of the Left and the Right, I invite you to consider this passage from Orwell’s 1984. In it, the interrogator O’Brien is breaking down Winston Smith. Earlier in the novel, when Winston thought O’Brien was a secret recruiter for the anti-Party resistance, Winston and Julia swore that they would do any number of vile things to fight Big Brother and the Party. Later:
“If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are nonexistent.” His manner changed and he said more harshly: “And you consider yourself morally superior to us, with our lies and our cruelty?”
“Yes, I consider myself superior.”
O’Brien did not speak. Two other voices were speaking. After a moment Winston recognized one of them as his own. It was a sound track of the conversation he had had with O’Brien, on the night when he had enrolled himself in the Brotherhood. He heard himself promising to lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child’s face. O’Brien made a small impatient gesture, as though to say that the demonstration was hardly worth making. Then he turned a switch and the voices stopped.
I know, I know. That makes me a Vichy Frenchman. So be it. It is dangerous for us to say that the Enemy is so wicked that they must be stopped by any means necessary.
On the podcast interview, Ezra said he has a theory that both the Left and the Right depend on each other to turn the other side into their worst nightmare. He pointed to my recent post about The Guardian‘s valorizing of some disgusting Brazilian pervs who pee on each other in public to protest Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian president. Ezra observed that I wrote about it after the Guardian elevated those creeps into valiant anti-fascist resisters. I think it’s important to write about because The Guardian is a certifier of progressive bien-pensant opinion (it is the UK version of the NYT in that sense). This is an example of what I’ve called the Law Of Motivated Noticing, which is this: “You may only take note of public acts of deviant sexuality if you are prepared to praise them as progressive.”
Ezra proposed that all of us should not be so quick to highlight the craziest stuff, in part because it propels a dynamic that makes all of us worse. I think he has a point, and told him after the show that he has made me think more critically about the work I do here in that respect.
Part of the problem, though, is knowing when a thing is worth tweeting or writing about. I initially wrote in this space about Bolsonaro tweeting a video of these guys urinating on each other publicly during Carnival because the Brazilian president’s actions stirred up a hornet’s nest of indignation from progressives who blamed him for promoting “homophobia” — this, for forwarding real-life footage of pornographic, degrading public behavior.
I concede that it might have been better if I had left that issue alone. For me, though, progressive rage at Bolsonaro — who really is a right-wing extremist — was quite familiar. There is seemingly nothing that LGBTs or sexual progressives do that we can criticize at all without being called bigots. Desmond Is Amazing, the pre-pubescent drag queen who dances for dollars at gay bars — can’t criticize that. Drag Queen Story Hour — can’t criticize that. Teen Vogue‘s promotion of vibrators and anal sex for teenage girls, and promoting instrumentalizing masturbation for witchcraft purposes — hey, it’s progressive!
What The Guardian did was just push the line of what we are required to affirm to be decent people that much farther toward the fringes. I think this is news.
But I see Ezra’s point too. This is a knotty problem, one that entails this question: When is whataboutism legitimate, and when it is nothing but trolling?
I can think of examples I have personal knowledge of, in which news organizations have deliberately chosen to suppress meaningful news for the sake of keeping readers and viewers from reacting in a political way (including merely reaching conclusions) that the editors and producers did not want them to do. In one case, both a newspaper and local TV refused to disclose the race of a violent crime suspect who was still at large. Police were warning residents of that area to be cautious, because this suspected assailant was on the loose … but the local media would not tell them that the man was black, even though that was as relevant to the public interest as the suspect’s sex, height, and build.
I also know of one case in which that was justified. It was an instance related to me by an Indian journalist, who said that if his newspaper had reported a factual story in a particular context — I believe it was a case of a Muslim committing a violent crime against a Hindu — it would have almost certainly resulted in mass rioting targeting local Muslims, a religious minority in that journalist’s town, and many deaths.
Obviously our problem in the US is far more that media suppress meaningful news for political reasons than that they withhold it for defensible public safety reasons. But it is undoubtedly true that journalists (including me) report on things that are better left unremarked on. That said, remaining silent in the face of non-stop stories from the mainstream media raising deviants like child drag queens and anti-fascist sadomasochists to cultural heroes contributes to the normalization of this trash. Are we not supposed to notice that that’s what the mainstream media are doing? I’m serious.
What is not a problem — or should not be a problem — is condemning without hesitation or qualification physical assaults on journalists and peaceful protesters. (And yes, I defended the odious white supremacist Richard Spencer when Antifa attacked him, and I condemned CBS when they staged a version of this assault and framed it in a justifying way.) It would have been wrong had this happened to Spencer, but what’s especially galling about the Left’s response (including the silence of the major media) is that Andy Ngo isn’t any kind of white supremacist, or white anything: he’s a gay Vietnamese-American journalist and editor at Quillette who has made a habit of filming Antifa’s violence, and publicizing it in a critical way.
He’s in a Portland hospital with his brain bleeding now, but certain well-known progressives — with Jesse Singal an honorable exception — are saying he deserved it, and other mainstream media figures who were very quick to report on the Covington Catholic non-story remaining restrained, even silent, on the Ngo beating.
For the record, at this writing (4:40pm CDT on Monday), the only Democratic presidential candidate to utter a word in defense of Andy Ngo, and in condemnation of the domestic terrorists who attacked him, is Andrew Yang:
I hope @MrAndyNgo is okay. Journalists should be safe to report on a protest without being targeted.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) July 1, 2019
I think this tweet is unanswerable:
Imagine the response if a swarm of Trump supporters in MAGA hats assaulted a CNN reporter and put him in the hospital with a brain injury. Imagine how the media would be reacting today. Imagine the fiery statements from all of the Democratic candidates.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) June 30, 2019
UPDATE: This. This is the double standard:
How is it possible that a person can be permanently banned from @Twitter for saying that men aren’t women, but suggesting that journalist @MrAndyNgo deserved a beating that caused him to be admitted to the hospital doesn’t even get a blue check mark removed? pic.twitter.com/KzS4mM4e0c
— Bret Weinstein (@BretWeinstein) June 30, 2019