American journalism helps forge ideas that empower free society.
Take news-based television debates. Forcing efficient articulation, well-moderated TV news debates offer easily accessible information to many different viewers. I know this because I’m a former panelist/producer on one such debate show, The McLaughlin Group. And there, I learned that the best TV journalism comes when the panelists disagree.
Unfortunately, not everyone supports disagreement in a debate.
Enter Jeremy Scahill, a liberal opinion journalist for The Intercept. Scahill is best known for his book, Dirty Wars, which lambasts the U.S. military as a cult of unconstrained murderers. And until Wednesday, Scahill was slated to join Friday night’s panel on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Was, because yesterday, Scahill found out that conservative polemicist, Milo Yiannopoulos would also appear on Real Time. In response, Scahill pulled out.
“There is,” Scahill claimed, “no value in debating [Yiannopoulos]” because Milo attempts “to incite violence against immigrants, transgender people, and others.” Scahill asserted that were he to join the panel he would risk bringing inadvertent attention to Milo. That attention, he arrogantly and hyperbolically assumes, “could lead to violence or even death.”
Scahill’s point of view demands our attention. Associating himself with the college safe spacers, Scahill has given media credibility to liberal authoritarianism.
At a basic level, Scahill knows that Yiannopoulos’ views are shared by many Americans. He also knows that Milo is an eloquent speaker who focuses on controversial issues. And as such, were he serious about his political disgust for Yiannopoulos, Scahill would take every opportunity to rebut him. His claim that debating Yiannopoulos is impossible does not withstand scrutiny. Milo revels in allowing his opponents to challenge him aggressively and does not filibuster. He’s a perfect guest for Real Time’s mission: mixing humor, open ears, and articulate analysis to entertain and inform viewers. But rejecting the fight before it begins, Scahill crowns Yiannopoulos the victor.
And that’s a tragedy. As Maher notes, “If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims — and he might be — nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.” Maher’s is a basic but absolutely critical point. If we, as opinion-analysis journalists, truly care about the advancement of our views and the nation’s better social health, we must throw ourselves into the breach. I would love to debate Milo because, although I’m conservative, I disagree with his populist Trump fetish. The first time I did Maher’s show, I debated Richard Clarke and Krystal Ball. I was the least experienced guest and was both excited and a little nervous! But even then I knew my responsibility. And as such, even if Real Time didn’t put up guests in 5-star hotels, the show would still be worth doing. Why? Because, as American opinion journalists, we have a duty to debate anything, anytime, with anyone.
But that’s only one part of the story here. After all, in his public relations rejection (he could simply have said he was sick), Scahill evidences another dark side of media life. Namely, putting personal interest before all else. Scahill’s pretense of bravery is a thin veil. His true intent is clear: ascending the far-left authoritarian love list. Scahill knows many liberals dislike Maher for his politically incorrect tenor. And he knows that by rejecting such a prominent liberal so close to the taping date, he can attract attention.
But there’s also a base rudeness to this cancellation. I know a few Real Time producers, and they are kind, intelligent, and hard working. But the demands of putting together a successful weekly TV show together are intense. Producers must arrange travel and accommodation needs, ensure some political balance on the panel, decide what topics to discuss – and then change topics in light of breaking news. By withdrawing on a Wednesday (Real Time tapings are Fridays), Scahill hit the producers with a curve ball. He knew they would have to find an alternate guest and reassess their plans. Had I been responsible (as I occasionally was on The McLaughlin Group) for booking Scahill, I would have gone ape-sh*t to his antics. I believe McLaughlin and his top producer, John Roberts, would have done the same.
In the end, of course, it is up to Scahill how he spends his time. But by this act, and his withdrawal letter’s sign-off, “Jeremy Scahill, Journalist,” Scahill has shown his true colors. This is no saint for truth and liberal sanctity. This is a false prophet in love with his own reflection.