Yesterday morning, The Economist published an interview conducted earlier this week with Ben Shapiro. The interview is well worth listening to and speaks to some interesting factors plaguing our politics today. What could possibly be the problem then?
Before the text of the interview, The Economist rips into Shapiro with the headline “Inside the Mind of Ben Shapiro, the Alt-Right Sage Without the Rage” and defends that label with a five-paragraph description of Shapiro’s beliefs. Several hours after publication, facing blowback from people across the political spectrum, they changed the article’s headline to “Inside the Mind of Ben Shapiro, a Radical Conservative” and issued an apology.
We have deleted an earlier tweet for an article that mischaracterised Ben Shapiro, who has been strongly critical of the alt-right movement. We apologise. Here is the article https://t.co/ZmfgU6Gw2r
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) March 28, 2019
The Economist was correct to apologize and it’s nice that they fixed their mistake, but, nevertheless, the fact that this piece was able to be published in the first place is problematic.
This was not simply sloppy journalism. This was not a minor error, nor is it an error that we should allow to pass without strong pushback. This was malevolent, deceitful, and libelous journalism at its worst.
By calling Shapiro an “alt-right sage without the rage,” The Economist is playing an unbelievably dangerous game. If an Orthodox Jew who was the number-one target of online alt-right hate in 2016 can now be classified as being a member of that dreaded movement, the term alt-right has lost all meaning. That is an unbelievably irresponsible and dangerous precedent to set.
The paragraphs that precede the text of Shapiro’s interview make their case for his ‘sage-status’ more clearly. They mention his time at Breitbart, without mentioning why he and so many others left— because it became an alt-right outlet following the death of its founder. Minor details to some apparently, but critical for understanding the full context. Most readers of The Economist will recognize Breitbart as being what it is today, and (not unfairly) conclude that Shapiro’s employment was either an endorsement of their thinking, or, at the very least, tolerance towards working with it.
The article further details Shapiro’s positions in an attempt to show how he is alt-right. Describing his views as “classically religious-conservative,” it discusses his support of Western values, in particular his support of Freedom of Speech and his criticisms of President Trump. These positions couldn’t be farther from the values of the group they are trying to paint him as a member of.
Make no mistake, the alt-right is very real, and they are a dangerous force in our politics today. The represent an eclectic mix of race-based identity politics, white nationalism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and many other lovely forces that most people would like to be able to put behind us. The alt-right were perhaps most prominently on display during the 2017 Charlottesville protests, marching through the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us!”
The views that Shapiro professes is anathema to the movement, not simply based on rage or even lack thereof. The Western ideal of individual liberties, which Shapiro has made one of his champion issues, could not be farther from the vision that the alt-right has embraced: the rights of the individual are to be quashed in the name of the alleged interests of the group of people they care about, white Americans of European descent.
The Economist also seems to have forgotten to mention that this excludes Jews, who are seen by the alt-right as being an existential threat to society.
Ben Shapiro’s history as being the top target of the alt-right made this article astonishingly deceitful, but it is problematic for others who have not been so publicly targeted and maligned by the group. If a prominent, well-respected magazine like The Economist can publish an article claiming Shapiro is alt-right because of his conservative views, is there a retort against this claim for someone less prominent, but who is otherwise quite conservative?
In other words, if The Economist has set the standard that someone who is exceptionally conservative is alt-right by default, unless otherwise proven innocent, few will be able to muster up the public history that Shapiro has to prove his or her innocence.
This also bespokes a larger issue in current politics: the declining trust Americans place in the media. As someone who believes that a Free Press is critical for a functioning democracy, I lament previously “serious” outlets such as The Economist publishing something that is as blatantly libelous as this.
If The Economist genuinely believes that Ben Shapiro is alt-right, they don’t deserve to be seen as credible.
We need responsible journalism more than ever now, and the original article is the farthest thing from it. Despite the apology, the journalist who conducted the interview with Shapiro publicly defended the original headline in a tweet, writing “[I]n fairness I think we said sth [sic] like a figure in Alt-right thinking, but not really a ‘label.’”
Hello Ben – in fairness I think we said sth like a figure in Alt-right thinking, but not really a "label"
— anne mcelvoy (@annemcelvoy) March 28, 2019
I cannot claim to know what the motivation of the author was, be it a genuine but incorrect assertion that conservatism is the same as alt-right thinking, or whether she recognized that this was not the case but published it anyway. Regardless, the impact is the same: by asserting fictitious arguments, the piece has linked two movements that could not be further apart.
Everyone from across the political spectrum ought to see through this for being the hit piece that it is and vocally reject it before it becomes a commonplace feature of journalists to describe traditional, religious conservatives as being friendly and/or part of the alt-right movement.
The Economist has shown an unbelievable amount of malevolence and incompetence by running such an ill-contrived story. Other outlets would be wise not to repeat this mistake.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.