The more the culture bounds out of control, the more the wary have to take care with the company they keep. This applies to media that will print anything in pursuit of “clicks” and “hits,” and to well-meaning organizations about whom they invite to tutor their true believers.
The Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, meets in Washington this week for an important family reunion, pep rally, revival meeting and bazaar for the true believers, activists and the merely curious. Anybody who is anybody among conservatives wants to be there, and this time CPAC gets underway with a bang that it no doubt wishes had gone not bang! but pfffftt! Not all publicity is good publicity.
The bazaar can become the bizarre, like CPAC inviting Milo Yiannopoulos, who goes by the name of Milo for the obvious reason that a public figure likes to have a name that most people can pronounce. Inviting Mr. Milo probably seemed like a good idea to someone at the time, though Mr. Milo, a technology editor at Breitbart, is regarded by many conservatives as a provocateur too far.
He has a “gift” for saying outrageous things, insulting blacks, Jews, Muslims, Christians and feminists. Such insults are sometimes called “controversial” things when they actually go far beyond controversy. When the American Conservative Union, the sponsor of CPAC, invited Mr. Milo to speak this year, many conservatives were outraged.
Outrage grew over the week end when an organization called “the Reagan Battalion” dug up a video of Mr. Milo, who calls himself “a proud gay,” and posted it on the internet. He tells an interviewer some of his sordid thoughts about men exploiting little boys for the sake of satisfying perversion.
Mr. Milo rambles on camera, but his meaning becomes clear enough. “We’re talking about 13-25, 13-28,” he says of 13-year-old boys exploited by men 25 to 28 years old. “These things do happen perfectly consensually. Often, by the way, it’s the women who suffer in [such relationships]. What normally happens in schools, very often, is it’s an older woman with a younger boy, and the boy is the predator in [that] situation.
“We get hung up on abuse — this is a controversial view, I accept — but we get hung up on this sort of child-abuse stuff to the point where we’re heavily policing even relationships between consenting adults.”
This “sort of child-abuse stuff” was finally too much for CPAC, and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the sponsoring American Conservative Union, pulled the plug, sending Mr. Milo word that he was no longer welcome at the party. “We realize that Mr. Yiannopoulous has responded on Facebook [with an explanation] but it is insufficient.”
Mr. Milo, whose appearance at the University of California at Berkeley was canceled earlier this month after students rioted in protest, retreated into the familiar cover of politicians caught saying something that turns out to be inconvenient, and claiming victim status for himself. He blamed his “usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor that might come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims, or worse, advocacy.”
He blamed it on “sloppy phrasing” and “imprecise speech,” which is an odd defense for an educated 33-year-old Englishman, who usually learns to speak the Queen’s English even if he learns not very much else. Naturally it’s all part of “a coordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans to suggest I am soft on the subject of [pedophilia].”
The Reagan Battalion could not have guessed what its discovery of the video would lead to. After CPAC withdrew its invitation to speak, Simon & Schuster canceled publication of his book, which had been scheduled for June, and Fox Business reported late Monday that Breitbart was considering sacking him.
The moral here for conservatives is that just because someone calls himself a conservative, claiming he is heir to carefully nourished values formed and defended by the generations, does not mean that he is one. An ancient Negro spiritual sums up the needed lesson: “Everybody talkin’ about heaven ain’t goin’ there.”
We’ve seen what the pursuit of “clicks” and “hits” at any price has done to the journalism trade. Newspapers which once rightly prized credibility and a reputation for objectivity in its news columns above everything else now cuts corners and stifles the skepticism once demanded in every newsroom, honored if only in the breach, and prints things that would have choked a Linotype machine and gagged a mighty Goss only a generation ago.
Mr. Milo insists his remarks were distorted and taken out of context, but excuses aren’t what they used to be. Everything is on a videotape or tucked away on a hard drive somewhere. CPAC caught its error and did the right thing. Conversation should be lively this week at the bazaar.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.