From the point of view of future historians, anything said by the rap artist/fashion mogul formerly known as Kanye West shouldn’t merit any attention. West, who now calls himself “Ye,” is a product of 21st-century celebrity culture twice over: He was a figure in the world of popular music; and he was married to the reality star Kim Kardashian.
In a saner world than the one in which we live, his ravings would be paid no heed by anyone outside of his family or those entrusted with his care. But, in 2022 America, it would be foolish to pretend that what he says or posts on social media doesn’t matter.
His utterances bear considerable weight among those who follow and even admire him, as well as provide fodder for a whole genre of journalism devoted to reporting about those who are anointed as “influencers” by pop-culture audiences.
While Ye’s life has become something of a celebrity sideshow, fueled by what he has admitted was a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, he now also has the distinction of providing an unfortunate illustration of how our toxic media culture has not just polarized Americans; it’s made even people who engage in serious political commentary willing to excuse and even defend the kind of hate they would never tolerate if it emanated from their political foes.
Thus, his pronouncements on issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and abortion—which are cheered by conservatives—along with other statements that seem unrooted in reason or reality, are considered worthy of support by some leading pundits.
We are living through a moment in political history in which the left seeks to silence and cancel those who dissent from its brand of orthodoxy on any number of issues, and to falsely brand all of their foes as “semi-fascists” or “insurrectionists.” It takes particular interest in attacking African-Americans who don’t conform to that orthodoxy.
This culture of intolerance is enabled and promulgated not so much by politicians as it is by journalists, the overwhelming majority of whom are liberals. Reporters have largely abandoned any pretense of objectivity, because they believe that support for former President Donald Trump or objections to leftist ideologies like critical race theory are proof of evil intent.
It was this toxic atmosphere that enabled most of the news media to spend years peddling the Russian collusion conspiracy theory and then to silence coverage of Biden family corruption during the 2020 presidential campaign. Since Jan.6, 2021 and the disgraceful Capitol riot, it has gone further, essentially demonizing anyone who supported Trump or who raised any questions about the 2020 election count.
This climate has bred in conservatives a healthy skepticism about anything they read, hear or view, since they have come to the not unreasonable conclusion that most of the mainstream press cannot be trusted to tell the truth about Trump or any non-liberal. That distrust has now also created a willingness to treat anyone who is in some way labeled a conservative and subject to media criticism as not merely innocent until proven guilty, but innocent even if guilty.
In a bifurcated political world in which both sides neither give nor ask for quarter, many on the right have come to believe that the only response to cancel culture is to embrace anyone in its corner, no matter what he or she has done.
Worse, even those who don’t go that far have come to believe that defense of free speech in a country under siege from the left requires casting aside decency when it comes to rallying behind those guilty of anti-Semitic hate. And it is on the altar of support for the aforementioned Ye as an alleged victim of the left that some conservatives have painted themselves into an untenable ideological corner.
This is what has happened at The Daily Wire, a conservative media company founded by Ben Shapiro, who currently serves as its editor emeritus and hosts a popular podcast on its site. Shapiro turned the outlet into a touchstone for conservative thought and for challenging the liberal monopoly on pop culture.
He’s been an important voice, courageously calling out the left for its cancel-culture mentality and other issues. He’s also an observant Jew who speaks up for Israel.
But Shapiro and others at the Daily Wire have now been put in an unfortunate position by the willingness of their colleague, Candace Owens, to rise to the defense of Ye against justified charges of anti-Semitism.
Ye was given an hour on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show last week to spout off on a wide array of topics. Most memorable of these was his attack on Jared Kushner and his family.
Carlson spent the interview telling his audience that the clearly disturbed celebrity was obviously sane and, agree with him or not, had important things to say. But he cynically edited out of the broadcast a number of Ye’s incendiary tropes about Jews. It wasn’t until he engaged in more open anti-Semitism on social media that he was widely and rightly criticized for hate speech.
Owens has become a celebrity pundit because of her unabashed support of Trump and willingness to engage in rhetorical pugilism with those who unfairly question her integrity as an outspoken African-American conservative. But she’s also a personal friend of Ye’s, and has treated the criticism he brought on himself as just another example of how the left unfairly victimizes conservatives—which is as false as the notion that his medical diagnosis somehow excuses his hateful rants. On top of that, she claimed that “no honest person” would consider Ye’s statements—including typical vile tropes about and threats against Jews—to be anti-Semitic.
Owens is, of course, free to express her opinions. But when Shapiro and Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing were asked about why they were willing to go on providing her with a platform, they answered that while they disagree with her position, they consider it to be merely a difference of opinion that should be tolerated in any forum that values free speech.
That they don’t wish to lose a valuable contributor who has a large and loyal audience is understandable. But they are essentially saying that defending an anti-Semite—and engaging in the kind of arguments that both manifest ignorance about and can easily be interpreted as indifference to Jew-hatred—crosses no red line for them.
Even outlets that defend free speech impose limits on the content they will allow to be published on their sites. It’s doubtful that the Daily Wire would simply shrug it off as a fair subject for debate if, for example, one of their contributors wanted to use it to support critical race theory or transgender ideology.
There’s nothing wrong with that. And the same applies to liberal and left-wing outlets that don’t publish pieces attacking their cherished beliefs or advocating for ideas they abhor.
Yet we all judge publications by their standards. Those left-wing outlets that routinely publish anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic material, or rationalize and defend anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour or Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), are rightly denounced by pro-Israel conservatives for tolerating hate. But if conservatives are now agnostic about colleagues who are guilty of doing the same thing, how is that any better?
What this controversy has shown is that the toxic media culture that the left has championed has not just trashed the credibility of mainstream journalists. It’s also engendered a belief among conservatives that they must circle the wagons around anyone the liberal media targets, even if he or she really is awful.
Furthermore, it has led to a conservative tendency to follow Trump’s example never to apologize when they are wrong, since, like him, they have concluded that expressing remorse does nothing but help their opponents. This is why Owens’s reaction to being rightly called out for her illogical and insensitive claims about Ye is to double down and disingenuously accuse those who question her of intolerance for free discourse. She ought to study the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and apologize. But she’s more likely to endorse Joe Biden for re-election than to do that.
The same is true for most of the left, of course, as evidenced by the failure of anyone at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN or the rest of the liberal media to apologize for spreading misinformation about Russia collusion or to return the Pulitzer Prizes they won for stories about Trump that we now know were simply false.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Yet, as the pass that conservatives are giving Owens for her giving a pass to Ye’s anti-Semitism proves, it’s the guiding spirit of contemporary journalism. And it’s why lack of trust in the media can be a two-way street.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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