As the online news and commentary landscape continues to expand, the nascent conservative web magazine The Federalist has quickly carved out a role as a brash, anti-establishment site. It has also become an outlet for often-rabid anti-LGBT talking points.
Launched in September 2013 as a "web magazine on politics, policy, and culture," The Federalist is helmed by publisher Ben Domenech, a co-founder of the right-wing blog RedState.com and senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for its opposition to climate science and funding from industry sources like the Koch brothers. Co-founder Sean Davis came to conservative journalism after a career in GOP politics, having worked for Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Senior editors David Harsanyi and Mollie Hemingway and senior writer Robert Tracinski round out The Federalist's leadership.
In its short existence, The Federalist has won plaudits from conservative organizations and activists, not least those best known for their anti-LGBT advocacy. A look at the website's track record on LGBT issues leaves little doubt as to why The Federalist counts some of the most notorious anti-LGBT groups among its most ardent fans.
Touted by Domenech as a publication "that rejects the assumptions of the media establishment," The Federalist regularly frames its opposition to LGBT equality as brave defiance of elite conventions. This posture leads The Federalist to inveigh against even the most basic protections for LGBT people.
Take writer Rachel Lu's opposition to anti-bullying legislation. In a March 18 piece, Lu condemned such legislation as an attempt to "normalize homosexuality and transgendered behavior." (Being transgender isn't a "behavior.") Lu situated anti-bullying policies in a larger context in which progressives seek to enforce an "Orwellian vision" of LGBT equality.
Lamenting that LGBT acceptance has become "thoroughly conventional," Lu argued that young voters' support for marriage equality is the result of "unreflective ignorance" about "what marriage is." Lu defended an exclusively heterosexual conception of marriage by noting that the vast majority of "cultural and historical and literary references to marriage" concern heterosexual relationships. "Enjoying sexual difference," Lu concluded, "is critical to almost all of these romances, and while homosexuals do have Plato's Symposium and the poetry of Sappho, their stock of cultural associations is much, much thinner."
Other Federalist writers couch their opposition to marriage equality in decidedly less literary terms. Hemingway, who refers to straight marriage as "natural marriage," explained in a February piece that "the penis and vagina parts are actually key to this entire shebang. See: human history."
Contributor Hunter Baker echoed Hemingway's argument in a post arguing that opponents of marriage equality are just being "commonsensical." In what apparently passes for robust argument at The Federalist, Baker used the example of his children's confusion when they learned of the existence of same-sex relationships. They couldn't "understand why a man would want to share romantic love with another man" - definitive evidence to Baker that homosexuality is unnatural. He then compared his children's aversion to homosexuality to what he called children's reflexive "tilts away" from racism. (In reality, studies of how young children respond to dolls show that they respond more favorably to white dolls than to black ones.)
And then there's Jesus, whom writer Andrew Walker assured readers would not support marriage equality. But fear not, Walker counseled pro-equality Christians, "no sin is wider than Christ's mercy if one will only repent and believe."
The right-wing media responded to news that President Obama intends to use a recess appointment to install Donald Berwick as head of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The attacks rely on distortions of Berwick's past statements about the U.S. and U.K. health care systems and on manufactured outrage about recess appointments, which are a common practice.
Right-wing media have launched an assault on Donald Berwick, President Obama's nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those attacks distort Berwick's statements on the U.S. and U.K. health care systems and ignore fundamental realities about the those systems, as well as Berwick's broad support.
As yesterday's speculation about whether Elena Kagan is gay reached a fever pitch, it was striking how little interest those who were most enthusiastically pushing the story seemed to have in the fact that the White House has already answered the question.
Last month, conservative blogger/plagiarist Ben Domenech wrote in a column that appeared on CBSNews.com that Kagan is gay. In response, the White House indicated that she is not. As the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported "The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight." The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz added:
An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian....A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said he complained to CBS because the column "made false charges."
So, that's pretty unambiguous. As Solicitor General, Elena Kagan was then, as now, a senior Obama administration official, so the White House aides who explicitly said Kagan is not gay were presumably speaking with her sanction. Absent any convincing evidence to the contrary -- and no, rumors and rumors about rumors don't count as convincing evidence -- the unambiguous statements of White House officials should put the speculation to rest.
But some people really enjoy speculating.
The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, for example, headlined a post yesterday "So Is She Gay?" and complained "no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively." Sullivan must have forgotten that the White House actually did tell "us" definitively just last month. Oddly, Slate's Jack Shafer endorsed Sullivan's post, writing that it gets to "the heart of the matter" -- the unwillingness of the White House to "speak definitively about Kagan's orientation."
Mediaite managing editor Colby Hall wrote several hundred words about Kagan, touching on her relationship with Goldman Sachs, her service in the Clinton administration, and her past statements about reproductive rights, judicial activism, the death penalty, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Hall's real interest was clearly Kagan's personal life:
From the April 18 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Yesterday, Ben Domenech took to Huffington Post to try and further spin the "opinion" article he wrote that was subsequently reprinted on a CBS News blog which pushed unsubstantiated, un-sourced gossip about Solicitor General Elena Kagan's personal life in relation to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
In his Huffington Post mea culpa, Domenech makes this odd claim (emphasis his):
Look, it's 2010 -- no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay. The fact that conservative Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions have recently expressed openness to confirming an openly gay nominee to the Court is a good thing. Senators should look at things that actually matter -- evaluating a nominee's decisions, approach to the law, their judgment and ability -- to see whether there are actually good and relevant reasons to oppose the nomination. That's all.
Funny, because based on Domenech's history, I'm inclined to think that he ran with the unsubstantiated, un-sourced "rumor" precisely because it centered on a sexual orientation different from his own.
I agree with him that "it's 2010 - no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay," I'm just not sure he believes his own words. After all, Domenech once wrote that conservative, openly gay, blogger Andrew Sullivan, "needs a woman to give him some stability."
Well, after being forced to resign by the Washington Post in 2006 for repeated plagiarism and getting schooled by media critics far and wide for running with these rumors, it seems Domenech could use a refresher course in journalistic basics. You know, to "give him some stability" in his chosen profession.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes up the controversy over CBS' publication of a column by bigoted right-wing plagiarist Ben Domenech. To my surprise, Kurtz actually mentioned the Post's own unfortunate decision to hire Domenech a few years ago:
The Post's Web site briefly hired Domenech as a conservative blogger in 2006. He resigned three days after his debut after a flurry of plagiarism allegations that were trumpeted by liberal Web sites. The sites found signs of plagiarism in a movie review he wrote for National Review Online and, earlier, in his writing for the College of William & Mary's student newspaper.
Domenech maintained that he did not knowingly use other people's writing without attribution but said the "firestorm" had "reached the point where there's nothing I can really do to defend myself."
It is worth noting, however, that Kurtz downplayed the extent of Domenech's plagiarism. There weren't just "signs of plagiarism" -- in one case, Domenech signed his name to a column that appeared to have been lifted entirely from a P.J. O'Rourke book. That's pretty hard to do un-"knowingly."
Downplaying the case against Domenech is nothing new for Howard Kurtz. The Post media critic -- who claims he's as aggressive towards the Post as he would be if he didn't work there -- spent the brief, controversial period between the Post's hiring of Domenech and his "resignation" dismissing complaints about Domenech's lack of credentials and downplaying evidence of plagiarism.
Incredibly, after Domenech left the Post, Kurtz suggested that the decision to hire the bigoted Republican activist demonstrated that the hiring practices of newspapers like the Post "tilt toward people of the liberal persuasion."
Finally, something to keep in mind about the Washington Post and Domenech: The Post didn't get rid of him for calling Coretta Scott King a "communist," echoing the slur used against the Kings by generations of racists. The Post didn't get rid of him for comparing "the Judiciary" unfavorably to the KKK. Or for posting without comment an article* stating that "killing black babies has the happy result of reducing crime." Or for writing that a gay male journalist "needs a woman to give him some stability."
No, Ben Domenech's overt bigotry didn't cost him his job at the Post, which only dumped him when his plagiarism was revealed.
* This sentence originally indicated that Domenech wrote the line in question himself. I regret the error.
In a statement to CBS News, right-wing serial plagiarist Ben Domenech has now admitted that the unsubstantiated, unsourced gossip about Solicitor General Elena Kagan's personal life contained in his "opinion" article published by CBS was a "rumor."
Earlier today, CBS republished an article from Domenech's website in which he discussed possible Supreme Court nominees. In the article, Domenech wrote of Kagan (emphasis added):
The likeliest candidate, and it was somewhat of a surprise she didn't get picked last time. Pluses: would please much of Obama's base, follows diversity politics of Sotomayor with first openly gay justice (so would Karlan and Sullivan). [Update: While Karlan and Sullivan are open about it, I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted -- odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.]
CBS subsequently appended an "editor's note" which explained that Domenech's reference to Kagan was flatly denied by the White House. Some time after, CBS added the following statement from Domenech:
I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post.
It is completely unsurprising that a right-wing blogger would publish an entirely unsourced "rumor" about a prominent member of the Obama administration. But somewhere between that rumor appearing on that blogger's website and its promotion by CBS News, one assumes that some sort of fact-checking is supposed to occur.
And yet, CBS seems to have made no attempt to determine the veracity of Domenech's claims until hours after they turned their platform over to him. And now even he has been forced to admit that his claim was nothing more than a "rumor." He heard it somewhere, he wrote it, and now with the power of CBS News behind him, his assertion has been trumpeted to the world.
And so we ask: Does CBS News have any standards whatsoever? Because right now, it's hard to see them.
In a statement to CBSNews.com appended to his blog post which the website previously posted, Ben Domenech wrote:
I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post.
On April 15, CBS News published an "opinion" article by serial-plagiarist and right-wing blogger Benjamin Domenech pushing unsubstantiated, un-sourced gossip about Solicitor General Elena Kagan's personal life that has now been flatly denied by the White House.
In 2006, Domenech was forced to resign as a writer for The Washington Post's website following revelations that he had engaged in repeated plagiarism.
Commenting at the time on the controversy, conservative blogger Rick Moran reportedly wrote that "Ben Domenech is not the kind of writer we want representing the conservative viewpoint at The Washington Post or anywhere else."
But that apparently didn't stop CBS from publishing Domenech's description of Kagan today. The article, which CBS says it "reprinted with permission" from Domenech's New Ledger website, states (emphasis added):
1. Elena Kagan (49), Solicitor General of the United States.
The likeliest candidate, and it was somewhat of a surprise she didn't get picked last time. Pluses: would please much of Obama's base, follows diversity politics of Sotomayor with first openly gay justice (so would Karlan and Sullivan). [Update: While Karlan and Sullivan are open about it, I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted -- odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.] Minuses: Seen as too moderate by some on the left; people like Arianna Huffington and Glenn Greenwald strongly dislike her because of her positions on executive power and anti-terror activities. Could be seen as a thumb in the eye of the civil liberties folks.
Later, CBS added an "editor's note" explaining that "a White House spokesperson said that Domenech reference to Ms. Kagan as gay is innaccurate [sic]."
So CBS sought "permission" to reprint an article in which the author claimed -- citing absolutely no evidence -- that a leading candidate for the Supreme Court is "openly gay."
But Kagan is not "openly gay." So CBS has also published Domenech's "update," in which he alleges that Kagan is "closeted" and asserts -- again, citing absolutely no evidence -- that Kagan has a "female partner" who is "rather well known in Harvard circles."
CBS apparently waited until hours after publishing the piece to attempt to find out whether any of this is true, and they've now been forced to acknowledge that the White House says it isn't.
On top of all this, the author of the piece is a discredited plagiarist whose past contributions to discussions of the federal judiciary apparently include declaring that judges who uphold abortion rights "are worse then [sic] the KKK."
Kagan's personal life is completely irrelevant to her job as solicitor general and her potential nomination to the Supreme Court. So why is CBS spreading gossip about it?
Ben Domenech, defending himself from charges of plagiarism, falsely claimed that one of the articles that apparently included plagiarized material "ran as inspired by [author P.J.] O'Rourke's original." There is, in fact, no mention of O'Rourke at all.