Ambinder responds

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Yesterday, I noted that Marc Ambinder suggested that Rep. Steve King thinks "sexuality shouldn't matter at all" - a description of King that is inconsistent with his opposition to gay rights. That followed a post on April 20 in which I questioned Ambinder's description of Republicans who wage anti-gay campaigns as "pro-gay."

After yesterday's post, Ambinder emailed a response, which I am posting below with his permission. Back in February, Ambinder wrote the following, under the headline "Get Out Of Your D$*#( Shells":

Here's a simple way to increase intellectual cross-pollination on the web: honest bloggers of the left and the right should try to interview at least one author/historian/politician from the other side of the aisle at least one a month. So -- Media Matters shouldn't just criticize Bernard Goldberg; they should interview him. Glenn Greenwald should, I don't know, see if Jack Goldsmith from Harvard would chat with him online. ... Righties interviewing righties has gotten so boring and repetitive; lefties fawning over lefties is lazy. Who's going to be brave enough to reach out to an ideological or intellectual opponent, promote their new book, or interview them?

In the spirit of the open dialogue between people who disagree that Ambinder advocated, I have interspersed responses to his email below.


A response:

"I excuse no one and nothing. I meant to mock Rep. Steve King for his inane and dangerous comments. My "generosity" was meant ironically, but I guess it doesn't come off that way in print.

It doesn't. Here's what Ambinder wrote of King: "You don't have to be Rep. Steve King -- who here implies that gay people wouldn't be bashed so long as they don't tell people about their sexual orientation -- to have a vague sense of that sexuality shouldn't matter at all, that sexual orientation should be irrelevant as a way of judging someone for any job, anywhere."

The construct "You don't have to be X to believe Y" clearly suggests that X does believe Y. I take Ambinder at his word that he did not mean to suggest that King thinks sexuality is irrelevant - but that's what he wrote.

As of 12:30 pm today, Ambinder's post still contains that language, with no clarification, despite the fact that he acknowledged yesterday that his comment about King "doesn't come off" the way he intended.

Ambinder, continuing directly:

You're writing about a report, incidentally, who regularly calls a significant portion of the GOP base "anti-gay" - not "anti-gay rights" or some circumlocution, but anti-gay. They oppose gay people, primarily, and as a consequence, oppose gay rights.

Many GOP strategists - most of the major names - and virtually all of the ones who work regularly in DC - are personally sympathetic to gay rights, although they often use the issue against gays, because that's how Republicans get elected in Republican areas. These strategists are cynical, yes, and they're not morally committed to the cause. They're more like alcoholics who failed rehab, they can't help themselves. That's what reporting suggests.

These two paragraphs seem to be a reference to my April 20 post. In that post, I took Ambinder to task for describing Republicans who participate in anti-gay political activity as "pro-gay." In his email above, Ambinder again stipulates that the Republicans in question "often use the issue [gay rights] against gays, because that's how Republicans get elected." This time Ambinder describes them as "personally sympathetic to gay rights" but "cynical" and "not morally committed to the cause" and "like alcoholics who failed rehab." Had he described them that way on April 17, I would not have criticized him. But he didn't describe them that way; he called them "pro-gay."

I stand by my contention that "pro-gay" is an absurd description for people who, by Ambinder's description, run anti-gay campaigns.

Ambinder, continuing directly:

Media Matters very often conflates "is" and "ought;" it takes observations and it turns them into prescriptions.

And reporters very often hide behind the contention that they are simply describing the world as it is. That defense often rings hollow, but rarely as hollow as it does here. Saying that Republicans who run anti-gay campaigns are really pro-gay isn't an "observation," it is a characterization. An obviously silly one. And neither of my posts have anything to do with what "ought" to be; they have to do with Ambinder's faulty descriptions of what is. Steve King is not someone who thinks sexuality doesn't matter. It is not the case that people who run campaigns attacking and opposing gay rights are pro-gay.

Further, Ambinder began his email by conceding that what he wrote about King did not convey his intended point. Now it seems he wants to be judged based on what he ought to have written.

Ambinder, continuing directly:

That's why we reporters ignore your criticisms most of the time. They're provocative, but often illogical.

My post went online at 3:25 yesterday afternoon. Ambinder's email response appeared in my inbox at 3:58 yesterday afternoon. Just sayin' ...

Ambinder, continuing directly:

Jamison's implication today is pretty audacious, and it's factually inaccurate, and easily correctable. Hence my response."

I don't know what Ambinder thinks I was implying, because he didn't say what he thinks I implied. But my point was quite clear: For the second time in recent weeks, Ambinder downplayed the extent of Republican anti-gay bigotry. That point is pretty well-supported by the facts, and I implied nothing beyond it.

For the record, I asked Ambinder what was factually inaccurate about my post, since he did not specify in his email. He declined the opportunity to identify any such inaccuracy. Should he or anyone else do so, I will correct my post.

In the meantime, I await a clarification to his post, explaining that he did not mean to suggest King does not think sexuality matters. As he has acknowledged privately, his intended point did not come through in print.

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