NOTE: The following was originally written for publication at another website. As such some of the particular examples may no longer be timely, but I am presenting it here in its original, uncut form because its arguments remain relevant and its information remains useful.
In October, nominally-conservative media veterans Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes relieved months of mild curiosity by unveiling The Dispatch, a new media venture that bills itself as an alternative to a “conservative media complex increasingly invested in a strategy of polarization and demonization of Blue America” – or, as Goldberg said in March, a right-of-center information source readers “won’t be embarrassed to invoke when speaking to liberal relatives around the dinner table.”
Not exactly standing athwart history yelling “stop,” is it?
It’s still unclear how many paying customers they expect to attract to what sounds essentially like a Diet Bulwark (perhaps they instead plan to survive on periodic $6 million infusions of swamp welfare), but the announcement takes pains to profess The Dispatch’s commitment to “honesty and charity” in “fact-based commentary” characterized by “more deliberation.” That sounds nice; too bad they don’t mean it.
Previously one half of the leadership team that destroyed The Weekly Standard (partly by playing Captain Ahab to Donald Trump’s Moby Dick), Hayes is hardly a stickler for journalistic integrity, as demonstrated when TWS ran a falsehood-ridden piece on FISAgate written by a former attorney for Senate Democrats—without identifying her as such. A few weeks back, Hayes helpfully gave readers another example of what passes for “principled journalis[m]” in his eyes when he applied the label to former Fox anchor Shepard Smith—a smarmy liberal known for spouting demagoguery on everything from Chick-fil-A to voter ID, last seen throwing a hissy fit over a Fox guest who didn’t think much of 9/11 Truther Andrew Napolitano’s legal analysis (the fiction of Smith’s “commitment to facts” also made The Dispatch’s October 14 edition).
Nor are “honesty and charity” serious priorities for David French, who surprisingly decided to leave behind the absolute job security of National Review (where Rich Lowry looked the other way no matter how many Christians he demonized, lies he pushed, and columns of his Andy McCarthy had to correct) for this ultra-niche vanity project of questionable viability. Also onboard are Andrew Egger and Rachael Larimore, two Weekly Standard survivors who followed Bill Kristol to The Bulwark, and who’ve also displayed a striking indifference toward the accuracy of what they write.
And then there’s Goldberg, who never met an argument he couldn’t straw-man. Those who’ve been paying attention know that Jonah’s toxic brew of thin skin, intellectual dishonesty, and simple laziness are less-than-ideal qualities for an editor-in-chief, with his October 4 column perfectly encapsulating his trademark unseriousness for the uninitiated.
After nearly 400 words about blind devotion to Soviet dictators (because padding his work with historical or philosophical asides is how he tricks rubes into thinking they’re reading something deep), Goldberg argues that Trump has a similar “cult of personality,” complete with its own “doctrine of infallibility.”
Certainly, there are plenty of hacks who blame others for Trump’s failures, insist his screw-ups are secretly-brilliant chess moves, and so on. But contrary to the impression #NeverTrumpers constantly paint, the existence of fanboys and apologists is hardly a new or distinctly Trumpian phenomenon (a lesson I learned the first time I saw someone unironically wear a “Trent Lott for President” T-shirt, many moons ago).
As would be unnecessary to explain in a conversation consisting of competent adults acting in good faith, the battle lines in the Right’s Trump debates are far more complicated than sycophants vs. haters. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim Jordan, and Josh Hawley have all dissented from Trump on policy. The Federalist’s Sean Davis speaks out as harshly as anyone when Trump crosses the Second Amendment. Conservative Review regularly eviscerates Trump’s failures on spending, crime, and more. Hell, Ann Coulter is the country’s most relentless critic of Trump’s mishandling of his central campaign promise.
So when pundits and politicians defend Trump on particular questions, it simply doesn’t cut it to respond by snarking that they’ve “bent the knee” or want every conservative to become a “throne-sniffer.” Nor should Goldberg get away with using the specter of hero-worship as a pretext to straw-man the entire Ukraine debate:
Just this week, the same people who insisted that Trump would never collude with a foreign nation for his political interest are now defending collusion with a foreign nation for his political interest.
I don’t know who said “Trump would never collude,” but there’s obviously no contradiction between rejecting the false claim that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win an election, and belief that the Ukraine call isn’t worth the hysteria that followed it. Goldberg handles a lot of the heavy lifting here by playing fast and loose with the word “collusion,” but as Andy McCarthy explained to him over a year ago(!), collusion in the context of Russiagate referred to a theoretical “agreement between two or more people to commit a crime,” not merely to seeking information or cooperation (or even to a dreaded “quid pro quo”).
The people who turn crimson with rage when you point out Trump’s decades of corrupt business practices now insist his only interest in the Bidens is his concern about corruption.
Hunter Biden’s gig and his father’s actions are so obviously suspicious that #NeverTrumpers know they’d have an uphill battle trying to sell normal people on the idea that it was unreasonable to ask about them. So they instead hope to coast on general distaste for Trump’s character—without even trying to explain why it isn’t also in the nation’s interests to confirm whether a potential future president is the type to abuse government power to shield relatives from the law.
They say it’s outrageous that Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian company when Biden was vice president, but they also say it’s fine to have a daughter and son-in-law duo running vast swaths of foreign and domestic policy while also making a fortune from their business interests around the world.
More observant readers than The Dispatch’s target audience may find themselves asking, hold on, when was the Trump administration accused of trying to oust a prosecutor looking at Trump’s kids? That’s a good question; an even better one is how Goldberg justifies pretending not to know that vast swaths of the MAGA Right absolutely detest Ivanka and Jared as blights on Trump’s presidency they’d jettison in a heartbeat.
Enemies are sinful or decadent when they lie or cheat on their wives, but who are you to judge Comrade Trump?
Note well how the peddlers of this double-standard—and every other argument Goldberg attributes to Trumpists—are neither named nor quoted anywhere in his column. Those who paid attention in their high-school writing classes or debate clubs likely remember that supporting one’s claims with examples and engaging the strongest version of the actual argument on the table are fairly basic concepts…but that sort of thing takes effort, and Goldberg tends to find generalities and caricature more conducive to his favored narratives anyway. That way he can string together versions of things different people are saying to cast some monolithic group as mindless, partisan hypocrites, with various outright misrepresentations sprinkled throughout.
That’s great for feeding preexisting distaste of a particular out-group among one’s clique, but fails to meet any minimum threshold of credible argument. Of course, that’s only a problem if you’re actually trying to win arguments, whereas Goldberg—just like scores of writers at The Bulwark, National Review, Commentary, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere—is simply out to reinforce a like-minded audience’s shared biases (all without so much as a twinge of irony to interfere with his periodic lectures on the perils of tribalism).
So it’s no surprise that, despite Hayes originally pitching The Dispatch as “more ‘beyond Trump’ than ‘anti-Trump,’” the publication’s first month was defined largely by impeachment-mania, salivating over various prepared statements released by Democrats while displaying far less curiosity about the dissection of those statements behind closed doors.
Nor should we be shocked by its more cavalier approach to questions of integrity and seriousness not related to Trump, from a Republican senator’s use of a fake online persona not only to promote himself but to endorse personal attacks he’d never make under his own name (just “something fun”), to a basketball star complaining that an associate “harmed” safe, comfortable athletes by speaking out for human rights in Hong Kong (not even worth a mention as French gushes over the “great athleticism” of “the GOAT”), to the farce of putting forth ex-Paul Ryan personnel as any sort of authority on “thoughtful legislating.”
If “character is destiny,” then no amount of swamp welfare will be enough to secure Team Dispatch’s future.