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Picking Sides In A Stupid Controversy: A Guide For The Right


Now’s a good time to remind right-wingers: You don’t have to pick a side in every fight. Some fights are stupid. Many of them are meaningless to people who don’t spend every waking hour looking at social media.

A controversy occasionally boils up in the political discourse (Twitter and cable news) and even though it’s a relatively inconsequential, harmless matter, some people rush to bellyflop on top of it to stake their position on either side.

One such incident is a Politico story published Thursday about the Washington Post’s Republican-turned-Democrat columnist Jennifer Rubin becoming a hype-woman for the current administration, and thus someone whose work should be promoted by White House officials.

The gist of the story is that Rubin, always bedraggled in her many TV appearances, is so predictably pro-Biden in her work that even some people in the administration cringe when they read it or are asked to share her pieces on social media. “One told [Politico] that they declined to do so because they thought it was just too embarrassing to earnestly share a Rubin column, given her history as a conservative and perceived tendency to pander to the administration,” the story said.

Where things got messy is at the end of the article, where the authors said they reached out to Rubin by email for a comment. She replied with a subject line indicating that her comments were “off the record,” and not for publication.

The authors of the Politico story printed her response in full anyway, reasoning, “we never agreed to conduct such an off-the-record conversation.” (You can read the response for yourself, which is hilarious in how petty it is, but otherwise which contains no real value.)

Some people think that’s wrong, some people think it’s fair. This isn’t so much a right-left, Republican-Democrat debate as it is a boring, journalistic ethics one. As a journalist, I have an opinion on it. But I recognize it as one of those aforementioned stupid controversies, because neither party involved is worth zealously defending or staking a reputation.

It’s Jennifer Rubin, a hack who has taken the opposite side of every belief she previously had. Nobody takes her seriously outside of the current West Wing (other than perhaps the self-serious Aaron Sorkin, who created the impossibly corny “The West Wing”). And it’s a story in Politico, one that leads nowhere and serves no purpose other than to entertain other journalists and low-rent drama lovers in Washington’s political sphere.

And yet some people of influence still weighed in the matter with great gravity. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times parachuted into the thicket with a Friday morning tweet. “For the uninitiated – and the initiated pretending they don’t know because it’s a fun way to slam a reporter – off the record is an agreement,” she said. “Don’t send an email saying OTR – especially when you’re ostensibly in journalism! – and not wait for the reporter to agree.”

In two follow up tweets, which this explosive story obviously deserved, she said, “This is really basic stuff, and folks in the current White House – many of whom have long experience dealing with reporters – know this,” and, “People can take issue with the timing of a story or the subject of a story. But suggesting the reporter did something nefarious when the person didn’t follow the way OTR works is wrong.”

It’s truly awe-inspiring that a prominent reporter at America’s premier newspaper had this much to say about a story centered on Rubin and a bitchy email.

In any event, a similar episode played out earlier this week when pop star Nicki Minaj said on Twitter that she had not received a vaccine against COVID and that “if” she gets one, it will be “once I feel I’ve done enough research.”

Okay, agreed, and about 100,000 other people did with their retweets and “likes.”

But then she kept going. “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent,” Minaj said in a separate tweet. “His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”

When your reasoning behind declining a vaccine moves into the my-cousin’s-friend-in-another-country-had-his-testicle-blow-up territory, that’s when I leave the room.

I’m in complete favor of Minaj or anyone else declining vaccination for any personal reason at all, but feel absolutely no need to offer my full-throated defense of it, simply because a mega-celeb tripped onto my side of an argument about vaccines.

But plenty of other right-wingers did, giddy to have a mainstream pop icon on our side, if even for just a moment.

This is rare! Grab the net!

Instead, can we not? The right falls for this all the time, presumably out of desperation for wins against a culture that’s so often telling us we’re wrong.

Recall the sweet memories of Miss California Carrie Prejean. She came out against same-sex marriage during a Miss USA pageant back in 2009. It was a bold move, to be sure, considering that the culture at large was overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage. The result was that Prejean was heralded by the right as a wholesome, Christian slice of American apple pie. It secured her a major deal by conservative book publisher Regnery.

Then it turned out she had allegedly spent pageant money on breast implants and made a sex tape. More importantly, she couldn’t defend her views on marriage when confronted about them, a fact put on embarrassing display when she took off her microphone while on the set of Larry King Live as a caller asked her about the very topic she was supposed to be famous for.

Hmm, on second thought, did we have to elevate her to right-wing media stardom?

This is a lesson the right should have learned a long time ago. We don’t have to wade into every stupid battle just because a prominent person stumbled onto our side.