On Feb. 18, Breitbart’s resident troll Milo Yiannopoulos, who also moonlighted as its tech editor, was flying high with a lucrative book deal with Simon & Schuster and an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as its keynote speaker. In less than 48 hours, his stock tumbled after a video of him condoning sex between adults and 13-year-olds surfaced. The book deal was cancelled. CPAC, which had proclaimed that “free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective” dropped him like hot potato. Breitbart axed his column. Yiannopoulos resigned, but it has been widely reported that several Breitbart employees threatened to quit if he remained. Why did his collaborators draw the line at this incident, and not at any of his previous bigoted statements? Well, for one, bigotry still sells books, boosts TV ratings and serves as clickbait. Secondly, for some conservatives, bigotry has never been a big deal in the first place.
Incendiary loudmouths are reliable channels of revenue for the media, regardless of what they say. Even before publication, Yiannopoulos’ book topped Amazon’s bestsellers list after a rush of pre-orders, according to The Guardian. Given the capitalist utopia that politicians and journalists of all stripes in this country urge everyone to aspire to, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Simon & Schuster chose to sacrifice principle and decency on the altar of profit. If we desire an economic system that rests on the premise that the ultimate goal of firms is to maximize profits, it seems unreasonable to complain when a firm does exactly that. This is hardly a new trend– the New York Times reported that Donald Trump received $2 billion worth of free publicity from both conservative and liberal media outlets. This number is more than all the coverage his fellow Republicans received combined, and more than both Clinton and Sanders combined. For all the outrage over publishers providing platforms to bigots, the media gave Trump a giant platform for every lie he told and all the hate he spewed. Why stick to policy debates when inflammatory clowns elicit a bigger audience and higher ratings? Thus, publishers and news sites are able to spin a bigot’s speech into gold while also maintaining good PR by hand-wringing over its content. Gratifyingly, we at least haven’t reached a state where there’s a market for defenses of child abuse. Hence, Yiannopoulos’ statements on that issue is a deal breaker while his previous bigotry is not.
That the media can profit by publicizing Yiannopoulos implies that there is a significant number of consumers who support his opinions. This suggests that Yiannopoulos’ views are not limited to the alt-right, which the The New York Times described as a relatively new fringe movement, but are also prevalent among many mainstream conservatives. “CPAC is a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children,” stated the American Conservative Union while explaining their disinvitation. It can be inferred from this statement that CPAC attendees then do not unanimously disagree about the evils of misogyny, racism or anti-Semitism, to name a few. Yiannopoulos’ history includes unleashing a racist mob to bully Leslie Jones, labelling women on birth control as “hideous monsters,” “crazy” and “sluts” in his articles and claiming in an interview that “Jews completely dominate” media and finance. None of this could quench CPAC’s thirst for his “important perspective.” And why would it, when similar views have been peddled by duller, grayer Republicans for years? Maine governor Paul LePage declared in a town hall meeting that people of color “sell heroin,” “impregnate a young white girl” and said in a later press conference that they “kill Mainers.” Ted Cruz was introduced onstage at a conference by a pastor who, earlier in the event, called for the execution of gay people. Former Missouri representative Todd Akin spoke about “legitimate rape.” The Right has served up various flavors of bigotry for decades, and continues to do so. All Yiannopoulos did was to pour that into flashy new bottles.
This saga also reveals the hypocrisy of the Right in their role as self-styled champions of free speech. After claiming that college students promote “speech suppression” by exercising their right to protest someone they disagree with, CPAC and Breitbart ‘no-platformed’ someone they disagreed with. Clearly even tireless modern-day freedom fighters are on hiatus when they have a public image to maintain. Yiannopoulos too, offered a conditional apology in a press conference, saying he was ‘sorry’ if his comments had hurt child abuse victims. This from a man who has made a career out of declaring “I don’t care about feelings” and jeering at anyone who spoke against hurting victims of racial, transphobic or misogynistic abuse. But here, he found out to his cost that offending conservatives isn’t as profitable as offending liberals, and so the book deals and invitations dried up. Soon Yiannopoulos might even have to endure the ignominy of seeing his audience shrink to the size of a Trump inauguration crowd.