Kara Swisher, noted and widely-respected tech journalist, has made it clear that yes, she would interview “wandering plague ship” Steve Bannon. Swisher’s op-ed comes on the heels of Bannon’s being uninvited from The New Yorker Festival after other attendees objected to his appearance as well as a new documentary on Bannon that’s premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
Her opinion, I think, is valid. We can’t counter opinions and beliefs if we don’t give people the chance to share them, no matter how noxious they appear. And if there’s anyone who could interview Bannon and not come off as morally neutral toward his positions and statements, it’s Swisher.
That being said, I don’t think there’s a lot of confusion or lack of clarity around where Bannon and his ilk stand on various issues. He’s spoken frequently and loudly in the way only a syphilis-ridden, anthropomorphic sewer grate can.
(Side note: For all the hubbub about Congress trying to get Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and other tech leaders to answer questions about censorship and other topics, they should either A) just bring in Swisher to handle the questioning or B) save the taxpayers a ton of money and just find her previous interviews with these people. She’s the best.)
The question, though, remains: Who is deserving of time at someone else’s microphone? Allow me to share a few thoughts on the matter:
First, it’s alright to have standards, even if they’re subjective and personal, about who gets to speak. Someone may find allowing Bannon or any of the other sentient compost piles that frequent Brietbart comments sections to be allowable, hoping a public airing of their ideas will allow them to be discredited. For me, the line would be “have your ideas and beliefs ever caused someone to be convicted of a hate crime or crime against humanity?” If the answer is yes, I don’t need to hear from you.
Second, it’s important for those standards to be consistent. For example, if it’s defensible to interview Bannon, whose ideas have arguably lead to increases in discrimination, deportation and other harm, is it similarly defensible to interview Kevin Spacey or Louis CK, who have committed actual physical assault? If not, why is the line being drawn between someone who instigates violent and abusive behavior and someone who commits it themselves? That distinction seems narrow to me.
Third, it’s permissible to be confrontational in those interviews. Don’t just give Bannon the stage and let him spew his vitriol. We’ve heard him on countless occasions and see the results of his “burn it all down” beliefs in the policies enacted every day by the current administration. If he’s going to be given a venue, challenge him. Hold him accountable for the results the policies he advocated on behalf of and for the situation of those he advocated against. Bring the receipts, don’t just let him sermonize.
Fourth, consider also booking representatives of the groups impacted. If you want to take the “well it’s better to get those ideas out there so they can be countered” point of view, make it a point to give the same venue to those whose lives have been affected by those ideas. Let’s hear from the family of someone arrested and deported by ICE, or someone who’s lost a spouse or child to illness or injury because their health insurance was rescinded. In the last two years we’ve heard plenty from rural white people who may be slightly conflicted about supporting Trump but keep doing so but little, at least in the mainstream press, from the urban immigrant who lives in fear of being assaulted on the way to work because of their skin color.
Yes, let’s make sure we understand the extent of the infestation of terrible, hurtful ideology. But let’s also remember that while sunlight is often held to be the best disinfectant, so too is closing up the windows, dropping a tent over the house and fumigating the hell out of it so no living thing survives. At this point the former doesn’t seem to be stopping or even impeding the progress of terrible ideas, so it may be time to try the latter.