Why Jerry Coyne is wrong about Dave Rubin

Alex Katz
Alex Katz
Jun 21, 2017 · 9 min read

Jerry Coyne couldn’t be more wrong in his new blogpost, “An article in Mother Jones smears Dave Rubin; he fights back.” His blogpost responds to the recent Mother Jones piece written by Josh Harkinson, “Cashing in on the Rise of the Alt-Right” and the ensuing Twitter controversy. Coyne argues the article constitutes a smear against YouTube host Dave Rubin’s character, incorrectly characterizing him as “Alt-Right” or “Far-Right.”

On a basic level, Coyne misrepresents the Mother Jones article. The article did not say Rubin was part of the “Alt-Right” (although Rubin has claimed to be sympathetic to the Alt-Right). There is no way to construe the text of the article in that way. There are two mentions of Dave Rubin in the article. Let’s break them down in order:

This refers to Rubin as one of “the right’s independent media personalities.” This begs the question, is Rubin on the political Right? The answer is certainly yes. A cursory examination of his views would lead any reasonable observer of US politics to categorize him as on the Right.

In fact, Rubin himself admits he’s on political Right. Rubin calls himself a “classical liberal.” He does it incessantly almost to the point of parody.

Anyone could tell you that “classical liberal” does not refer to the term “liberal” in the American political context where it means something like “the ideology of the Democratic Party.” A “Classical Liberal” refers to what is commonly known in America as a Libertarian. Rubin is opaque in confusing these terms in an attempt to be a political chameleon. The American Left was never committed to Libertarianism or free trade. While many on the Left are civil Libertarians, the hallmark of being on the Left is preferring a greater government role in the economy to level the playing field. Rubin is playing a word-game that could never work on anyone with a cursory knowledge of American politics.

Then, you get into specifics. Rubin’s views line up with the political Right. I’ll just list out a few key points:

  1. Rubin endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and called Trump’s Presidential victory “a win for our side.” Rubin called Trump essentially a centrist Democrat and has refrained from any criticism of his Presidency. Rubin has also been effusive in his praise for the very conservative Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
  2. Rubin has routinely stated his belief in small-government, low taxes and low regulation. He even made the claim environmental regulation is obsolete because social media allows citizens to shame polluters. While sometimes he has claimed to support single-payer, he’s made clear he believes “single-payer” to be a system of multiple private insurers and not a single-payer.
  3. Rubin espouses the common Right-Wing talking points about “the liberal mainstream media.” He’s echoed Alt-Right and Trump stances that CNN is #FakeNEWS. He even explained there is a necessary space for Alex Jones’ vile InfoWars program.
  4. Rubin opposes anti-discrimination laws including the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the same grounds as Republican Senator Rand Paul. EDIT: Rubin has since clarified his remarks on anti-discrimination laws and said he supports the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I apologize for this error, but I thought it was the clear implication of his words.
  5. On the few issues where Rubin lines up with Democrats, it is simply the overlap between Left civil libertarians and minarchist Right libertarians. What’s more, Rubin never seems to speak out when these Libertarian concerns are threatened from the Right. He didn’t oppose Trump’s Scalia-clone SCOTUS Justice. When pressed on his “pro-choice” stance Rubin even said it would be fine if Roe v. Wade was overturned.
  6. And, he’s not even Libertarian when it conflicts with Trump! He has voiced agreement with Trump’s big-government promises like protectionism and infrastructure projects. He only seems interested in Libertarian ideas as a cudgel against the Left. When it comes to any Libertarian Party position opposed to Trump (open borders and free-trade), Rubin differs from Libertarian orthodoxy. How convenient!
  7. Ridiculously, Rubin is fairly agnostic about whether “PizzaGate” is a real story and mused with Far-Right British YouTuber “Sargon of Akkad” about whether Joe Biden is pedophile.

The final proof of Rubin’s ideology is that his show is partnered with the Right-leaning think-tank project, Learn Liberty. This partnership brings Libertarian, Right-leaning intellectuals to his shows as guests and presumably pays Rubin for the privilege of inculcating a younger audience in free-market economics and Libertarianism. But, dig deeper and what do you find? Learn Liberty is a project of the Institute for Humane Studies. The institute is funded by the philanthropy of Right-Wing billionaires including the Koch Brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife. It appears that the Rubin Report is funded by Far-Right billionaires, with a clear ideological agenda. Let’s not be naive, Koch Brothers philanthropy has a clear ideological agenda and it’s not on the Left.

Safe to say, the article accurately labeled Rubin as one of “the right’s independent media personalities.” This is not a smear. Rubin’s own words calling himself a “classical liberal,” “conservative” and “Libertarian” are an admission that he’s on the Right. Any reasonable appraisal of his views put him on the Right, although not a traditional Republican on every single issue. On this point, Harkinson is 100% correct and Coyne is just obviously wrong. It’s clear as day.

The second mention of Rubin in Harkinson’s article is accurate as well.

This time Harkinson does not refer to Rubin’s personal beliefs. Rather, it places him among a particular media niche. Think of it this way. Talking Points Memo and Vox exist in a similar sphere of the political media. The Bleacher Report and The Ringer exist in a similar sphere of the sports media. There are media bubbles which share an audience, affinity, interview guests and general perspective. It doesn’t mean everyone agrees. Juan Williams and Sean Hannity both exist in a conservative media bubble, but certainly have different views on politics.

Rubin’s show happens to exist in a new Far-Right, Trump aligned media bubble, financed by Patreon crowd-funding. This is the clear meaning in the context of Harkinson’s piece. Unlike the first reference, Harkinson is saying something about place of Rubin’s show within the online independent media. Rubin’s own views aside, he’s producing a document, an interview program which can be evaluated on its own merits. A Left-winger could serve as an anchor on Fox News, right? One can separate the content and place of a show from subjective, personal beliefs of the host. So, let’s evaluate his show and his media connections.

Again, Rubin’s own statements constitute a confession. Take a look at this tweet posted the same day as Coyne’s blog-post.

This is exactly Harkinson’s point, distilled into a nerdy Lord of the Rings meme. Rubin exists in a media bubble with people like anti-Feminist, Right-Wing YouTuber “Sargon of Akkad,” Alt-Right journalist Lauren Southern, Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing talk show host Stephen Crowder. There is ample evidence of this fact. Go to the Rubin Report YouTube page, the “Related Channels” are within the Far-Right YouTube media space.

Browse through the videos on the Rubin Report page, you will understand why. In contrast to Rubin’s statement that he’s basically an open forum for any ideology, a Right-Wing message emerges. Numerous “Learn Liberty” free-market fundamentalists getting puff interviews to push their ideas. Right-wing talk show hosts like Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro and Larry Elder get similar treatment.

Are there liberals and centrists too? Absolutely. But, there’s often a not too subtle Right-Wing agenda afoot. It’s no different than when Rachel Maddow interviews #NeverTrump Republicans. A conservative audience feels vindicated hearing self-criticism from liberals and vice-versa.

The Rubin Report brought on nominal left-wingers like Sam Harris, but their interview focused on the problems of the Left. Rubin’s liberal Ex-Muslim guests are there to confirm Right-wing perceptions of Islam and perceived Left-Wing fecklessness in the face of Islamic terrorism. David Sirota was brought on to savagely attack Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. This isn’t to say every single interview is Left-bashing. Interviews with Lawrence Krauss and Trae Crowder are clear exceptions. But, I would argue these interviews act merely as fig-leaves the show’s Right-Wing agenda. But, it’s not just Right-Wing, Rubin show is truly “Far-Right.”

Rubin show is clearly focused on the Trump-supporting, anti-Feminist, gamer, anti-Islam/anti-Muslim, populist Far-Right market Harkinson identifies in his article. One clear data point, look where Rubin has gone to promote his show. Rubin’s press tour promoting the Rubin Report has included an “AMA” appearance on the Far-Right “The_Donald” subreddit, InfoWars, YouTube shows hosted by Stefan Molyneux, “Roaming Millennial,” “Sargon of Akkad,” and anti-Semitic twitter user “Blonde.” One of these appearances on Stefan Molyneux YouTube show illustrates the Rubin milieu beautifully since it included 12 other guests Molyneux saw as allies and friends in the media. You couldn’t find a list of more disgusting people in the Far-Right media if you tried.

Google anyone these people from White supremacist writer Vox Day to professional internet troll Charles C. Johnson to Trump sycophants Bill Mitchell and Scott Adams. You will find conspiracy theories and Far-Right extremism. Subject yourself to this dark underbelly of the media, you’ll hear about “PizzaGate,” “white genocide,” “the Rothschilds” and how the DNC killed staffer Seth Rich. This is the fever swamp underbelly of the Right.

Look on Rubin’s social media for more proof, the same friendliness with the Far-Right is readily apparent. Rubin has shared stories from InfoWars writer Paul Joseph Watson and Alt-Right lunatic, rape apologist Mike Cernovich. He’s friendly with Russian-paid media like the Bernie to Trump diehard Cassandra Rules.

Rubin uses the lingo of the Far-Right members of internet culture as if he’s an acne riddled 14 year old kid who never takes off his MAGA hat. This is a clear effort to court the Far-Right. If an actual journalist wrote these tweets, they would universally mocked by sane members of the media, including Republicans and conservatives.

And, then you look at the interviews Rubin has done with media figures and YouTube “stars” of the Far-Right. It’s not a short list and these people say things that are frankly appalling. You’ve got people like “Men’s Rights Activist” Tommy Sotomayor who is virulently anti-Semitic and misogynistic. You’ve got Mike Cernovich, a self-described member of the Alt-Right who is now a national joke for his pathetic and misogynistic self-help guides, along with his lunatic political ramblings. And, you have 9/11 truther Paul Joseph Watson who works for the despicable Alex Jones and InfoWars, just to name a few. Coyne’s objection to this line of argument is,

But Rubin also hosts lots of Leftists and Progressives, and his interviewing style is more in the nature of getting them to air their views (as does Larry King and Steve Paikin), rather than engaging them in argument.

I find this argument ludicrous. While this Larry King softball tactic might work for honest, sane guests, it’s totally irresponsible when you’re interviewing a conspiracy theorist or a hatemonger. If the host is essentially handing megaphone to the guest, their responsibility is to curate wisely. You shouldn’t choose to give a megaphone to people proclaiming 9/11 was an inside job or ISIS is great. Can you interview an awful person in a civil way? Sure. But, you’re responsible for the end-product, what probing questions you asked and what the resulting video file on YouTube portrays.

If the video you post online just serves as propaganda for the hateful conspiracy theory fever swamp outlets like InfoWars, you are doing their bidding. Dave Rubin could choose to interview anyone who would accept his invitation. When he invites someone, he’s tacitly choosing to propagate their views unchallenged. His glowing puff interviews with people like Sotomayor, Cernovich, Watson and Lauren Southern are entirely his responsibility. He’s an adult man and he is responsible for the content he puts out into the world. Rubin’s show serves to propagate and sanitize insane, hateful nonsense.

At the end of the day, Coyne is just being a useful idiot here. He’s whitewashing anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, “Fake News” and a new breed of nationalistic, illiberal politics. I would think that’s beneath people like Coyne, Shermer and other self-proclaimed liberals who defend Rubin. But sadly, I think all we can expect from self-proclaimed “skeptics” is the same hackneyed “the Left is out of control narrative.” Rubin’s critics have the facts 100% on their side, but Rubin and his media apologists will never address this kind of criticism. The “Leftists are against free speech and debate!” narrative plays too well with a certain audience. It has to be deployed, the facts be damned.

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