Milo Yiannopoulos: A Story of Irony, Karma, and Grace
If you’ve been following the saga of Milo Yiannopoulos this week, in which an edited video surfaced of the right-wing provocateur and internet “super villain” seemingly condoning pedophilia during an appearance on an obscure podcast program, you know the Internet is abuzz with his rare public apology, a combative press conference, and long-time critics crying “We. Told. You. So.” While the unedited version of the video provides more clarity into Milo’s comments, it hardly brought much vindication. Viewers were left with Milo making the case for ‘young boys’ who are ‘sexually mature’ having healthy sexual relationships with fully adult older men during a conversation initially centering around 13-year-olds.
To Milo’s credit, he released a video explanation condemning any and all acts of pedophilia and sexual abuse and clearly explained his position,which pretty much boils down to teens who reach the age of consent in the UK at 16-years-old can often find meaningful and affirming relationships with older men who take care of them and show them the ropes. Milo explains his own experience at 17 getting into a relationship with a 29-year-old man that lasted for a decade. He apologized for using the phrase “young boys” insisting he always meant teens who reached the legal age of consent. He initially took responsibility for the remarks and showed a glimpse of unusual vulnerability while sharing his own story of childhood sexual abuse and later adult relationships. However, as details emerged about the possible motives of those who released the tapes, Milo began shifting blame to a conspiracy concocted by “the media” and “Republican establishment” to ruin him due to his relentless crusade for “free speech” and dismantling political correctness. Responsibility for his undeniable disturbing and reckless comments shifted from himself to the agenda-driven, unfair media.
“This is a cynical media witch hunt from people who don’t care about children. They care about destroying me and my career, and by extension my allies. They know that although I made some outrageous statements, I’ve never actually done anything wrong. These videos have been out there for more than a year. The media held this story back because they don’t care about victims, they only care about bringing me down. They will fail,” wrote Milo. “My full focus is now going to be on entertaining and educating everyone, left, right and otherwise. If you want to brand or stereotype me, good luck with that.”
Now, whatever you think of the tapes, Milo’s clarification and the role of that big-bad-media, the underlying irony of it all should be unmistakable to anybody even remotely familiar with Milo’s career.
The man who made a name for himself precisely by bullying ideological foes with baseless accusations, stereotypes, out-of-context information and outright lies is now pretty pissed that “the media” has done the same to him. Suddenly, Milo is pretty concerned about verifiable facts, contextual accuracy, and giving the benefit of the doubt — elements glaringly absent from Milo’s own “journalism” career. It seems Karma served up quite the dosage of Milo’s own medicine to swallow.
Nonetheless, he pleaded with listeners to hear his side of the story.
All Milo wants here is a little understanding of his life experiences, a little forgiveness for misspeaking, a little compassion for his own pain as a sexual abuse survivor — he just wants a little grace. And he should have it. As a Christian, a sexual abuse victim, as a human being who cares about general fairness even for the “other team,” I believe this to be the right thing to do. But it cannot be overlooked that the grace Milo is demanding for himself is the very grace he spent his entire career denying to others — setting out to destroy the public reputations of political and cultural opponents through the very same tactics now supposedly wielded against him.
Where was Milo’s disdain for ideologically-driven witch-hunts when he was leading the charge to destroy Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King’s credibility? Where was Milo’s concern for verifying facts when he was relentlessly publicizing the baseless claims that Shaun King was really a white man posing as a black man? Where was his disdain for “deceptively-edited” evidence when he was using pieced-together documents and interviews that conveniently left out the parts supporting King’s biracial heritage?
Where was Milo’s dismay for reputation-ruining and harassment when he used his national platform to publicly out and ridicule a private transgender college student at her own university?
Where was Milo’s outrage of stereotypes when he was joyfully clinging to a barrage of them against black people, gay people, transgender people, jewish people, women, feminists, and Muslims?
Where was Milo’s deep conviction for truth and accuracy when he repeatedly cited misleading statistics to vilify transgender people? Over and over, Milo argues transgender people should be prohibited from using the bathroom matching their gender-identity as a “safety issue” since transgender people are “disproportionately involved” in sex crimes, failing to to mention they are disproportionately on the *receiving* end of sex crimes, not the perpetrators of it. Only one case of an alleged transgender person assaulting someone in a bathroom has been confirmed in the last 35 years, while 50 percent of transpeople report experiencing some form of sexual abuse and 70 percent of transpeople have been “denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms,” (according to the Williams Institute and USA Today).
I’d imagine Milo’s utter disgust with being unfairly labeled a pedophile-proponent is on par with how Black Lives Matter activists feel when Milo regularly calls them a *hate group* and literally compares them to The KKK.
While Milo fancies himself a Free Speech Crusader framing any pushback against him as an attack on free speech itself, what we are really left with is a troubled young man who maintains public attention through cruelty, sensationalism, and misinformation. Milo should not fade into irrelevancy over misconstrued charges of pedophilia-praising. An honest viewing of the tapes dispels that. And he certainly should continue to enjoy the same free speech we all have in this country. But let us not forget that free speech rights only guarantee that the *government* will not penalize you for expressing your views. Free speech rights *do not* guarantee that you will be spared from public scorn, refutation, protest, or exile from privately-controlled platforms. No one has the right to a national platform, but must earn a place among the spheres of influence one seeks — spheres that set standards in order to participate. The right to free speech does not mean Milo deserves a seat among serious journalists and political commentators. It does mean Milo must be given prominent airtime or book deals. Not all viewpoints hold the same weight or are given the same exposure, though all viewpoints can be expressed. This is not about conservative vs. liberal worldviews by the way, it’s about the repeated propagation of demonstrably false and destructive statements. Media outlets are also free to include Milo and other lowest-common-denominator type commentators if they wish, but no one owes Milo a place in the spotlight. His exclusion from spaces of higher-learning or other mainstream venues are not a violation of free speech. Milo should continue exercising his right to free speech in the public spheres that are designed for the outrageous and unsubstantiated: on street corners, in the echo chambers of fringe groups and amidst the darkest corners of the internet reserved for conspiracy theorists, extremists, and trolls.
We should not succumb to the false narrative that free speech somehow demands all viewpoints and voices be treated equally. Don’t demand Milo be ostracized from reputable outlets because of these controversial videos, but for the proven merits of his previous and current work. It’s the only option both Grace and Fairness allow.