Ezra Klein, I'm Calling Bullsh*t on Your Defense of Hiring Brandon Ambrosino, and Here's Why

Posted on 14 March 2014 by Gay/Lesbian News

In the last 72 hours Ezra Klein has been slammed for his announcement that his soon-to-be-launched news outlet, Vox.com, has hired Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow.

In case you’re not familiar with Ambrosino, he recently become a media darling thanks to a handful of essays published on high-visibility sites like Time.com, The New Republic and The Atlantic that barfed his now-trademark brand of despicable, delusional railing against the queer-rights movement all over the Internet.

Since I’ve had the extreme dishonor and great displeasure of spending way too much of my precious time and energy on Ambrosino and his — to be quite frank — dangerous pieces, and since Rich Juzwiak at Gawker already did the dirty work for me, feast your eyes on this quick recap of some of Ambrosino’s offenses:

Brandon Ambrosino is a young gay internet person who stirs up controversy everywhere he points his spoon. He tends to take a contrarian position on things that many LGBT individuals and their allies hold self-evident. You aren’t a homophobe if you are against gay marriage (we need a new word, he says). People who called out Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson for saying the same vile things about gays that people have been saying since gay become a thing are the real bigots. Sit down, Ellen Page, you aren’t so brave for coming out. Being gay is a choice. Jerry Falwell, founder of Ambrosino’s Liberty U alma mater, was actually a good guy.

And then there’s his take on trans issues: He claims that transgender activism is related to “sexual choices” (gender and sexuality and sexual choices are not the same thing, bub) and wrote an essay that trots out the word “tranny” to talk about grammar (no, really), which only people who are total assholes or totally clueless (or both) would do.

So, as you can imagine, anyone with half a brain was pissed about Klein’s decision to hire Ambrosino. Why, oh why, when there are so many brilliant young queer writers doing such amazing work, would he choose this guy?

Gabriel Arana at The American Prospect chatted with Klein about his decision:

In an interview on Wednesday evening, Klein told me he hadn’t read the pieces that had kicked up so much dust before bringing Ambrosino on but did so once he began facing criticism for the hire. “I don’t want to pretend that I have the context and the background to perfectly or authoritatively judge this debate,” Klein said. “But when I read his pieces, I didn’t come away with the impression that he holds an iota of homophobia.”

Wait. What? He didn’t read the pieces that caused so much outrage, and the pieces he did read didn’t seem homophobic? How is that possible?

Arana and many others argued that Klein had hired Ambrosino simply because of his reputation and the hope that his click-baity, contrarian ways might deliver Vox the kind of traffic that can help spell success.

On Friday morning Klein took to Facebook to respond directly to the controversy. In his response he states:

  • “Our approach to LGBT stories will be the same as our approach to all other issues: We want people to read us because we do the best job tracking and explaining the news, not because we do the best job shocking people.” (In other words, Vox.com isn’t interested in click bait.)
  • “Brandon isn’t our LGBT correspondent. He’s not even the only LGBT employee of Vox.com. He is a young writer who we think has talent who’s going to receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance.”
  • “Contrary to some garbled reports, before hiring Brandon I read a lot of his previous work. Brandon’s past writing was often quite pointed and personal, and not a fit for Vox — and I told him so. The writing fellowship requires a very different approach.”
  • “[A]s part of Brandon’s writing test, I asked him to do eight news articles and two explainers — more than 5,000 words of original content, in all. He needed more editing, training and direction. But he showed himself a strong, fast writer who really wanted to learn. And that training is what the fellowship is there for.”
  • “I could’ve, and should’ve, handled this hire a lot better. But I would ask people to give Brandon a chance.”

Let’s break this down, shall we?

  • Klein isn’t interested in click bait or “shocking” people, so he hired one of the most click-baity and shocky gay writers currently on the Internet.
  • Klein actually has read a lot of Ambrosino’s work, and after doing so he realized that it wasn’t a “fit” for Vox, so he decided to… hire him.
  • Klein asked Ambrosino to write more than “5,000 words of original content,” and after Ambrosino did so, Klein realized that he needed “more editing, training and direction,” so he decided to… hire him.
  • Klein wants us to “give Brandon a chance.”

I’ve given Ambrosino a lot of chances. I’ve continually asked him to clarify blatantly incorrect assumptions and, yes, “facts” in his posts, and he hasn’t responded to me once. You’d better believe that as a writer who frequently writes about very personal and controversial things, issues that get people riled up, I’m chomping at the bit to defend myself when someone attacks something I’ve said. But Ambrosino never is, whether the line of questioning is coming from me or any of the other journalists who have pointed out how flawed and problematic his work is.

Why is that? I think it’s because Ambrosino isn’t actually interested in these issues. I think he’s found a way to make a name for himself and — looky! looky! — it’s worked.

Klein’s claim that he didn’t hire Ambrosino because of his reputation, coupled with his admission that Ambrosino’s previous writing wouldn’t be a fit for the site and that he needs a lot of editing, makes no sense. As someone who frequently hires fellows, I can honestly say that if a candidate comes in and I can instantly tell that everything they’ve done up until now isn’t a fit and they’re going to require a lot of editing, I’m not going to hire them. Why would I? There are hundreds (thousands?) of people who would love to have the fellowship that Klein just offered Ambrosino, and I’m willing to bet that many of them would be just as “strong” and “fast” and would “really want to learn.”

Basically, I’m calling bullshit on everything Klein just told us.

And, contrary to what Ambrosino and his supporters might think, none of this gives me pleasure. I’m not writing this from some cold castle surrounded by an overgrown, impassable thicket of thorns while rubbing my hands together and maniacally laughing about trying to ruin the career of another writer. I’m doing this because I think that the kind of writing that Ambrosino has done is dangerous to the queer-rights movement, to my life and the lives of my queer brothers and sisters. This isn’t a game, and I don’t wish ill on Ambrosino. I wish he’d wake up, wise up and shake off the homophobia he’s been steeped in all these years and begin to fight alongside us instead of against us. And if that’s not possible, then at the very least I’d like him (and all the people defending him) to at least be honest about what his true intentions are and stop pretending he’s some na├»ve but well-meaning kid at best, and some kind of alternative brand of freedom fighter at worst.

I would love nothing more than to see Ambrosino see the errors of his ways and change. But in the meantime, I don’t think that Klein should be rewarding Ambrosino’s career of excusing and apologizing for, and therefore helping maintain and even propel, homophobia in our culture (among other offenses) with a fellowship. Why don’t we give this coveted position to someone who is actually not doing harm to our community (and who can actually write)?

Hey, Ezra, if you need a few candidates, let me know. I know plenty of really smart queer writers with “ideological diversity” (your words, not mine), and I can shoot you a list whenever you want.

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