Free-Speech True Believer Dave Rubin, the Top Talker of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web,’ Doesn’t Want to Talk About His Own Ideas

Valid critique of softball questioning, not challenging guests and thus legitimizing with limited to no discrimination between views. Applies more broadly than Rubin:

… Young said that while Rubin’s style often works well, his approach of “asking his guests sympathetic questions, almost never challenging them, and often reinforcing their answers with enthusiastic agreement” fails when interviewing people who are either unreasonable or dishonestly representing themselves—such as YouTuber and accused “cult” leader Stefan Molyneux, who Young describes as “a crank with a long record of misogyny and racism (the real kind, not just ‘politically incorrect opinions’) who masquerades as a rational ‘new centrist’ and whom Rubin has treated as an ally against ’social justice warriors.’”

Rubin might be correct in criticizing the left for moving the Overton Window to the point that any number of right-of-center figures are unjustly tarred as “far-right,” but he has suggested or stated that alt-light YouTubers such as Watson, Molyneux, and Pizzagate propagandist/rape apologist Mike Cernovich all fit in what he’s described as a new political center—a shift in the Overton Window that at the very least begs a more precise explanation of how Rubin would define the current political spectrum.

If identity politics is “the scourge of our time,” as Rubin has said, there would appear to be a disconnect in principle to having hosted uncritical interviewswith Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern—an alt-right fellow traveler and identitarian who argued on The Rubin Report that Richard Spencer’s white nationalism was unfairly characterized as white supremacy and that the Canadian Nazi party was “backed up and egged on” by a Jewish organization because they wanted “more, like, kind of hate crimes to point out”—andTommy Robinson, the British ultra-nationalist activist who prior to appearing on The Rubin Report was known for saying “every single Muslim” had “got away with” the 7/7 bombings and tweeting “I’d personally send every adult male Muslim that has come into the EU over the past 12 months back tomorrow if I could. Fake refugees.”

Rubin later told British columnist Katie Hopkins that in his view Robinson’s politics were “extremely moderate.” As to Hopkins—who before appearing on the Rubin Report was noteworthy for likening migrants to cockroaches and “a plague of feral humans,” as well as calling for a “final solution” following an Islamist terror attack in Manchester—Rubin stated that there was nothing he had seen that would lead him to believe the charges of bigotry leveled against her were fair.

The absence of skeptical cross examination of identity-obsessed right-wing figures—while insinuating that their detractors are the actual identity politics-obsessed bigots—makes Rubin’s critics dubious of the suggestion that his interviewing style is designed to provide his most odious guests with enough rope to hang themselves (as the old saw goes).

Debate Everything, Let the Best Ideas Win

Rubin explained on his show in 2015, “there is nothing more important in a democracy than free speech and debate. We should debate everything…we should engage in ideas we are not comfortable with and let the best ideas win.”

At the start of an interview last year on The Alex Jones Show, Rubin boasted that he had not been presented with questions or topics ahead of time. Yet when this civil libertarian journalist made multiple requests for a recorded in-person, phone or Skype interview, Rubin declined, asking for emailed questions and then refusing to answer them.

Had Rubin obliged an actual interview, I would have liked to know if he had come to any new realizations about the awesome reach of new media, and how platforming and agreeing with certain people and their ideas can be reasonably construed as an endorsement. I wonder if he has come to understand that not merely talking to people with legitimately maligned ideas, but endorsing them as reasonable or centrist has consequences—both for the host and his audience.

Over a week after our email exchange and hours before this piece was to be published, Rubin posted a new Direct Message, responding to some of these very concerns which had been raised by Bari Weiss in her recent New York Times Magazine piece on the Intellectual Dark Web. In the video, Rubin again compares his interviews with controversial figures to those of Larry King, calling the idea that he endorses the things his guests say on his show “patently absurd and actually quite dangerous.”

Rubin addressed the “guff” he has received for his interviews with Molyneux and Cernovich, but said he was “absolutely proud of” his conduct as an interviewer. He also addressed his appearance on The Alex Jones Show, which he defended on the grounds that it allowed him to bring his “message of conversation and classical liberalism to Jones’ audience.” Finally, he pledged to “increase my efforts to shed light on ideas that [guests] have that I’m concerned are unsavory.”

As a new media entrepreneur known to drop his trademark civility when slagging “biased” mainstream journalists as “activists” and—in the insultparlance of right-wing YouTuberssoy drinkers, I would have liked to ask if he believed he had ever let his own biases get the best of him during an interview, as when he declared the anarcho-communist collective Antifa (a group of which I have been a vocal critic) was “creating the most illegal violence” in the United States. I might have asked if he was aware that for all of Antifa’s repulsive violence, left-wing political violence pales in comparison to its right-wing counterpart, the latter of which is responsible for 71 percentof political or religiously motivated killings in the U.S. over the past decade—a figure more than double the deaths attributed to Islamic and left-wing extremists combined.

If ideas are paramount, Rubin has a responsibility to his audience to seek the truth and explore difficult discussions which might make his own audience uncomfortable. If he treats one side of the political spectrum as an unthinking, authoritarian monolith—typically hosting left-of-center guestswho spend much of their time on The Rubin Report criticizing the left—while giving a pass or pleading ignorance to the sins of the right, his audience is left with an incomplete and inaccurate view of where threats to free speech and civil liberties emanate.

By choosing to speak at Turning Point USA events, Rubin bestows his imprimatur on a group which has colluded with Republican state lawmakers in an attempt to have a public university instructor fired for protesting one of their student activists, which curates a “professor watchlist” to “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom,” and whose executive director Charlie Kirk has called for teachersand even entire schools which offend his sensibilities to be dismissed and defunded.

If The Rubin Report is a show built on free speech and nonpartisan skepticism of government, surely there is room to discuss the Republican proposed-bills which would criminalize certain forms of protest, the statebans on discussing homosexuality in public schools, the right-wing attempts to ban “problematic” books from schools, or President Trump’s long-heldhostility toward the First Amendment. After all, these are threats on free expression coming from the government—not college students, postmodernist professors or alt-right shitposters.

Rubin is not incorrect that a disquieting portion of the left in many academic, journalistic, and media institutions engage in a destructive and incoherent call-out culture while pre-emptively declaring an ever-growing number of ideas beyond the pale of discussion. But in failing to offer even cursory pushback on cynical internet hoax artists, avowed identitarians, and anti-immigrant YouTubers who use his show to peddle pseudo-science as evidence for declaring certain races to be genetically prone to criminality, The Rubin Report falls short of an “idea revolution,” and at its worst moments is essentially a re-packaging of reactionary disinformation in a shiny, smiling, high-definition talk show pageant.

Perhaps The Rubin Report intends to move on from the old gang of “centrist” alt-light YouTubers it hosted mere months ago, now that the Intellectual Dark Web’s notoriety grows by the day and Rubin’s gig as Jordan Peterson’s opening act has him performing his brand of crowd-work comedy to sold-out audiences.

Maybe Rubin’s view of where the “new political center” resides has evolved over the past year. Could be that Rubin intends to live up to his maxim that he’ll bridge the partisan divide and explore even the most radical ideas by deferentially entertaining the views of an economic Marxist or an intersectional feminist or a pro-Palestinian advocate or a Black Lives Matter activist or anyone who might be inclined to forcefully disagree with his oft-stated political beliefs.

A forthright and critical conversation with Rubin—a professional talker whose style and reach have at times, in my view, provided illiberalism with a space to take root and grow—intrigues me. But for now at least, I’m left to find Rubin’s big ideas on YouTube.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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