One of Sullivan’s readers tries to find some common ground with him on the subjects of Mozilla’s decision to promote and promptly
fire accept the resignation of would-be CEO Brendan Eich (because he donated to support the awful Prop 8 campaign in California) and Brandeis University’s decision to extend and promptly revoke an offer to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali (for doing stuff like talking about how Islam has to be “defeated” and occasionally apologizing for mass murderers). Sullivan is naturally opposed to what happened in both cases because Liberals.
What pisses me [this is one of Sullivan’s readers, remember] off the most about this is that while Eich and Ali are roundly criticized for saying and doing things that are without a doubt intolerant, the governing bodies that are apparently so averse to any semblance of controversy pay absolutely no price whatsoever for making what apparently were, at least in their eyes, hideous mistakes. Brendan Eich resigned, but he wasn’t the one who was given the job in the first place. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was disinvited from Brandeis’s commencement, but none of the people who asked her to speak – and then withdrew the invitation – will pay any price for this. To me, that’s gutless.
This is a really important point. Rescinding Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree, while probably necessary from an institutional credibility standpoint, still has the effect of granting her “aggrieved victim” status and just completely papers over the question of why the hell Brandeis thought it was appropriate to honor her in the first place. If you ignore the Islamophobia, Hirsi Ali’s story is impressive and her cause is more than worthwhile, but how can you ignore the Islamophobia? How can a major university choose to honor this person on the basis of one part of her career but not be aware of the other, more toxic part? And if they were aware of it, did they really not see it as a problem? Was the decision to revoke the degree based on an honest assessment that the things she’s written and said about Islam are not in accordance with Brandeis’s standards, or was it just a cynical attempt to avoid a lot of public backlash? These are important questions that Brandeis has now managed to completely duck, by making the story about the person they were going to honor instead of the process by which they decided to honor her.
Eich’s case is no different. Did Mozilla’s leadership know about Eich’s support for Prop 8 before they promoted him and, if so, did they just not see it as that big a deal? Do they genuinely repudiate his stance on marriage equality or did they just figure they could avoid an uncomfortable conversation by cutting bait?
It all comes back to accountability, which is why I mentioned pundits in the title. Punditry is very likely the least accountable profession there is, and if you doubt me then ask yourself why pro-Iraq War Andrew “fifth column” Sullivan, the man who wrote that “one of [his] proudest moments in journalism” was foisting the late-20th century version of phrenology on his readers, is not only still out there punditing, but has been so successful at it that he’s now got people paying him directly in order to read his Important Thoughts About Things. There’s not a single person who supported the Iraq War who has suffered even the mildest career interruption apart from Judith Miller, and her only because she demonstrably lied to everybody instead of merely being completely and utterly wrong. I realize that everybody–pundits, university bosses, corporate leadership–gets to make mistakes, but at some point if you make enough mistakes, especially big ones, they ought to add up.
The mistakes we make, how many we make, and why we make them all say important things about who we are and whether or not our words and deeds should carry any weight with the people around us. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brendan Eich, like Andrew Sullivan and his fellow pundits, probably aren’t confronted with the consequences of their past words and actions too often, and when they recently were it was only so that people even higher than they are in the public food chain could avoid being confronted with the consequences of their actions. That’s really too bad.