Milo Yiannopoulos’s draft and the role of editors in dealing with the far-right | Jeff Sparrow

The remarks dont constitute a rejection of the Yiannopoulos agenda. Rather, theyre efforts by a professional editor trying to construct that agenda more palatable

” At best, a superficial run full of incendiary jokes with no coherent or sophisticated analysis of political issues .”

The exasperated notes by Mitchell Ivers appended to a manuscript by far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos bring to mind the old fable about the tortoise and the scorpion.

Unable to swim, the scorpion asks the tortoise to carry him across the river. At first, the tortoise is sceptical.” How do I know you won’t sting me ?”

” That would be crazy ,” replies the scorpion.” If I sting you, we’ll both die .”

Reassured, the tortoise allows the scorpion onto his shell and paddles out into the water. Halfway across, the tortoise feels a sharp pain. As the scorpion’s venom begins to work, the tortoise croaking,” How could you do this? I trusted you !”

The scorpion shrugs.” You knew what I was .”

In 2016, when news broke that Simon& Schuster had offered Milo a $250,000 advance, the New Yorker identified Yiannopoulos to its readers as” a thirty-three-year-old editor at Breitbart News … known for stunts such as announcing the creation of a scholarship fund for white men, leading a racist online harassment campaign against the comedian Leslie Jones, and evangelizing against the’ cancer’ of’ angry, bitter, profane, lesbianic’ modern feminism .”

According to Slate’s Katy Waldman, before Yiannopoulos landed his bargain for a book entitled Dangerous, he’d been shopping project proposals around for some time, with other publishers wisely refusing to have anything to do with him.

Milo himself described his eventual encounter with Simon& Schuster like this.

I met with top execs … and expended half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous sentiments. I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building — but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money .”

In other terms, they knew full well what he was.

The publishers pulled Dangerous in February, after a recording surfaced of its author discussing sex between” younger sons” and older humen. Yiannopoulos published the book himself; the draft and editor’s notes emerged in the context of a lawsuit alleging breach of contract.

The internet reacted to the circulation of Mitchell Ivers’s interventions with undisguised schadenfreude, as if a few salty commentaries constituted a crushing takedown of Yiannopoulos’s literary ambitions.

But according to Buzzfeed, Yiannopoulos paid his frequent collaborator Allum Bokhari $ 100,000 to work on the manuscript, which suggests he’s unlikely to feel personally aggrieved by Ivers’s thoughts.

In any case, what’s rather more important is what the draft reveals about the methodology of the far-right’s self-styled provocateurs.

Consider another recently circulated editorial document: the style guide for the openly Nazi publication the Daily Stormer. It was published in a chat group by Andrew Auernheimer( a human Yiannopoulos described last year as” one of the funniest, smartest and most interesting people I know “).

In the guide, the Daily Stormer’s editor, the vile Andrew Anglin, advises would-be contributors how to write for his publication. He instructs them about the correct format for hyperlinks, the usual structure for articles … and the racial slur he prefers. The N-word, he says, is fine but should be mixed with epithets like “monkey”, ” Negroid”, “ape”, etc.

Crucially, he explains the necessity of irony.

” The tone of the site should be light ,” he says.” Most people are not comfy with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging , non-ironic hatred. The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if “weve been” joking or not .”

Then he adds,” This is obviously a gambit and I actually do want to gas kikes. But that’s neither here nor there .”

To be clear, Yiannopoulos is not Anglin( and in fact, the published version of Dangerous explicitly denounces the Daily Stormer ).

But Anglin’s text shows the relationship between form and content for the contemporary far-right. Huffpost’s Ashley Feinberg writes 😛 TAGEND

Remember this style guide the next time an alt-righter says something so hammily outrageous that you begin to doubt its honesty. This is by design. The Daily Stormer and other groups like it want you to be unsure if you should take them severely. Andrew Anglin wants you to think he’s just a troll, that he’s spouting incendiary crap for no other reason than to get a rise out of you. Recollect that the irony and the coy misdirection are all in service of tricking people into following him on his path toward a white supremacist nation. This is what he believes .”

In that context, the Yiannopoulos draft looks rather different.

” The use of a phrase like’ two faced backstabbing bitches’ diminishes your overall point”, writes Ivers.

” Careful that the egotistical boasting that your young audience determines humorous doesn’t induce you seem juvenile to other readers ,” he says elsewhere.

Such remarks do not constitute a rejection of the Yiannopoulos agenda. Rather, they’re efforts by a professional editor trying to induce that agenda more palatable for the book’s perceived readership.

Yiannopoulos requires that kind of guidance.

The leaked Breitbart emails published in October showed, over and over again, Yiannopoulos’s reliance on editors to keep him teetering just on the edge of acceptability.

Buzzfeed’s Joseph Bernstein discusses how the task of Breitbart’s Alex Marlow in editing Yiannopoulos” came down to rejecting anti-Semitic and racist ideas and jokes .”

When he edited a September 2016 Yiannopoulos speech, Marlow permitted a gag about “shekels” but said that” you can’t even flirt with OKing gas chamber tweets”, and he asked for that line to be removed. Marlow held a story about Twitter banning a prominent- frequently antisemitic and anti-black- alt-right account,” Ricky Vaughn “. And in August 2016, Bokhari sent Marlow a draft of a tale titled” The Alt Right Isn’t White Supremacist, It’s Western Supremacist ,” which Marlow held, explaining,” I don’t want to even flirt with okay-ing Nazi memes .”

” We have found his limit “, Yiannopoulos wrote back.

Simon& Schuster’s Threshold Editions orients to a different audience than Breitbart. Nevertheless, on the released draft, you assure Ivers playing the Marlow role- and becoming increasingly exasperated doing so.

” Don’t start chapter with accusation that feminists= fat ,” he says.” It destroys any seriousness of purpose .”

You might object that editors always attempt to present an author’s words in their best possible form, irrespective of the specific debate being made.

That’s true. But the contemporary far right presents a distinctive challenge to anyone in the media since, when you’re dealing with self-designated trolls, style and substance can’t easily be separated.

That’s the real significance of the Yiannopoulos document. Rightwing provocateurs rely on editors, publishers and journalists to keep their words within the boundaries of acceptability.

Obviously, editors have a job to do.

But no one in the media- or anywhere else- should ensure themselves as responsible for prettifying hate speech or the people who use it.

If we know what they are, we should say so.

* Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist

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