Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein issued a statement explaining his decision to hire Brandon Ambrosino, a writer who has been criticized for peddling misinformation about LGBT people and acting as an apologist for anti-gay discrimination. Klein promised that Ambrosino's work would "receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance," iterating Vox's commitment to properly covering LGBT issues.
The forthcoming news and policy site came under criticism from journalists and LGBT activists after announcing on March 12 that it had hired Ambrosino, a gay writer notorious for his "click-bait contrarianism," including his claim that being gay is a choice and that gay activists are bigoted against opponents of LGBT equality.
Klein defended his decision to hire Ambrosino in an interview with The American Prospect, claiming the hire would help bring ideological diversity to Vox.
In a March 14 post on Facebook, Klein further explained Ambrosino's hiring, stating that Ambrosino's writing will be closely edited and monitored and pledging that Vox would not engage in "frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire":
Over the past 48 hours I've spoken to a lot folks in the LGBT community to better understand the strong, negative reaction to my hiring of Brandon Ambrosino. People felt Brandon had made his name writing sloppy pieces that were empathetic towards homophobes but relentlessly critical of the gay community. They believe we were sending a signal about Vox's approach to LGBT issues: Contrarian clickbait at the expense of the struggle and discrimination that LGBT men and women face every day.
That was never our intention. 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. We want to inform our readers -- not annoy them. Our kind of clickbait tends towards beautiful data visualizations, not frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire.
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.
Brandon applied for the news-writing fellowship, a one-year position focused on helping inexperienced writers develop aggregation and reportorial skills. 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.
But something that often happens to young freelance writers on the Internet is that they end up writing reams of their most controversial opinions before they ever get a chance to do basic reporting or benefit from a routine relationship with an editor. So as 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. He'll be held to the same high standards as all Vox.com employees, and I believe he'll meet them. [emphasis added]
Ezra Klein's nascent news and policy site Vox.com promises readers that its journalists will "really know the topics they cover." But newly minted Vox writing fellow Brandon Ambrosino - a frequent commentator on LGBT issues - has repeatedly demonstrated that his understanding of LGBT topics is superficial at best, and frequently dangerously off-base.
In Vox's Facebook post announcing the hire, Ambrosino noted his interest in LGBT topics. That interest has manifested itself in numerous pieces whitewashing the homophobia of figures like Jerry Falwell and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, asserting that homosexuality is a choice, and condemning LGBT rights activists as bigoted.
Vox's home page promises that it's "hiring journalists who really know the topics they cover" because "[t]here's no way we'll be able to help readers understand issues if we haven't done the work to understand them ourselves":
But a look at Ambrosino's body of work demonstrates that he doesn't understand several basic facts about one of his purported specialties:
In two pieces in The New Republic, Ambrosino asserted that he had made a "choice" to be gay, failing to explain when, why, and how he made that choice. His pieces were criticized for their misuse of academic texts. His assertion also contradicts mainstream medical expertise, which overwhelmingly concludes that a person's sexual orientation isn't chosen.
Of course, Ambrosino has previously spoken of when he started experiencing "gay feelings" and realized he "was attracted to men" - strongly suggesting that his sexual orientation was something he realized, not selected. It's certainly a choice whether or not to embrace one's sexual orientation, but as Ambrosino's own words attest, it isn't a switch you can flip on and off.
In the same New Republic pieces, Ambrosino urged gays and lesbians to learn from the transgender community. Transgender activism, he wrote, is "fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices."
But being transgender isn't a choice, much less a sexual choice. A person's gender identity is a deeply ingrained, intrinsic characteristic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a person's gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Being transgender, as one expert put it, is "part of the human condition." It also has nothing to do with a person's sexuality or sexual orientation.
In addition to not understanding the most basic realities of what it means to be transgender, Ambrosino has also used the term "tranny" - a transphobic slur - to describe transgender people. Assuming that Ambrosino didn't have malicious intent, his use of the slur still reflected a remarkable ignorance of transgender issues for a frequent commentator on LGBT issues.
Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein defended his decision to hire anti-gay apologist Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow but admitted he had not reviewed Ambrosino's body of problematic LGBT commentary before hiring him.
On March 12, the forthcoming news and policy site Vox.com announced that it had hired Brandon Ambrosino -- a gay man who has earned a reputation for defending homophobes and peddling misinformation about LGBT people -- as a writing fellow. The announcement was met with widespread condemnation from LGBT activists and writers who called his hiring an "embarrassment" and a "major mistake."
Klein responded to the criticism in an interview with The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana published March 13. Klein said that he had only read the pieces in question after criticism against Abrosino's hiring mounted, and that while he lacks "the context and the background to perfectly or authoritatively judge this debate," he believes his new hire lacks "an iota of homophobia":
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." "Homophobia"--which activists too often use as shorthand to describe anti-gay views that don't necessarily stem from fear--may be the wrong word for it. But even a cursory read through Ambrosino's writings should raise red flags. Klein, though, seems mystified by the blowback. He acknowledges that's he is new to the process of staffing an enterprise like Vox. "I gotta be honest," he said. "With a lot of this stuff, I'm trying to figure out what success means." [emphasis added]
Ezra Klein's much-hyped news and policy site, Vox.com, has hired Brandon Ambrosino - a gay man who has made a name for himself by suggesting that being gay is a choice and whitewashing anti-gay bigotry and discrimination.
Vox, the news and policy site headed by Ezra Klein, announced on March 12 that Ambrosino had been hired as a writing fellow:
Klein's new venture - announced to considerable fanfare in January - will provide Ambrosino a formidable platform as the go-to gay writer for anti-gay conservatives seeking to legitimize their homophobia.
Ambrosino - whose professional background is as a jazz and tap dancer - first garnered considerable attention with an April 2013 essay for The Atlantic. Titled "Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University," Ambrosino's piece recounted his experience as a student at Liberty University, founded by the inflammatory fundamentalist preacher in 1971. Describing himself as "the world's most hypersexual fag," Ambrosino admitted he was an unlikely candidate to attend Liberty, but in his experience, it was "very different from what you might think of it." He lamented that the school "gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell's soundbytes."
Those sound bites included Falwell's notorious reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for which he pinned some of the blame on gays and lesbians. Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell said:
[T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."
Ambrosino's take on Falwell? He argues that the guy with the "big fat smile" has been unfairly maligned by progressives like Bill Maher. While Ambrosino never got the chance to tell Falwell that he's gay, he "wouldn't have been afraid of his response." After all, Ambrosino wrote, he's confident that Falwell wouldn't have supported stoning Ambrosino.