The Milo Problem

It was quite the weekend for Milo Yiannopoulos. After Friday night’s typically compelling sit-down with Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time,” the Saturday web buzz crackled with the news that the 32-year-old British provocateur had been named keynote speaker in the usually comfortable mainstream environment of CPAC.

This came as a surprise to many, including some on the American Conservative Union board that oversees the event. A debate ensued over whether a speaker sure to energize some and repel others was the smartest keynote choice.

Then Monday, the questions ran deeper, including but not limited to: Would Milo’s publisher cancel his book, due out in June? (Yes.) And would he be fired from the very job that lofted him to high visibility, writing and editing at Breitbart?

The bomb that exploded in his path is a video clip in which he explores with unfortunate imprecision the occasional gay teen who winds up in a relationship with an older (sometimes much older) adult man. This sparked instant cries that he was advocating pedophilia, which he denied in lengthy detail in a Sunday Facebook post, announcing to all: “I am completely disgusted by the abuse of children.”

But the video keeps alive the question of Milo’s definition of “children.” Or at least his definition of what constitutes pedophilia.

He rightly asserts that an adult eyebrow raised in the direction of today’s rapidly developing older minors is not the same as a sexual taste for pre-pubescent children. But at this point, those layers of nuance became sufficiently uncomfortable that from the brain trust of CPAC to the offices of Simon & Schuster, conclusions were reached that it was time to distance.

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So are these decisions justifiable, or has Milo been done wrong by people who should have stuck up for him?

Any perusal of Milo’s writings (and even more so his speaking) reveals that he makes life hard for defenders, and that seems to be the point. A tireless advocate for freedom of expression, he is a useful example of the old adage that innocuous speech requires no protection; it is the edgy firebrands who will draw negative attention requiring the armor of the Bill of Rights.

But I hope even Milo understands that this moment’s predicament has nothing to do with free speech. Unlike campus fascists who have sought to disrupt his invited appearances, a convention and a publisher have the right to associate with whomever they please. This includes the right to disassociate for whatever reasons they may cite.

We, in turn, are free to understand or lament these abandonments of Milo. So let’s move to whether he deserves such banishment.

Maybe it’s the months of explaining…