How diversity could have saved Ezra Klein’s Vox a homophobic headache

Ezra Klein recently announced the formation of his new media company Vox, to great fanfare.

But the exultation quickly turned into a major headache for Klein as he’s been forced to defend the hiring of 27-ish year old, Brandon Ambrosino, with a history of writing essays that are inaccurate, poorly thought out, and opportunistically anti-gay.

I delved in extensive detail into the Ambrosino controversy in an earlier piece, so I won’t revisit the entire thing here.  But in a nutshell, Ambrosino is a dancer in Baltimore who matriculated at (the late) religious right leader Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in 2003.

Ambrosino is a fan of Falwell, and claims the virulently anti-gay founder of the Moral Majority, who blamed 9/11 on gays, wasn’t really anti-gay at all.

Let me share with you a little Jerry Falwell:

“AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh’s charioteers. AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” – Jerry Falwell

Yes, he was a lovely man.

And lest you think Ambrosino left that whole Falwell-thing back at Liberty, the local paper reports that just last year Ambrosino was a graduate seminary student at Liberty. Yes, he was studying how to be a Jerry Falwell -type religious leader.

I’ll let Gabriel Arana of the American Prospect sum up the rest of Ambrosino’s brief and polemical career in “journalism”:

He most recently stirred up a storm by proclaiming, at The New Republic, that homosexuality is a choice and that he has chosen to be gay.

Brandon Ambrosino is a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Ambrosino thinks Falwell's position on gay rights is misunderstood. Among other things, Falwell famously blamed gays (among others) for 9/11.

Brandon Ambrosino is a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Ambrosino thinks Falwell’s position on gay rights is misunderstood. Among other things, Falwell famously blamed gays (among others) for 9/11.

Time magazine gave him space to call gays the real bigots for piling on Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, who had equated homosexuality with bestiality and said gays weren’t going to heaven (still, Ambrosino says he wouldn’t mind going fishing with the guy).

At The Atlantic, Ambrosino threw his hat in the ring for the founder of his alma mater, who blamed September 11 on gays and accused them of trying to “recruit” children; Ambrosino says liberals like Bill Maher have slandered the Moral Majority founder and says, in Falwell’s defense, that the guy with the “big fat smile” probably wouldn’t have had him stoned to death if he’d known about Ambrosino’s sexuality. Ambrosino also defends the views of ex-gay therapists and same-sex marriage opponents, whom he says aren’t motivated by bigotry.

In The Baltimore Sun, Ambrosino went after the guys in “butt-less chaps and high-heels” at gay-pride marches who earn society’s prejudice with their “hypersexual antics”: “I think there is a subversive power in living out my gay life in a way that seeks to emphasize the common ground I share with straight communities,” he wrote. “I don’t want to participate in an event that seeks to highlight how countercultural I am.” Unsurprisingly, the religious right has been thrilled to find an acolyte among the fallen.

Klein responded to the controversy by saying he didn’t find Ambrosino’s writings particularly homophobic, while at the same time admitting he hadn’t exactly read them before hiring the dancer to be a writer.

Again, I’m not going to revisit why Ambrosino doesn’t deserve a job at a high school paper, let alone the biggest name in new media.  My article is about something else that Arana hit on, that I found particularly interesting.  Diversity:

Brandon Ambrosino.

Brandon Ambrosino.

Vox’s decision to hire Ambrosino shows why it’s so important to have diversity not just among writers but also among the management at journalistic institutions. As Klein admits, he’s not the best judge of journalism on LBGT issues. Which is sort of the point: Not having a gay person in Vox’s leadership—someone who is familiar with the fault lines and sensitivities of the debate—leaves editors vulnerable to making tone-deaf decisions. If Klein wanted a smart young voice on gay rights, he had scores of brilliant, journalistically sound, responsible queer journalists to choose from—Slate’s Stern comes immediately to mind, as does Metro Weekly’s Justin Snow. Perhaps Klein didn’t know where to look, but given the promise and resources of Vox, it’s incumbent on leaders like him to do more than post job openings online; if you want diversity, you have to work at it. Cheap traffic, on the other hand, is low-hanging fruit.

Arana raises a point I’d never heard among the arguments for diversity in the workplace.  Usually you hear about fairness, and about a diverse workplace, especially in the media, permitting a diversity of views to come forth.  But in this case, Ezra Klein’s attempt at diversity backfired because Vox wasn’t diverse where it counted, in its leadership.

Now, it’s a bit of a Catch-22.  You have to be diverse enough, to have someone clued in enough, to be able to avoid making the mistake of hiring a total idiot in the name of diversity.  You’d need someone in a senior position who is gay, and who would either already know about Ambrosino, or would catch the problem when perusing his writings.

What a mess.

To get the full flavor of Brandon Ambrosino, watch this BBC interview from this past February in which Ambrosino takes side of the a homophobic Catholic bigot against Ireland’s lead gay rights advocate.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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