GETTING PERSONAL

Is There A Whiff Of Homophobia In The Attacks On Chris Hughes?

The brouhaha over Chris Hughes and The New Republic continues unabated. Hughes remains the subject of vituperative attacks that are amazingly and uncomfortably personal. And at some point you have to wonder if there isn’t just a wee whiff of lingering discomfort about Hughes’ sexuality playing into the attacks.

Now, this isn’t Westboro Baptist Church “God Hates Fags” homophobia. These writers to a man (and, one might add, to a white man) have been supporters of LGBT rights. They have risen to the community’s defense on numerous occasions.

But there’s something about the way that Hughes is being portrayed as the “other” that gives you pause. A lot of it has to do with the loathing Hughes’ critics have toward Silicon Valley. Some of it has to do with Hughes’ age–31. Some of it has to do with what seems a lot like resentment over Hughes’ fabulous wealth.

And then there’s a little something else. For example, in his nuclear-tipped column attacking Hughes, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank keeps talking about Hughes’ in ways that make him less than a man: “lost boy,” “childish,” “moist-eyed.” He also alleges that Hughes killed a story unfavorable to Apple proposed after its CEO Tim Cook came out.

Milbank’s postscript?: “R.I.P., TNR. You deserved better than Chris Hughes.”

Nice touch.

Yes, it’s the gay Mafia come to smother the rich journalistic heritage of The New Republic, which includes supporting the war in Iraq, questioning the IQ of black people and ensuring that Clinton’s health care plan died.

More to the point,  there have been few openly gay editors and writer at The New Republic over the years. Former editor Andrew Sullivan is, of course, the notable exception, but Sullivan’s conservative politics, often hostile to the gay rights movement, helped him meld into the boys club that has always run the magazine.

The attacks have also come to encompass Sean Eldridge, who happens to be married to Hughes, as if Eldridge wasn’t his own person. No question that Eldridge’s failed run for Congress was an exercise in chutzpah enabled by Hughes’ money. But what does Eldridge have to do with the changes at The New Republic? Try imagining this story with a straight couple in which the other spouse is suddenly dragged into a workplace controversy. Or a story in which the couple’s photo is the one repeatedly used to illustrate the attack.

Of course, the attacks aren’t just coming from the straight world.

“[Hughes and husband Sean Eldridge] are little more than entitled brats who, like most fabulously wealthy arrivistes who attain their fortunes through sheer luck rather than hard work, are used to getting everything they want, when they want it, and throw temper tantrums when they don’t,” writes James Kirchick (not surprisingly a former New Republic writer) on The Daily Beast. (The headline of his story dubs the couple “America’s worst gay couple.” We could introduce him to some folks who have a better claim on that title.)

Remember these are the very same people who were praising Hughes when he was spending his money the way they wanted him to. Now that’s he’s making his own decisions, well, all bets are off.

Of course, Hughes is nothing like the previous owner of The New Republic, Marty Peretz. Peretz attained his fortune through hard work. He married an heiress. And Peretz upheld the highest standards of journalistic excellence, writing, among other things that, “I wonder whether I need honor [Muslims] and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

At this point, Hughes is a blank slate upon which people project all their strongest feelings. He’s mild-mannered and low-keyed, in a milieu not noted for a surplus of modesty.

“Chris Hughes is history’s greatest monster,” Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza wrote, making fun of the viscous tone of the coverage. Cizilla also argues that Hughes is essentially right to try to change The New Republic. 

“Hughes told the dirty secret of modern journalism,” says Cillizza. “That secret? That it’s, you know, a business.” Cillizza also notes that “largely left out of the debate about what ring of hell Hughes should be relegated to is the idea that maybe he has correctly diagnosed what ails TNR.”

In fact, Jeff Bezos, the non-gay Amazon.com founder who now owns The Washington Post, has embarked on his own re-imaging of a journalistic institution. No one suggested that he’s singlehandedly destroying American journalism.

Could Hughes have handled the changes at The New Republic better? Without a doubt. It was a particularly graceless transition. But the exodus that followed the dismissal of two editors raises an interesting question, which Hughes himself pointed out in an op-ed Sunday. If people were so committed to The New Republic, why did they leave so fast? Not just that, but by declaring it dead, they were doing their damnedest to ensure the magazine dies.

You can disagree with what Hughes did. You can disagree with the way Hughes did it. But perhaps the critics could do with a little more self-awareness. Yes, Hughes isn’t like them. That doesn’t make him a lesser person. But then again, if you ever wanted proof that the Washington elite is a giant club, here’s it is. And the less you’re like the other members of the club, the less welcome you’ll be.