On Wednesday, Ezra Klein’s new media venture, Vox, announced that it had hired Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow, presumably to cover the LGBTQ beat. Vox likely thought that by hiring Ambrosino, the outlet would be introducing a brash, unconventional new voice to a broader audience. I understand the desire to explore exciting and avant-garde ideas. But Ambrosino’s ideas are not brash, unconventional, exciting, or avant-garde. They are reckless, retrograde, and vapid—and hiring Ambrosino reflects startlingly bad, potentially catastrophic judgment by Vox.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ambrosino’s oeuvre, his instantly infamous Martin Luther King article will tell you everything you need to know about his particular brand of hackery. Ambrosino writes in only one mode, an irritating combination of smug sophistry and homophobia apologism, and his sole aim seems to be to inform conservatives that their worst fears about gay people are absolutely correct. See how, in his MLK piece, Ambrosino rewrites not just King’s legacy but his actual words in order to shoehorn them into his preposterous proposition that gays are oppressing straight people. Conservatives adore these desperate performances of self-flagellation, which lend validity to their own claims of persecution. It doesn’t matter that Ambrosino’s arguments are unfounded, insulting, and wrong. The novelty of a gay writer scorning gay people for daring to assert their own equality draws accolades from right-wingers, who seize upon Ambrosino’s stories in their efforts to smear the LGBTQ community as a “reflexively irate, rage-blinded” mob.
Yet Ambrosino’s main problem is not that he defends homophobia; the New York Times’ Ross Douthat does that too, but at least Douthat’s views arise from real intelligence and conviction. Ambrosino’s worldview, so far as he has one, is primarily comprised of crass opportunism and toxic narcissism. His writing is a quagmire of tedious ideas and sloppy prose; his angry jabs at the LGBTQ community reek of a writer legitimizing his insecurities by presenting them to an audience that should know better. A typical Ambrosino article takes a self-consciously contrarian thesis (Jerry Falwell was a gay-friendly saint, gay-rights activists are bigots) and immerses it in a muddle of casuistry, victimization, and unintelligible nonsense. On first read, his pieces aren’t infuriating so much as they are baffling: Ambrosino ignores the basic principles of journalism and simply spews free-form argle-bargle, as though he’s swinging a bat at a piñata that’s hanging from a different tree.
So why in the world did Vox hire Ambrosino? Certainly, Ambrosino draws a lot of attention—from the worst possible crowd. Breitbart and Townhall are fans, and Glenn Beck even invited him onto his show to perform his tricks on camera. For a young writer, this strategy of aligning yourself with your logical enemies is a smart business move: Outside of GOProud, there aren’t many gay homophobia apologists left, and Ambrosino has proved himself adept at conning otherwise sensible editors into placing his name under their mastheads. Despite his overwhelming mediocrity, Ambrosino has still managed to corner a market niche in under a year, an ascendance now capped off with a plum fellowship at a glittering new venture.
This success is, to be sure, depressing. But what’s more depressing is how quickly Klein and Vox have abandoned their most basic founding principles. Vox’s stated goal is to “explain the news,” yet Ambrosino’s only known explanatory talent is the ability to translate his private hang-ups into public screeds against his own community. His presence on Vox will be an embarrassment to the website’s mission. But the continuing presence of his lazy, fallacious apologia is already an embarrassment to us all.