The chorus of pundit concern on behalf of the badly treated Eich included an array of misinformation, straw men and flights of logic that makes one wonder why the pundits got so worked up. Headlines like the "New Gay Orthodoxy," "The Backlash Against Eich Crossed a Line," "The Gay Mafia," etc., put one in mind of Hamlet's observation, "Thou doth protest too much. "
Much of the controversy was provoked or motivated by conservative Catholic gay blogger and intellectual, Andrew Sullivan, who said that the Mozilla chief was "scalped by some gay activists." Sullivan's highly flammable statements were quoted in such repetition by critics defending Eich, it's almost as if Sullivan was the only gay person with a worthwhile opinion. Most oft quoted was what Sullivan wrote on his blog
: "Will he (Eich) now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me—as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today—hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else—then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."
Why did a number of "liberal pundits"—Frank Bruni at the New York Times, Will Saletan at Slate, Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic, and Tony Bradley of Forbes—all cry so loudly and at times seemingly illogically? Why was Andrew Sullivan so central to the story, in effect making himself a secondary story? And why, if he was trying to encourage understanding, did Sullivan roil the waters in such a flammable way?
Perhaps if one thinks exercising some muscle on behalf of gay rights is progressive — the right wing and its idiotic talking heads on Fox, like Donald Trump are still trying to undermine gay marriage—then we might gather, as New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio has quickly discovered, that much of the moneyed establishment and corporate-elected officials don't like progressives exercising any muscle. As so many know from history, rights are only gained by the exercise of power, and many, including the New York Times and the establishment blogosphere, don't particularly seem to like others exercising power: they seem to prefer, in this case, that wealthy bigots keep their jobs in the name of diversity and free speech.
But let me try out another theory. Punditry and opinion on the web is very different than for newspapers and magazines—not that papers and mags don't like lots of web traffic, they do, but it is much more of a team operation. In key ways—e.g. at the New Yorker, and the LA and NY Times, the paper edition is still the more important product. And there are hundreds of contributors. But on the web, pundits for websites are much more dependent on eyeballs for their success and livelihood. And pundit and opinion web traffic comes from two things: controversy and links.
It would be an understatement to say that Andrew Sullivan's success is highly dependent on controversy, traffic and links. He took the major step of going on his own with his blog, choosing not to be part of a media company. This also makes him dependent on support from his pundit friends, who by highlighting and linking to his writing, support his business. Every eyeball to Sullivan's blog is monetized. Saletan, at Slate, is wholly dependent on web traffic, and Friedersdorf, at the Atlantic, needs to produce traffic too, as the monthlymagazine has taken somewhat of a back seat to the web enterprise. So like-minded establishment web pundits and writers are codependent. They all are trying to keep their traffic burning.
So sure, you say, everyone gives business and does favors for their friends and allies. So do I. But when it comes to flammable topics of journalistic importance like human rights, we should keep in mind that there are incentives at play that could shape how debates evolve. We had e.g. predictable, understandable and justifiable events in the Eich/Mozilla situation, turned into high controversy, from the conservatives. of course, but also from the "liberals." Why did that happen? Now, obviously this theory can't be wrapped up in a neat ribbon. I cannot be in the heads or hearts of those involved. But how things work on the web is something to keep in mind.
What follows are some of the arguments made by some of the pro-Sullivan pundits.
Will Saletan @ Slate
Answering the Andrew Sullivan call, and leading the way for the pundits was Will Saletan, of Slate who essentially called the push to oust Eich a "witch hunt," and that Eich's personal views shouldn't matter. Michael Hiltzik, a business writer at the LA Times demolishes
Saletan's logic of: "why not purge every corporate employee anywhere who did the same? " Saletan
called disapproval of support for Proposition 8 a "new standard" and wrote, "perhaps we should put down the pitchforks." But for Hiltzik, "that's a foolish take on this case. The CEO of a company isn't just any employee; he or she is the face of the company, the standard-bearer and very much the standard-setter. As CEO, Eich had the power to heavily influence corporate policy at Mozilla, and although he publicly stated that he would uphold Mozilla's existing standards of inclusiveness and equal treatment in human relations, plainly these were at odds with his personal views."
Saletan trots out some older cases of when gays were discriminated in the work place to suggest that Eich got the same treatment, when in fact he is not just any employee, but the star developer, whose bias was already well known, and much anger had already been expressed about it. But of course after his contribution came to light in 2012, he continued to work at Mozilla in a leadership position -- he was not tossed out because of his views. Only when he was going to be the leader of the entire enterprise, was he so forcefully challenged.