Big Tech Buying Big Con
Crowder, the Daily Wire, and the Ethics of Tapping
So Steven Crowder has collided with Jeremy Boreing and the Daily Wire. What began as what appeared to be what one friend called Crowder’s “Jerry McGuire Moment” (which I admit I had to look up to understand the reference), quickly turned a bit ugly with the revelation of an apparently secret recording of a private conversation between Crowder and DW CEO Jeremy Boreing discussing differing philosophies of doing business.
In what follows, I would like to briefly outline the case for Crowder’s point, and then I want to address the ethics of conversation recording.
First, Crowder’s initial claim was that “Big Con” is in bed with Big Tech. Reviewing an anonymous contract offer, Crowder warned in a video that provisions for salary cuts based on censorship from Big Tech companies (such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) essentially leave conservative commentators out to dry on their own. Jeremy Boreing came out shortly thereafter explaining that the contract was an initial start-the-conversation offer with Crowder and he was happy to claim it as his own. Boreing argued that something like the salary cuts for losing social media platforms is necessary simply because of the math involved in the business venture. A platform like Daily Wire has to be able to count on certain amounts of revenue from social media in order to pay its partners; if that revenue dries up, they won’t be able to pay their partners, hence the proposed pay cuts.
I get the math, and on a purely business level, I understand why it seems like a reasonable, utilitarian proposal. There’s nothing monstrous or insidious about that sort of deal, all by itself. However, I’m definitely sympathetic to Crowder’s overall point, which he claims was never about the money but simply about Big Con (Big Conservatism) standing up for free speech and pushing back against Big Tech. If we’re going to have multi-million dollar conservative news and commentary outlets, what good are they if they are not actively pushing back against Big Tech and seeking to protect their partners from cancel culture? Maybe Jeremy Boreing thinks he’s playing the long game, but I happen to think they are already halfway over the waterfall that will soon take them down the FOX News drain. Denise McAlister is on record claiming that she was fired from the Daily Wire for being outspoken about the sinfulness of homosexuality. Ben Shapiro reportedly told her that he didn’t want to rock that boat because they happen to be big donors/sponsors.
I’ve also written previously that Jeremy Boreing’s razor ad was a pretty significant faceplant: pushing back against woke cancel culture by weaponizing proto-woke motifs isn’t a winning strategy. While I don’t really care if Jeremy wants to joke around about being the Daily Wire “god king,” strutting around his offices with four boobs (two on either side of him) is what got us here in the first place. And by “here,” I mean that you cannot objectify women, turning them into objects to be used for “conservative” ends, and then complain when some men decide they would like to cut them off teenage girls or put some fake ones on themselves. I certainly grant that men lusting after women is more “natural” than men lusting to be women or deform women. But that’s like saying it’s more natural to steal steak than trash. Stealing is still a sin, and sin is the kind of poison that always destroys and warps. Sin is insanity, and there aren’t any brakes on that car. Why was Boreing cool with his Razor Ad? Because sex sells. It makes money. Of course, Boreing thinks he’s making conservatism sexy, and I’m all for the alternative economy and pushing back against woke razors. But you can’t put a little bit of eyeliner on and insist that you’re sticking it to the Drag Queens. Even if all your fans go along with it, that’s still utilitarianism. Doing whatever “works” is not taking a sledgehammer to leftism; it’s actually getting a sledgehammer ready for leftism.
Finally, Crowder’s point seems legitimate to me because of Jordan Peterson’s interview with Dave Rubin concerning his boutique, test-tube “family.” The atrocity of that conversation, as Peterson’s grand welcome to the Daily Wire still astonishes me. And as I noted at the time, it was right around the same time that the Daily Wire announced that they were working on children’s programming since Disney has gone woker than an angry Karen at a BLM rally in Seattle. Given the way Peterson handled Rubin’s homosexuality, claims of “marriage” to his sodomite lover, the rented uteruses, the eggs purchased from a Sears catalogue, and his freezers full of breastmilk, I believe Jeremy Boreing and the Daily Wire also still owe the whole world an apology for presenting that steaming pile as anything close to conservative.
The juxtaposition of that interview with the announcement of children’s programming colored me nonplussed. The same Daily Wire that had just stroked its three thoughtful philosophical chin hairs contemplating the purchase of eggs, renting of wombs, and freezers full of breastmilk would like to provide children’s programming. At this point, they have lost all credibility (Matt Walsh’s documentary notwithstanding) on the subject of what is a woman, a family, a marriage, children, or appropriate content.
Thus far, my concerns with the Daily Wire, and why Crowder’s warning that Big Con might be getting sodomized by Big Tech seems reasonable to me. Sorry, let me say it nicer. Big Tech might be buying Big Con’s eggs and inseminating them in test tubes in order to grow good liberal citizens in the Daily Wire’s rented womb, looking a little conservative (with cleavage like their mom), but definitely ideologically of their father.
I have no idea if these sorts of compromises are even on Crowder’s radar. But I would hope they are, and if they aren’t, maybe he has his own list of free speech compromises.
The Ethics of Secret Recordings
At the same time, unless another shoe drops, and some massive scandal is revealed at the Daily Wire, it looks to me that Crowder made a major blunder in secretly recording a phone call he had with Jeremy Boreing about the Daily Wire business model and releasing snippets of it publicly. I think Crowder was free to talk about his concerns with the proposed contract and business philosophy, but recording someone without their knowledge or consent is an act of war. Recording someone without their knowledge or consent is to identify them as your enemy.
This is because recording someone without their knowledge or consent is a form of deception. When we talk to one another, we generally assume the context of our conversations, and it is a form of deception to allow someone to assume one context (friendly, informal discussion/debate) when another is actually in mind (every word is being examined, fishing for dirt/sabotage). Of course if you want to ask for permission to record or announce that a recording is in progress for the sake of keeping a faithful record of the conversation, that is certain permissible, and can be perfectly friendly, but that openness keeps the conversation friendly because it is honest, straightforward, and not at all duplicitous. But secret recordings are duplicitous.
Of course in a world of modern technology, it is incredibly easy to record or be recorded. We often joke that with iPhones and Siri and Alexa, all of our homes are bugged, all of our conversations are being recorded. I mean, we’ve all had the eerie experience of talking to someone about spatulas, and then five minutes later, scrolling on Facebook there’s an ad for spatulas. I mean, it’s not even very subtle.
Nevertheless, in the ordinary course of things, when you call someone up on the phone or go to coffee with them, even when you’re negotiating a potential business deal, good faith, means, well, good faith. It means that while people certainly may have multiple loyalties and responsibilities to juggle, what is being discussed and debated is what is being discussed and debated.
As a pastor, I’ve had situations where an aggrieved spouse has secretly recorded conversations or arguments with their spouse. While I can sympathize with the instinct (e.g. I want my pastor to hear exactly what she/he sounds like in private), unless we are talking about actual criminal activity that needs to be taken to the police, it is almost always like pulling out a nuke at a fist fight. Don’t do it. While a relationship can be severely strained by arguments, losing tempers, harsh words, people do not understand the damage that can be done by duplicity, by deceptive recording. It is one thing to simply disagree, to disagree vehemently. It is another thing to submarine all trust.
“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Prov. 18:19).
The only other category the Bible admits would be lies/deception that trick people into doing the right thing. We see this with Jacob and Rebecca deceiving Isaac, tricking him into obeying God and giving Jacob the blessing. Tamar, the daughter in-law of Judah, deceives her father in-law into providing for her, and there are some court intrigues under David, where Joab sends the wise old woman in to plead before David, and later, even Bathsheba’s plea for the throne for Solomon included some sleight of hand, calculated to prod David to do what needed to be done. But that doesn’t appear to be what is going on in the Crowder/Daily Wire collision. This appears to me to be a legitimate conflict of visions and principles that got personal. The collision would have already made the personal relationships that existed more strained as it is, but I think Crowder’s decision to record a private conversation and release excerpts of that conversation needlessly punched below the belt.
So I have sympathy for Crowder’s concerns, and structurally, I actually agree that Daily Wire has a business model that will long term suck them into the big money liberal vortex (if it hasn’t already). While many of the players and contributors have personal principles of conservatism (which I’m very grateful for!), the fundamental ideology governing the business model is a right-leaning libertarianism and utilitarianism, which is ultimately a humanistic cancer in our society. It’s great to have the libertarians as co-belligerents against bloated, overweening government, and on many policies, we can agree, since biblical conservatism really does envision a small, limited civil government and great freedom for individuals, families, and associations. But if we do not have a structural commitment to the biblical principles of liberty (freedom from the coercion of Big Tech, crony capitalism, etc.), it will not last long.
*And for the same reason, I would urge Crowder to admit that the secret recording was below the belt, unethical, unkind, and apologize. If he really believes in conservative values, then that would prove it.*
Otherwise, as it stands, it appears that Crowder has employed some of the same utilitarian worldview in the name of conservatism and calls his whole complaint into question, and that would explain why Republicans and conservatives in general can’t have nice things.
One last thought: some of you may wonder why it wouldn’t be ethical to consider Daily Wire an enemy since they already appear to be so compromised on homosexuality and eugenics. Well, I would grant that someone might conclude that (although I don’t, since folks like Walsh and Knowles seem to be holding a principled biblical line, albeit as Roman Catholics), but even if someone has concluded that they are enemies, I think good faith includes the honor of actually declaring war. Don’t say you’re still friends despite this disagreement and then stab your “friend” in the back publicly. That isn’t good faith. If you’ve concluded that your former friends are not friends anymore but actually enemies, then say so. Tell them directly. Then feel free to record every conversation you have. In this world there will be fights, and there will be wars, but we are Christians, and so we believe in just wars and clean fights.