While I don’t usually do this, I feel when talking about as divisive of a personality as Ben Shapiro that I need to clarify my stance on him ahead of my analysis of his recent interview on the BBC with Andrew Neil. There are many things I can agree with Shapiro on, and quite a few others that I simply don’t. This usually boils down along the ideological lines you’d expect between a libertarian and a neocon. I’ve always appreciated his general approach in debates whether I’ve supported what he happened to be debating for at the time or not. Despite some of the disagreements I have with his stances, I also have a level of respect for him as a debater in general. With that all said, some of that respect declined after his recent interview on the BBC, though not for the reasons that people have been attacking him for. Let’s break it down.
The interview started off well enough with Neil asking Shapiro firm yet fair questions about his overall stances and history as a conservative pundit. It began to go downhill when Neil referred to the new Georgia abortion law, which Shapiro is in support of, stating that the law and its proponents want to take us back “to the dark ages.” With this statement, the gear for the rest of the interview had shifted. Using this type of politically charged language is fine as far as Shapiro is concerned (as he states later on in the interview), but by directing this at the bill’s proponents we can see that this poisoned the well. While it doesn’t justify some of Shapiro’s later actions, it does help to explain them.
After that particular exchange, the interview began to swing back into a more level-headed back and forth. This is where Shapiro made his primary mistake. Rather than moving on from the “dark ages” comment, he made a point to revive it several times as part of his counters to arguments brought up by Neil and began making several assumptions about the interviewer that both had no relation to the line of questions being presented (red herring fallacy) and were meant to diminish the weight of what Neil had to say (Ad Hominem fallacy).
These assumptions caused further issues. At one point in the interview, Shapiro asked “Are you an objective journalist, or are you an opinion journalist?” because of the previous “dark ages” comment, and later came to ask Neil why he wouldn’t “just say he was on the left.” This particular comment showcases the lack of preparation that Shapiro had for this particular interview. Andrew Neil was a researcher for the Conservative party, and is the chair for the group that runs The Spectator, which is conservative publication.
Neil’s interview style is also well known. During interviews, he always takes the position of the opposition when interviewing people so as to get a better grasp of what they stand for, their arguments, and overall ability to contribute on the topic at hand. Shapiro, without this knowledge, proceeded to assume that Neil was similar to the heavily biased media personalities on the left that are so common in the USA and became overly aggressive as the (relatively short) interview progressed.
Neil also shares some of the fault here, however, as is seen towards the end of the interview. In the latter half, Neil began questioning Shapiro’s stance that the current US political climate is too hateful and personal. Shapiro’s belief is that politics have become increasingly divisive not only ideologically, which can be positive, but on deep, personal levels leading to outward hate and aggression between opposed groups; a sentiment I happen to agree with. After bringing this up and establishing that Shapiro does, in fact, believe this, he began to bring up a series of old tweets (some as old as 2012) and previous article excerpts to press Shapiro on potential hypocrisy. Shapiro responded by mentioning the on-going list he has (which has been updated to include this interview) of bad takes he’s previously made stating that these old comments had already been addressed as poor takes. Neil continued to focus on them despite this admittance by Shapiro, culminating in what could easily (and was by Ben) be interpreted as questioning his understanding of Judaism.
Another example of this was Neil questioning the divisiveness that labeling videos “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS X.” Ben retorted that the videos aren’t uploaded or made by him, and he has no place in telling others what to do with the videos in a free country. The knowledge that the videos aren’t directly posted nor named by Shapiro ought to have changed the line of questioning, but Neil continued to apply pressure on the matter even though the core of it had been resolved.
By missing the tone shift that had been started by Neil’s comment, and proceeding down the same combative path (in part due to Shapiro’s mounting aggression) without any attempt to course correct, the result was all but decided.
In the closing section of the interview, Ben had become more and more aggressive to each and every question that had been asked due to the previous poisoning of the well, and a series of misinterpretations on his part thereafter. At one point, he made another Ad Hominem fallacy where he said that Neil was practically an unknown nobody and none of the interview mattered due to this. The final result was Shapiro calling the exchange a waste of his time and walking away.
Now, in debate occasionally this can make perfect sense. If you are of the mindset that your opponent is arguing dishonestly, is biasedly trying to undermine you as a person under the guise of a fair or open discourse, or continuously uses poor tactics to try and set up “gotcha” questions, then there often comes the time to say “this is garbage, there’s no point wasting my time if you’re going to behave this way, I’m out.”
This interview, however, was not one of those times. Because Ben was neither fully prepared walking in, nor did he keep himself under control and simply allowed his assumptions to internally justify his own aggression against Neil, without any real attempt at clarification, the loss is his to own. Thankfully, Ben did just that. Shortly after the interview, Shapiro took to Twitter to update his list of bad takes to include those from the interview, and to declare the score “Neil 1, Shapiro 0” even going a step further to muse about how it feels to be DESTROYED by Neil.
.@afneil DESTROYS Ben Shapiro! So that’s what that feels like 😉
Broke my own rule, and wasn’t properly prepared. I’ve addressed every single issue he raised before; see below. Still, it’s Neil 1, Shapiro 0. https://t.co/UAtAUtIWtO
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 10, 2019
Overall, I take this exchange to be a prime example of what happens when neither party evaluates nor aims to clarify the direction that things are going when debate begins to go downhill. While I might find myself agreeing with Shapiro’s decision to walk had his interpretations been correct, they weren’t nor were they really founded on anything save a common bit of rhetoric that he ought to have already been prepared for. His assumptions, aggression, and lack of prep ultimately are what’s at fault for the way the exchange turned out. That’s my interpretation at least. I’ve added the video before for you to examine and to reach your own conclusions.
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.