News & Politics

Milo Yiannopoulos Announced as Keynote Speaker for CPAC...Not So Fast

Milo Yiannopoulos (Jeremy Papasso/Daily Camera via AP, File)

Someone please tell me this is fake news.

[See update below]

The Hollywood Reporter:

The Washington gathering, known as CPAC, is the premiere event for established conservatives. This year’s speakers include Vice President Mike Pence, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as well as media personalities like Lou Dobbs and Mark Levin.

None of the 60 or so confirmed speakers, though, will have more stage time than Yiannopoulos at this year’s event, which runs Feb. 22-25 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. The speeches will be broadcast live on C-SPAN.

Organizers of CPAC are set to officially announce Saturday the addition of Yiannoppoulos [sic], whose Friday night appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher has been a hot topic among conservatives and liberals alike. On the show, he criticized HBO stars Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham and addressed his well-known problem with actress Leslie Jones.

Yiannopoulos told The Hollywood Reporter his CPAC presentation will focus on his “experiences in America battling feminists, Black Lives Matter, the media, professors and the entertainment industry.”

As of right now CPAC—the Conservative Political Action Committee—has only announced that Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos will be a speaker at next week’s conference. American Conservative Union (ACU) Chairman Matt Schlapp confirmed on Saturday that the gay provocateur and defender of the alt-right will be there.

But not so fast on the keynote speaker bit. According to ACU board member Ned Ryun, the board was not consulted on the decision to have Yiannopoulos as a keynote speaker:

Ryun later tweeted out:

Ryun told PJM that he will be issuing a press release about the decision on Monday. Reportedly there are other board members who are unhappy about it.

Getting back to Schlapp’s tweet, crying “free speech” is a rather silly way to preemptively defend what Schlapp knows will be a controversial decision. Of course Yiannopoulos has a right to free speech. No one on the right would disagree with that. And he has a right to do whatever he wants in his bedroom. But no one is guaranteed the right to a platform at a conference that has “conservative” in its name. And there’s nothing in the First Amendment that would compel a conservative organization to promote views that are antithetical to conservatism.

It was only a few years ago that CPAC backed away from allowing the Log Cabin Republicans to be sponsors after threats of boycotts from conservative groups. Now it appears that the largest conservative conference in the country will give a platform to someone who feels the need to brazenly highlight his sexual proclivities in speeches and interviews. Someone who jokes about—and maybe even supports—pedophilia.

[Warning: graphic language and sexual content]

That’s in addition to his coddling of the vicious alt-right movement and his bizarre view that fat shaming is a good way to get women to lose weight. Is this the “important perspective” Schlapp thinks conservatism needs more of?

Whether or not Yiannopoulos is keynoting, the decision by Schlapp—or whoever made it—to invite him to speak in the first place has trolling and “look at us!” written all over it. If Schlapp wanted to get the media interested in his conference, he’s accomplished that. Ryan Holiday, who wrote the playbook on trolling, described in Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulatorrecently wrote this about Yiannopoulos’s ability to get media attention:

The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience. Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. Because of that response rate, it’s going to be hard for someone like Milo to market himself through traditional channels. His potential audience is too spread out, and doesn’t have that much in common. He can’t advertise, he can’t find them one by one. It’s just not going to scale.

But let’s say he can acquire massive amounts of negative publicity by pissing off people in the media? Well now all of a sudden someone is absorbing the cost of this inefficient form of marketing for him. If a CNN story reaches 100,000 people, that’s 90,000 people all patting themselves on the back for how smart and decent they are. They’re just missing the fact that the 10,000 new people that just heard about Milo for the first time. The same goes for when you angrily share on Facebook some godawful thing one of these people has said. The vast majority of your friends rush to agree, but your younger cousin has a dark switch in his brain go on for the first time.

In other words, getting the outrage machine fired up is usually good for business. A conference that no one in the media cared about 24 hours ago is now set to go viral. Does Schlapp honestly think that conservatism is best represented by having the most controversial figure (literally) on the right speak at CPAC? Or is this just a desperate attempt to get some free media attention for a conference—and a movement—that is becoming more irrelevant with every passing year? Who knows anymore. The term “conservatism” has gone the way of the word “liberal.” It’s been redefined and twisted into pretzels so much that it’s lost all meaning.

Update 8:39 p.m. Eastern: After quite a bit of social media pushback on the decision to have Yiannopoulos speak at CPAC Matt Schlapp responded via Twitter:

There’s a fair bit of sleight of hand here if you ask me. So Milo won’t be the keynote speaker at the Reagan dinner, which is attended by the media elites and the donor class. Fine. But who’s going to give the final address at the end of the conference on Saturday? That speech in the coveted time slot is essentially the keynote address for those of us with steerage class tickets to the conference. Past speakers have included Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.