Tacitus now blogging at the Guardian?

Joshua Treviño’s first [and last!] column for Guardian US on Republican politics will appear on Monday.

(Or not. Poll at foot of page.)

Joshua Treviño for many years blogged under the name of “Tacitus”. As Tacitus, in 2004, he founded a discussion board so explicitly rightwing that its posting rules treated centrist or left-wing comments as disruptive behaviour for which even an unwitting offender could be banned without warning:

A little clarification is in order. Pursuant to the mission statement, this site is explicitly meant to serve as a conservative and Republican community. Postings, comments, etc., contrary to this purpose fall under the rubric of “disruptive behavior” and will result in banning. You may or may not get a warning — it depends on how harried the moderators are. If you are coming from a non-conservative, non-Republican context, you are still welcome here, but you must respect the site’s stated purpose.

That stated purpose was, if you weren’t a Republican, to make you one:

Nazis, Islamists, Communists and racists are unwelcome at redstate.org. Any other person of basic good sense and goodwill, regardless of party, is welcome to participate and hopefully come around to the ideals of Republicanism.

By “Islamists” Treviño wanted to be clear that he only meant bad Muslims. He was banned from Obsidian Wings (“The Voice of Moderation” – a multi-member blog which has always aimed at having a range of political voices) because he accused one of the bloggers, an evangelical Christian, of “promoting Islam” by quoting approvingly the chief Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, saying in his annual sermon:

“Islam is the religion of moderation. There is no room for extremism in Islam,” he said. He called on Muslims to “protect non-Muslims in the Kingdom and not to attack them in the country or anywhere. Islam is a religion of peace that abhors attack on innocents.”

Treviño’s response to this was:

You are intent on promoting Islam — and yes, I think that is an accurate phrasing — inasmuch as you chronically misrepresent it and its spokesmen in order to portray it positively. If this isn’t “promotion,” precious little is.

While one of the 2006 Lincoln Fellows at the Claremont Institute Treviño wrote:

It is indeed difficult to imagine now the methods that transformed the Philippines for us, and South Africa for the British, from bitter foe to steadfast friend being applied in Iraq. Would that they were. But patriotism, pride, and honor are nonetheless still present in the American character. It is the American political class that lacks them in corresponding measure.

This is no longer available on their website or on Treviño’s old website (Trevino.at) but it was praised at Redstate:

It is obvious that Josh has given serious, informed and analytic thought to the matter, and his conclusion is a grim and portentous one indeed. He thinks it would take an effort of the complexity, determination, and ruthlessness as great as that undertaken against the Boers by the British at the turn of the 20th century. This consummate act of imperialism, requiring all the above qualities in abundance, succeeded in, as Josh puts it, “slowly ground[ing] into submission” an insurgency of guerillas.

Josh’s essay (or at least the segment dealing with the Boer War, for there is much more to it) has an unmistakably clinical edge to it. It is, in the older parlance, an effort of “scientific” reason. As such, it is not averse to making shocking discoveries. It aims at an answer approaching the character of “objective”: what would it actually take to put down a guerilla war waged among civilians?

Damned at academic-blog Crooked Timber, where it was suggested Treviño thought of himself as Green Lantern:

Do you think the problem with people who think this way is that they don’t read enough comic books, or do they read too many? (I read a lot, so sometimes I worry.)

And demolished by a historian of the Philippines at Obsidian Wings:

“Patriotism, pride, and honor” may well have been part of the American character then, but so were racism, which was widely and nastily displayed at this time (both in the field and in comments and cartoons at home), and a propensity to torture, including the “water cure” for captured or suspected “insurrectos.” (There were extensive Senate hearings on the latter in 1902, if anyone desires documentation.) The will to conquer was predicated on the belief that it was perfectly acceptable to do horrible things to lesser peoples, which we did, as did the British, who developed “concentration camps” to deal with the Boers.

I get the impression that more and more since 2006, Joshua Treviño chose to write only for a conservative audience – and by conservative, I don’t mean the moderately right-wing Tories or UKIP, I mean conservative by the standards of the Republican Party, the US’s BNP. (You think I’m exaggerating? Read the Texas Republican Party’s manifesto.)

I noticed that Treviño had resurfaced to write in praise of Andrew Breitbart after his unexpected death early on 1st March this year:

For those of us working in the conservative movement, and especially in its media arm, the legacy of Breitbart is simple. He reminded us of things that should never be forgotten: that the truth has more power than the lie, that freedom defeats oppression, and that we must fight for both every waking day. He was a genius of the communicative art, and a pioneer in the marriage of new media to enduring principle.

Andrew Breitbart was known to be such a consumnate liar that when he died suddenly, his own supporters assumed that the announcement of his death on his website was probably a hoax, and didn’t believe it until it was reported by an independent news source. I go into more detail about Breitbart’s spectacular dishonesty here.

It’s difficult to know, then, what Treviño could mean by Breitbart’s career proving “the truth has more power than the lie” unless Treviño has mentally convinced himself that what promotes right-wing propaganda is “true” and what contradicts it must be false. This is the kind of reasoning that would lead him to ban any non-conservative comments from his conservative discussion board as “disruptive”.

On 18th August Ali Abunimah wrote at Al-Jazeera:

Something has gone badly wrong at The Guardian. In the name of “robust debate”, the venerable left-leaning liberal newspaper has effectively given its stamp of approval to speech that goes beyond mere hate, speech that clearly crosses the line into incitement to murder unarmed civilians and journalists. What lies behind this worrying development, and what does it tell us about the state of media in general?

On 15 August, the Guardian announced the hiring of Joshua Treviño as a correspondent with the paper’s US politics team. Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of the Guardian US, said that Treviño would bring “an important perspective” to readers.

Treviño is a Republican party operative, paid political consultant and ideologue for hire. But while some may not like those attributes, they would not make him unique among columnists. What does distinguish Treviño is his propensity to call for violence.

The Guardian will publish articles from almost anyone on Comment is Free. Before August this year, Joshua Treviño had written four articles for them, including the praise of Breitbart. This is an admirable attitude (one Treviño himself doesn’t share): but to invite someone to be on the editorial team suggests a definite respect for their views that Treviño certainly isn’t due.

Today, the Guardian announces Joshua Treviño as merely a regular columnist:

Today the Guardian announced the addition of Josh Treviño to its commentary team in the United States. Formerly of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Treviño will be the newest commentator for the Guardian’s growing US politics team through his column On Politics & Persuasion which launches on Monday 20 August.

The restrictions of character count and the speed of discussion means anyone who has been on Twitter long enough may have made a tweet or two they really wish they hadn’t and they’re sorry for. I do not see that compunction in Josh Treviño’s a muddled non-apology apology for the tweets:

In the ensuing Twitter back-and-forth with multiple outraged interlocutors, I focused on defending the rational integrity of my case – without pausing to consider that it was badly marred by its lack of rhetorical integrity. In succeeding, to my mind, in the sphere of argument, I missed the point: which is to succeed in the sphere of communication. Winning a process victory means little if no one else is convinced. My approach was tailor-made for the Romney campaign, perhaps, but not for the real world.

Instead, the widespread impression has arisen that I actively urged the IDF to shoot Americans, that I welcomed their death, or that I hoped for that outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Disturbingly, Ali Abunimah says the Guardian’s press release has been ninja-edited (and shows fair evidence):

Note the disappearance of the terms “editorial team” and “correspondent.” The Guardian also changed the headline from “The Guardian adds Josh Treviño to growing editorial team” to “The Guardian adds Josh Treviño to growing US team.”

The changes are quite clear from this screen capture of a Google search.

It’s really quite astonishing that the Guardian would ask me to make a correction and think it could get away with such a shoddy attempt to cover its tracks.

That’s indeed disturbing. Though I am relieved to know that if Joshua Treviño had ever been invited to be one of the editorial staff at the Guardian, he was disinvited when they realised what he was like.

[Update – The Guardian claims this was simply an error in their initial press release: Helen Lewis notes

the current press release still gives the Guardian’s US press officer as a contact for “bookings” for Treviño, which they don’t do for any old Cif contributor (full disclosure: I am any old Cif contributor).

It also ignores the fact that Treviño has written for the Guardian before: in February 2011, March 2012 and August 2012, according to his author page. It would be odd to press release “Person Who Has Written For Us Before is Still Writing”.

Very odd. Do they usually do press releases to announce that CiF contributors have now become weekly columnists?]

David Frum, self-described conservative Republican, reacted to Joshua Treviño’s tweets and the subsequent furore:

Treviño was among the vast majority of Americans to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense against the “flotilla” movement seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Since the first such flotilla included a terrorist-funded boat full of armed extremists who tried to kill Israeli soldiers, Treviño was on fairly solid ground here—and most Americans felt the same way.

[Update: The claim about the “armed extremists” on the first Gaza flotilla: factually untrue. The claim that “most Americans felt the same way”: debatable, but herewith a selection of American voices in 2010 who did not. Clouds and To Bert, From Ernie by a conservative Obsidian Wings blogger: Israel’s Unjustifiable, No-Win Move by Megan McArdle, a conservative columnist at The Atlantic: and Israel’s Aid to the Free Gaza Movement, or how to lose an Information War by Robert R. Mackey.]

Joshua Treviño is Vice President for Communications at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. This is a conservative think-tank which proudly declares it is on a mission

to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.

Funded by thousands of individuals, foundations, and corporations, the Foundation does not accept government funds or contributions to influence the outcomes of its research.

To illustrate what that actually means: the Texas Public Policy Foundation was one of numerous groups funded by the Koch brothers to support the legal effort to overturn the recent Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court.

Charles and David Koch are oil and gas billionaires. From Rolling Stone, 15th April 2012:

Over the past 30-some years, they’ve poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don’t oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can’t help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script,” and themselves as supplying “the themes and words for the scripts.” Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett’s checking account, and you’re halfway there.

That’s who’s been paying Joshua Treviño to campaign for “a different direction for their government”: that’s who – you have to think – the Guardian have just hired for a weekly column.

Update, 17:30 Monday 20th August: No sign of a Joshua Treviño column On Politics & Persuasion yet at the Guardian, though it was meant to launch today.

Update, 21:27 Monday 20th August – Joshua Treviño’s first column is up, Romney-Ryan, counterintuitive champions of Medicare but the poll results were:

  • 0% – The Guardian made a mistake on their press release: it’s not this Monday but next Monday. Or Tuesday. Whatever. These things happen.
  • 14.29% – Joshua Treviño is upset by the fuss over his Gaza tweets, and so is late with his copy.
  • 28.57% – Joshua Treviño’s column required hours of attention from Guardian lawyers to confirm any calls to violence were the right side of the law.
  • 57.14% – Joshua Treviño has been sacked. Soon, we will all receive press release “corrections” to that effect.

There were no calls to violence, so the correct answer was probably the second (upset by the fuss).

Sadly, the market of the Internet rules that the more attention Treviño’s column gets, the righter the Guardian will suppose they were to have him write for CiF.

And more on Joshua Treviño’s violently hateful tweeting: Guardian’s Treviño: Only way Mavi Marmara killings could be “better” is if “IDF drew Muhammed on a bulkhead”.

Update, 24th August: Joshua Treviño won’t be writing for the Guardian any more.

On Monday 28th February 2011, Treviño wrote in the Guardian:

Consider, too, what Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told me this past Wednesday in Istanbul (from where I am writing), when we discussed the Muslim Brotherhood in a group conversation about Islam and democracy.

The Brotherhood, said the PM, “shouldn’t be part of the [democratic] process as long as they don’t reject violence and extremism … Anyone who wants to be part of the political process should adopt values that are compatible with democracy.”

That’s a Muslim democratic head of state affirming some very Burkean basic principles.

On 25th July 2011, Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder/editor of Sarawak Report, wrote an op-ed in Free Malaysia Today News, mentioning Josh Treviño as one of a set of ‘Anti-Islam bloggers in US on Najib/BN payroll’

The story was cited by Ben Smith in Politico on 28th July 2011, who notes that “Consultant Josh Trevino, also mentioned in the piece, says it’s ‘completely false.'”

But Ben Smith adds the next day:

I wouldn’t return to this marginal story except that I seem to have been misdirected by one of those consultants, Joshua Trevino, who wrote me that the story — which did botch various details about the American blogosphere and other matters — was “completely false.”

The financial arrangements that the Malaysian story alleges between Trevino, another blogger, and a Malaysian party aren’t possible to pin down, but after I posted the item, a source forwarded some 2008 correspondence between Trevino and a group of American political bloggers, from Ezra Klein to Mary Katharine Ham offering them a free “once-in-a-lifetime” Malaysian junket, paid for, he said in an email at the time, by business interests associated with Malaysian politics; the trip fell apart before he could fulfill a promise to specify the sponsors, but he mentioned in a May, 2008 email that he was “running” Malaysia Matters, which he described as educational and neutral.

Ben Smith is now editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, which has published a joint statement from Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief, Guardian US, and Joshua Treviño, explaining his rapid departure:


“Under our guidelines, the relationship between Joshua and the agency should have been disclosed before the piece was published in order to give full clarity to our readers.”


“I vigorously affirm that nothing unethical was done and I have been open with the Guardian in this matter. Nevertheless, the Guardian’s guidelines are necessarily broad, and I agree that they must be respected as such.”

We have therefore mutually agreed to go our separate ways and wish each other the best of luck.

Well well.

The most recent tweet from Treviño is:

Ali Abunimah notes that he pointed out this unstated conflict on 18th August, two days before Treviño’s first column was published (and it was picked up by Max Blumenthal and Sam Knight among others) and that Treviño’s departure does not resolve all the issues raised by his arrival:

The Guardian has done the right thing. It may have cited the conflict of interest in order to save face, but that reason was certainly enough to call into question the decision to hire Treviño. Treviño’s dishonesty was also on display in his mendacious “clarification” of his tweets calling for violence, which it has yet to correct. That is pending business.

But everyone who contacted The Guardian to express their views on its disastrous judgment should be pleased with this outcome. The Guardian should reflect deeply on this debacle and work to rebuild readers’ trust.

Update, 25th August:
CIFwatch, the self-proclaimed site for “Monitoring and combating antisemitism, and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy” has published, declaring “Guardian caves in to bullying on Josh Trevino“. As ever, their post is mostly nonsense: their notion that only “extremists” objected to the Guardian hiring a member of staff who had openly called for peaceful protesters to be killed is just plain wrong, and that’s not the only factual error in the post.

The one point that everyone agrees on: the Guardian had contrived “a breach of conflict of interest under its editorial code as the pretext for terminating Trevino while ignoring the real reason behind his termination”. The breach existed, but no one so far says they believe that’s really why the Guardian sacked him.

Nonetheless, there is one point where they have a point and it’s this: Joshua Treviño should still be able to write articles for CiF. Even an advocate of violence against peaceful civilians, should be able to write articles for CiF, so long as they don’t advocate killing people in CiF: the whole point is that anyone can. The Guardian has much higher standards than the founder of Redstate, who would ban you for arguing that the evidence shows George W. Bush was a deserter.

Also, I wish I could believe the Guardian had sacked Treviño because of his sleazy paymasters rather than because they’d only realised after they hired him that he was the kind of guy who posts gleeful comments about dead civilians and then can’t write a good apology to save his job. Because the gleeful comments are disgusting, but the sleazy paymasters of the right are horrific.


Filed under American, In The Media, Racism

3 responses to “Tacitus now blogging at the Guardian?

  1. Astrid

    I don’t see a particular problem with a forum that expresses a particular ideological viewpoint excluding people who do not adhere to that ideology. A lot of feminist blogs and forums do this, and call them “safe spaces”. Even people you disagree with are entitled to declare their own house rules, surely?

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