Gina Haspel was formally sworn in yesterday afternoon as the first female director of the CIA. The identity-laden cultural dynamic of "First Woman to Ever X" was severely undercut by Haspel's troubled history with and relationship to the CIA's torture of suspected terrorists during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent destruction of evidence.
It's awful that anybody involved in the CIA's torture tactics in any way ended up in charge, but it's sadly not surprising that President Donald Trump would embrace her (remember, Trump is pro-torture), and it's also not surprising that the Senate would fall in line behind an "establishment-approved" candidate. I'm glad we had at least another public debate about torture tactics before the vote and swearing in.
Most media coverage attempted to acknowledge that she's the first female director while not ignoring the controversy. But then there was the Advocate, once the most prominent national magazine serving the LGBT community, blithely going all in on the "YAAAASSSS! SLAY KWEEN!" approach to Haspel's swearing in. Here's what the publication tweeted out:
— The Advocate (@TheAdvocateMag) May 21, 2018
It gets weirder. The post at the Advocate is tagged "women" not "politics." It contains a short video obviously meant to be shared on social media with images of Haspel and some straightforward text, set to a disco beat for some baffling reason. It vaguely refers to the torture controversy as her "involvement" with the "detention system" used by the CIA under President George W. Bush. And that's it.
Even weirder, the attached "story" consists of just three sentences. And it's only the last one that matters: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.), who is an out lesbian, voted against Haspel's nomination. Baldwin said she was troubled that Haspel would not say that the tactics the CIA used to try to extract information from detainees were immoral and agreed with Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) that this was disqualifying behavior.
As a matter of fact, other than this one-sentence mention, there's no coverage of Baldwin's opposition to Haspel's nomination to be found at the Advocate. So the LGBT site weirdly downplayed the opposition of a lesbian senator in order to push the narrative of the history-making female leader.
There was a very interesting reaction that should be heartening for folks who worry that tribal identity is taking the place of principles and ethics. People who follow the Advocate on Twitter are absolutely repulsed by the tweet and the superficial manner in which the magazine covered Haspel's swearing in:
Yassss! C.I.SLAY Kween! Not a torturer! A torturHER!
— Brandon (@bnowalk) May 21, 2018
For the benefit of non-Twitter users (how I envy you!), there's a concept of the "ratio": If people are replying to your tweet in very high numbers, but they aren't clicking "like" or retweeting your tweet, that probably means they're mocking you and think your tweet is stupid or offensive.
As I blog this, the tweet from the Advocate has more than 900 tweeted responses, but only 42 retweets (one of which was me) and 95 "likes." Folks were not happy with the Advocate.
It's worth recognizing that sometimes the cultural conflict of "principles over principals"—where the identities or affiliations of a person are deemed more important than ethical or moral interests—is reflected more in media coverage than by the actions of a community itself.