Was Ben Shapiro really destroyed?

When Ben Shapiro was interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, the resulting spat quickly became the stuff of myth more than legend.
The shape of the myth-making depends largely on the viewer’s political leanings. Many conservatives improbably maintain that Shapiro triumphed, while the social media left have worked themselves into a largely fact-free ecstasy. “Ben Shapiro DESTROYED!”

Melanie Phillips is a leftist-turned-right (she defines herself as a liberal who has “been mugged by reality”) who attempts a more measured response. Mostly, she gets it right, but she, too, judges Shapiro far too harshly. It seems that, in this clash of cultures, Phillips’ Britishness just finds Shapiro’s east coast American brashness not at all tea and hockey sticks. quote.

Ben Shapiro is a conservative American commentator who has become legendary in the US for his aggressive take-downs of left-wing opponents.
He doesn’t just take no prisoners. He tends to vaporise his opponents with the sharpness, velocity and ferocity of his arguments. So his encounter last week with the presenter of BBC2’s Politics Live show was all the more notable. The irresistible force of Shapiro met the immovable object that is Andrew Neil.
The immovable object won. After an epic tantrum, Shapiro was left tweeting feebly from the wreckage under which he had buried himself. He had badly misread not only a presenter he didn’t know but a culture he didn’t understand. end quote.

Tu quoque, I would say, Ms. Phillips (with apologies for muddling the trans-Atlantic waters with a cross-Channel Francophone). To my Antipodean eyes, neither exactly covered themselves in glory.
Yes, Shapiro came out swinging with typical American brashness – and ultimately swung and missed. But many of his rebuttals to Neil were entirely valid. It was only with his final slug that Shapiro finally tripped and fell.

Obviously unaware of his opponent’s conservative pedigree, Shapiro accused Neil of being a “typical leftist”. This was a mistake that made Shapiro look uncharacteristically foolish.
But Shapiro was quite right to terminate the interview: in fact, if he made any mistake, it was to let Andrew Neil get away with too much for far too long.

Neil’s arguments were frankly terrible. His entire line of questioning was predicated on nothing but ad hominem attacks. Most were pursuing the depressingly common tactic of trawling social media for cheap gotchas – something Shapiro rightly objected to, again and again. But Neil persisted.
What was worse was that some of the attacks were utterly false. Neil accused Shapiro of boasting about “destroying” and “wrecking” opponents. Shapiro correctly responded that he had never said any of that. “Those videos were not his,” as he said.

In fact, if Neil had done his research, he should have known that Shapiro goes out of his way to give opponents a voice. At any of his Q&As, dissenting questioners are always given first place.
Shapiro’s mistake was, mostly, not to modify his “American” style. Stodgy, phlegmatic Neil only came across as plausible, especially to British audiences, by dint of contrast in style. His threadbare arguments went unnoticed by his audience were fixated on that dreadful American.
As such, Melanie Phillips might well consider the irony of her own words. quote.

There’s a tendency, among some conservative as well as left-wing culture warriors, to make simplistic assumptions about where other people are coming from. This is particularly true in America, where nuance and complexity are rare in public debate and cultural issues are presented instead in black and white terms.

melaniephillips end quote.

In case the beam in her eye escapes her, Melanie Phillips is falling into the same trap, and too-harshly judging “aggressive” American Shapiro against calm – but illogical – British Neil.