If we accept the logic of contamination by association, this requirement will quickly come to suppress the exchange of ideas—or even exposure to ideas which we need to interrogate precisely because we hate them. Tackling views we disagree with is a basic obligation of journalism, especially when they are held by people with the power to put them into effect.
David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, gave eloquent voice to the necessity of such interrogation when he explained why he wanted to interview former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon at the New Yorker festival in 2018. Remnick acknowledged the point of view of those who assert that it is better not to give a platform to someone with illiberal views. “But to interview Bannon is not to endorse him,” Remnick wrote. “The point of an interview, a rigorous interview, particularly in a case like this, is to put pressure on the views of the person being questioned.”
But Remnick was not able to put this pressure on Bannon because the pressure on Remnick to rescind Bannon’s invitation was so great that he canceled the interview.
To accept the principles of contamination by association would also have another, perhaps even more serious cost: It would make it much more difficult to build a community across ideological divides—or within one’s own ideological group. Today, people are held to account for everything they have said or written, no matter how long ago, and no matter how much their minds may have changed. But under the rules of contamination, any affiliation with anyone else means everything they have said and done is your responsibility, too. Under such circumstances, any rational person is going to think of everyone else, first and foremost, as a potential human landmine; better, then, to draw the circle of one’s friends, colleagues, and collaborators as narrowly as possible.