“Showing up for work as a centrist in an American newspaper should not require bravery,” Bari Weiss writes in an open letter to New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger. In a stinging resignation notice, Weiss accuses Sulzberger of caving in to social-media mobs and endorsing tribalism at the very moment that newspapers should be defending reasoned discourse and free debate. The lack of spine from editors and ownership has left those writing for the Paper of Record unable to speak or write freely, Weiss writes, making the newspaper itself entirely irrelevant — or worse:
But the lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
Weiss specifically refers to one of the most shameful episodes in recent NYT history — the sacking of James Bennet. Bennet okayed what would normally have been a routine op-ed from a sitting US Senator, Tom Cotton, explaining his position on sending US troops into cities to quell rioting. At the time, Trump had threatened to use the Insurrection Act to put an end to the riots and Cotton had backed Trump, which certainly made it an urgent issue for debate. In fact, the NYT had invited Cotton to write it, according to Cotton, and then spent considerable time negotiating practically every line in it.
The NYT has published op-eds from political leaders of every stripe, including from Vladimir Putin, the Taliban’s leadership, and others who are at least antagonists toward the US. Somehow, though, Cotton’s op-ed stirred up accusations by NYT staffers and writers that Bennet had made them “unsafe” by publishing Cotton’s very public policy position on dealing with riots, a position shared by a wide majority (58/30) of Americans at the time. They staged a “virtual walkout” over the Times’ decision to even allow a discussion of Cotton’s views to take place.
The mob action worked, of course. Within two days, the paper added a retraction to the column; they refused to add it to the print version of the paper. Both Bennet and managing editor Dean Baquet caved and issued the “groveling apologies” that Allahpundit predicted. And even that wasn’t enough; Sulzberger canceled Bennet as editorial page editor anyway and demoted deputy editor Jim Dao to appease the mob.
None of this is about disagreement and debate. It’s about shutting down debate and not allowing any disagreement. The very people demanding the removal of Cotton’s invited views from the platform also write for the NYT and could have easily penned rebuttals — a whole series of them — for the same readership. That kind of privileged access to the platform wasn’t enough; they demanded complete control of it … and got it.
What’s more, Weiss adds, the only thing new about the Bennett debacle was how publicly it played out:
What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.
Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired. If a piece is perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strongly enough to suggest it, she is quickly steered to safer ground. And if, every now and then, she succeeds in getting a piece published that does not explicitly promote progressive causes, it happens only after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated.
Why? Because Sulzberger doesn’t have the courage to stand up to a social-media mob. In fact, Sulzberger seems more interested in leveraging the cancel-culture mob than in confronting it on behalf of free speech and open debate. And now everyone knows it.