This shift is quite remarkable. The right-wing ref-workers of the past accomplished their goals by appealing (often, though not always, in bad faith) to journalistic ideals of objectivity and fairness. This led to the production of news that was frequently bland, marked by a vacuously bipartisan neutrality, and filled with unearned false equivalences between Democrats and Republicans.

By contrast, today’s online outrage mobs (and those staffers who either agree with them or merely tremble before them) have succeeded in turning this tendency on its head. Left-wing activists on social media abide by very different and much more stridently political standards than traditional journalists. They are firmly convinced they know precisely what the truth is and exactly what justice requires, and they demand that media companies and the content they disseminate conform to it with unwavering consistency and rigor. It matters little whether this represents the abandonment of objectivity and fairness as ideals or the collapse of the distinction between political activism and those ideals. Either way, the outcome is the same: The digital mob works the refs, and the refs capitulate.

The inversion of long-standing principles and convictions in the face of politicized moral denunciation resembles nothing so much as the way university administrators and many members of college faculties responded to the student protest movement’s shift toward violent confrontation during the late 1960s.