Ed wrote about the backlash to the Harper’s Magazine letter against cancel culture earlier today. But since then one particular signatory to the letter has received what sounds like a clear warning from his boss. As I pointed out yesterday, at least two people who work for Vox were complaining on Twitter about Matt Yglesias’ decision to sign the letter. One of them, a trans woman named Emily VanDerWerff sent an email to her bosses saying that having Yglesias’ name on the letter made her feel less safe.
I sent a version of this to the editors of Vox. (I have redacted some bits that are internal to Vox and shouldn’t be aired publicly.) pic.twitter.com/splNNSMivd
— Emily VanDerWerff 🙋♀️ (@emilyvdw) July 7, 2020
I also noted yesterday that in the wake of this backlash, Yglesias had apparently deleted all of his tweets. Today we learned why. Vox founder Ezra Klein posted this subtweet about the situation a short time ago:
A lot of debates that sell themselves as being about free speech are actually about power. And there's *a lot* of power in being able to claim, and hold, the mantle of free speech defender.
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 8, 2020
He’s not mentioning the Harper’s letter or Yglesias directly, but it’s clear what he’s talking about. In fact, Yglesias responded to this tweet by asking if he was allowed to respond. It’s clear he’d previously promised Klein not to make any more controversial statements on Twitter which explains why he deleted everything yesterday. Yglesias has already deleted his tweet but not before several people got a screenshot of it.
There’s also a lot of *power* in being the actual boss and making it clear that free speech will get the speaker publicly chastised. @mattyglesias was one of the braver signatories: pic.twitter.com/omR7064gkq
— Thomas Chatterton Williams 🌍 🎧 (@thomaschattwill) July 8, 2020
I actually agree that Yglesias was brave to sign given where he works. This reaction further proves it.
Clearly, no signatory of The Letter has reason to fear losing their job if they speak their mind.
— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) July 8, 2020
What a jerk move on Klein’s part. If he knew Yglesias had promised not to talk about this, why bring it up publicly?
How fucking dare Ezra Klein tell him not to tweet and then subtweet him like that? What an abject asshole.
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) July 8, 2020
Charles Cooke pointed out the absurdity of Klein’s position:
Why Vox Is Polarized, Simon & Schuster (2020)
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) July 8, 2020
That 2nd tweet above is a reference to Klein’s most recent book which is titled “Why We’re Polarized.” Remember, Klein launched Vox with the goal of trying to combat the scourge of cultural cognition. This is his beat. Given that, I wonder if it ever occurred to him that there are two sides to this story:
I wonder whether @ezraklein would admit that a lot of complaints about injustice or "feeling unsafe" are also about power. After all, there's *a lot* of power in being able to claim, and hold, the mantle of victim. https://t.co/Dwj9P02eMn
— Matt Harrington (@MattHar65517869) July 8, 2020
In other words, that letter Emily VanDerWerff sent to Ezra and others at Vox claiming she felt unsafe was about power too. But I don’t see Klein subtweeting her about the mantle of victimhood, which also has tremendous power these days. It think this next tweet is closer to the truth:
There's prestige in defending free speech, but less power, because free speech means people who disagree with you are also free to speak.
The power is in suppressing free speech, because then you can prevent people who disagree with you from speaking.
— Paul Graham (@paulg) July 8, 2020
That seems accurate to me. The real power moves in the free speech debates of the last few years have been made by the people demanding silence from their opponents. That’s what the Harper’s letter was about and Matt Yglesias was right to sign it. As the blowback to that decision continues to show, it was a decision not without risk in this environment.
Update: Ezra Klein says he would never try to get his buddy Matt Yglesias fired.
The idea that I would try to get Matt, literally my co-founder and oldest friend in journalism, fired over this letter is risible.
I've asked Matt, and others at Vox, to not subtweet colleagues. My mistake here is this read like a subtweet of him, when it honestly wasn't. https://t.co/oEgNIzGxph
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 8, 2020
This would be more convincing to me if I didn’t already know that Ezra Klein will lie to people’s faces when he gets in trouble.