Is this an example of cancel culture on the right? Many on the left believe it is but the NY Times is claiming that’s not the case.
Here’s what happened. A freelance editor at the NY Times named Lauren Wolfe tweeted last week, “Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews now. I have chills.” She also tweeted that Trump was “childish” not to send a plane for Biden. It turned out that wasn’t accurate. Biden hadn’t requested a plane be sent for him.
People on the right were quick to mock her reaction as the kind of thing that professional journalists at the NY Times probably shouldn’t be tweeting. For example:
More unbiased reporting from the New York Times.
— AM 560 The Answer (@AM560TheAnswer) January 19, 2021
One person pointed out that Wolfe herself had just RT’d a statement that the Times that they intended to be as tough on Biden as they were on Trump:
Good lord she literally retweeted this right after she tweeted Biden’s landing gave her chills.
You can’t make this crap up pic.twitter.com/NPXHtrWgG0
— The Dank Knight 🦇 (@capeandcowell) January 19, 2021
Then on Thursday, Yashar Ali tweeted that Wolfe had been dropped by the Times, suggesting it was over those two tweets:
1. Some news…
Lauren Wolfe, who was an editor on contract for the NYT, has had her contract canceled after she tweeted what's on the left.
Wolfe also tweeted what's on the right, but deleted when she learned Biden chose to take his own plane.
Per two sources. pic.twitter.com/uaB0INZ1q8
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 22, 2021
One of Wolfe’s friends wrote a long thread about what a great person and journalist she is and expressed anger that the Times had fired her in response to an angry mob of fascists:
This is the most important thing I've ever written.
My friend and family Lauren @Wolfe321 was just fired by the @NYTimes after the NYT was pressured by fascists, Trumpkins and hypocrites on the right for tweeting she had "chills" after witnessing Biden's landing on the 20th. pic.twitter.com/YyWt0PubdR
— Josh Shahryar (they/them) 🏳️🌈 #BLM (@JShahryar) January 23, 2021
After working for years as a senior editor at Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Lauren helped launch and was the director of the Women Under Siege project @WomenUndrSiege.
The project's sole aim was to cover sexualized violence against women – especially in conflict.
— Josh Shahryar (they/them) 🏳️🌈 #BLM (@JShahryar) January 23, 2021
As a friend, I'm outraged. As a journalist, I'm outraged. As someone living in America who was and is a target of fascists, I'm outraged.
But I'm speechless as to how anyone with a conscience see this picture and think she should be fired.
— Josh Shahryar (they/them) 🏳️🌈 #BLM (@JShahryar) January 24, 2021
Other people jumped on that thread to demand that the Times re-hire Wolfe:
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) January 24, 2021
I’ve written plenty of times about cancel culture and my view of it is pretty consistent: I’m ‘agin it. I don’t think anyone should be fired because a mob of people got angry over a tweet. But is that what happened here? The NY Times issued a statement saying information about her firing that was circulating was “inaccurate.”
The Times denied on Sunday that there was a direct connection between Wolfe’s pro-Biden tweet and the end of her working relationship with the newspaper.
“There’s a lot of inaccurate information circulating on Twitter,” spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told The Washington Post. “For privacy reasons we don’t get into the details of personnel matters, but we can say that we didn’t end someone’s employment over a single tweet. Out of respect for the individuals involved, we don’t plan to comment further.” (Wolfe could not be reached for comment.)
I read that response as a veiled reference to Yashar Ali and he later updated his thread with some more information:
4. I see a lot of people pushing for Lauren Wolfe to be re-hired
Multiple sources have told me this is not going to happen. They do not intend on offering her a new contract (her deal was close to ending)
But Wolfe is asking people to keep their NYT subshttps://t.co/oaR8vvXnm6
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 25, 2021
So there’s more to the story but the Times isn’t going to get into the details. Vanity Fair published a story about this today which also says Wolfe had been previously cautioned:
I checked in with a number of senior Times sources on Sunday, and they all told me the same thing: Wolfe had previously been cautioned about her social media behavior. A manager gave her a warning months ago after staffers expressed discomfort with certain tweets she was told bordered on being political.
I don’t know what the tweet was months ago that raised concern but earlier this month, just a week before her tweet about Biden’s plane landing, Wolfe tweeted something about zip ties: “Do regular humans actually buy zip-ties? Have you ever bought a zip-tie? If so, what did you use it for?” This got a lot of attention after Ben Shapiro responded to it.
Literally every regular human I know owns zip ties. This is like Pauline Kael on steroids. https://t.co/qEHC1uedgB
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 13, 2021
Shapiro’s response was a trending topic on Twitter that day. Lots of people on the right were making fun of Wolfe for not knowing anything about zip ties and people on the left were making fun of Shapiro because they assumed Wolfe had been referring to the flex cuffs a couple of the Capitol rioters had been carrying. Maybe she didn’t know they were called flex cuffs and just called them zip ties? Or maybe she really was talking about zip ties and hasn’t spent much time in hardware stores. I honestly don’t know but it caused a big stir on both sides of the aisle for most of the afternoon that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if that tweet got the attention of management at the Times. It would have been hard to miss.
So is this cancel culture? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that there is clearly some cancel culture behavior happening as a result of Wolfe’s tweet, i.e. angry people emailing that she should die of cancer, etc. The desire to punish someone and make them suffer for an opinion is a hallmark of cancel culture. To be fair, I don’t know how widespread that was. I saw at least one tweet saying they looked for people on the right calling for her to be fired and couldn’t find examples of that.
But ultimately the Times claims they didn’t fire her over this tweet but over some sort of pattern where she is not heading the advice of management to take it easy on social media. The Times has rules about making the newsroom look like the bevy of left-wing partisans we all know they are. If you’re a freelance person hoping to find a job there, you probably need to be careful about taking their advice, whether you like it or not.
Here’s Wolfe’s reaction to this whole tempest on Saturday. She seems to think she was fired over her opinions, not over her relationship with her employer.
Hard to fathom all the talk of “cancel culture” on my timeline while I’m left without an income during a pandemic. I’m not an ideology, I’m a hard-working person who can no longer pay her bills. @SulomeAnderson @yashar @michaeldweiss
— Lauren Wolfe (@Wolfe321) January 23, 2021