Earlier this week, NY Times tech journalist Taylor Lorenz suggested on Twitter that for International Women’s Day people should consider supporting women who’d been victims of “online harassment.” She wrote, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the harassment and smear campaign I’ve had to endure over the past year has destroyed my life.”
For international women’s day please consider supporting women enduring online harassment. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the harassment and smear campaign I’ve had to endure over the past year has destroyed my life. No one should have to go through this.
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) March 9, 2021
Tuesday night Tucker Carlson opened his show by talking about that tweet, pointing out that there are a lot of women in the U.S. and around the world who are in much worse situations than Taylor Lorenz:
This generated a fresh round of outrage by the perpetually outraged on the left. How dare Tucker Carlson criticize this poor victim. Today the NY Times put out a statement defending Lorenz:
Our response to Tuesday night's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" broadcast. pic.twitter.com/LkvaLjcRl5
— NYTimes Communications (@NYTimesPR) March 10, 2021
Here’s a pretty good summary of the argument thus far:
Taylor Lorenz: My life is ruined!
Tucker Carlson: No it isn't, you crybaby.
New York Times: It is too, you bully!https://t.co/431cxbfwIL
— I got your #Unity right here (@jtLOL) March 10, 2021
Today, Glenn Greenwald points out that there’s an interesting dynamic at work here, one that Carlson had also mentioned. Lorenz has a prime job at the leading newspaper in the country. The fact that she sometimes uses her position to harass people unfairly ought to be something she can be criticized for. Instead, the perspective being pushed by the left is that any criticism is really just a thinly disguised attempt to generate harassment. Here’s Taylor Lorenz herself claiming that’s the goal:
It’s the same reason Tucker repeats my name over and over on his show. They’re drilling it into their followers heads. https://t.co/eYK8kOaWNM
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) March 10, 2021
And obviously if the goal is harassment, then critics mentioning her name must stop. In effect, you can’t criticize Taylor Lorenz no matter what she does.
Under this formulation, if you criticize the ways Lorenz uses her very influential media perch — including by pointing out that she probably should stop fabricating accusations against people and monitoring the private acts of non-public people — then you are guilty of harassing a “young woman” and inflicting emotional pain and violence on her (it’s quite a bizarre dynamic, best left to psychologists, how her supporters insist on infantilizing this fully grown, close-to-middle-aged successful journalist by talking about her as if she’s a fragile high school junior; it’s particularly creepy when her good male Allies speak of her this way)…
With this framework implanted, there is no way to express criticisms of Taylor Lorenz’s work and the use and abuse of her journalistic platform without standing widely accused of maliciously inciting a mob of violent misogynists to ruin her life — that’s quite a potent shield from accountability for someone this influential in public life.
Greenwald goes on to point out that this new tactic of putting criticism out of bounds has pretty clear partisan boundaries.
No discussion of this tactic would be complete without noting its strong ideological component: its weaponization for partisan aims. Say whatever you’d like about journalists like Laura Ingraham or Mollie Hemingway or Briahna Joy Gray or political figures such as Kellyanne Conway, Susan Collins or Kirstjen Nielsen. Have at it: the sky’s the limit. Let it all fly without the slightest concern for accusations of misogyny, which, rest easy, will not be forthcoming no matter how crude or misogynistic the attacks are.
One also need not worry about accusations of anti-Semitism if one opposes the landmark quest of Bernie Sanders to become the first Jewish president or even expresses bitter contempt for him. No bigotry allegations will be applied to critics of Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Richard Grenell, or Ben Carson…
Whenever this tactic is hauled out in defense of neoliberal leaders — to claim that Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive, or that Corbyn supporters are, or that Trump supporters are: basically that everyone is guilty of abusive behavior except neoliberals and their loyal followers — the real purpose of it becomes clear. It is a crowd-control technique, one designed to build a gigantic moat and drawbridge to protect those inside the royal court from the angry hordes outside of it.
Hard to argue with that. No one on the left is worried about the misogyny or the rage mobs that gather to attack and threaten women on the right. In fact, most in the media will turn a blind eye and pretend it’s not happening at all, but if you criticize Taylor Lorenz the NY Times will issue a stern statement about the cruelty of critics.
The rest of Greenwald’s piece lays out a case that he has experienced more hate mail, death threats and actual government persecution (in Brazil) than Taylor Lorenz can probably imagine. All of that has been happening since before anyone had heard of Taylor Lorenz. What’s new is the idea that the criticism itself is out of bounds.
It seems to me the progressive left is currently pursuing two completely contradictory strains of argument. On the one hand they are firmly convinced that cancel culture isn’t real and that “accountability culture” (as they describe it) is completely fair game. On the other hand, they are complaining that criticism of people like Taylor Lorenz is unfair harassment which needs to stop.
You may have noticed that you can explain both positions by looking at whose ox is being gored. If the left is attacking someone on the right, well that’s just accountability. Get used to it, whiners! But if the right is attacking someone on the left, that’s harassment and it has to stop.
And no, I don’t think the right’s behavior is the same as the lefts but in reverse. The right isn’t demanding Lorenz be fired or organizing a pressure campaign to hound NY Times advertisers until they comply. Also, the right isn’t upset with Lorenz about a couple of tweets from when she was 14 or nebulous complaints about the harm she is doing to classes of people. Instead, she has been criticized for recent, specific and unfair attacks on individuals. It’s not the same thing at all.