My Take on Bari Weiss, the New York Times ... and Wrongthink
Liberals in the media love to talk about diversity, about how we can’t have truly honest journalism without it. If you don’t worship with them at the altar of diversity then, they figure, you’re a bigot of one kind or another. But be assured they’re not talking about diversity of ideas in their newsrooms. That kind of diversity is not something they seek. It’s something they try to crush.
The same intolerant liberal mob that forced the opinion editor of the New York Times out of his job in June because he published a conservative op-ed they didn’t like, has now hounded Bari Weiss, a Times editor and opinion writer, out of her job.
Ms. Weiss wrote a letter to A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, telling him why she was resigning. Her message captures what’s wrong with American newsrooms these days – especially her own – but more broadly her letter is about a ‘cancel culture’ that punishes unacceptable opinions -- and about a rigid orthodoxy that has no place in an American newsroom.
“But the lessons that ought to have followed the election [of Donald Trump in 2016] -- 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,” she wrote. “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.”
Weiss is onto something important. The problem for many years now has been liberal bias in the news, which came about mainly because of groupthink – having too many like-minded people reporting and editing the news. Now, Ms. Weiss tells us, not so much about something new that’s infecting newsroom thinking, but something she’s given a new name – “Wrongthink.”
“My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views,” she writes. “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.”
And then Ms. Weiss takes a well-deserved shot at her publisher and other leaders at the Times for never coming to her defense in the face of so much blatant cruelty.
“I do not understand how you have allowed this kind of behavior to go on inside your company in full view of the paper’s entire staff and the public. And I certainly can’t square how you and other Times leaders have stood by while simultaneously praising me in private for my courage. Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.”
Journalists are supposed to report about important trends in America, like the cancel culture. They’re not supposed to take part in it.
But the progressive mob – like the revolutionaries who ushered in a reign of terror after the French Revolution – has no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t see the world the way they do. During the reign of terror, people with “wrong” ideas lost their lives – now they “only” lose their livelihoods.
“Part of me wishes I could say that my experience was unique,” Weiss writes. “But the truth is that intellectual curiosity -- let alone risk-taking -- is now a liability at The Times. Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm.
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.”
And she has noticed something else about the modern American newsroom. It has rules – the kind that should never exist inside a journalistic institution.
“Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”
At CBS News, where I worked for 28 years, I spoke out in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about liberal bias in the news. I did this only after years of quietly pointing out the bias to my colleagues, some of whom could have done something about the problem. No one did. My op-ed caused quite a stir, a media version of World War III. That’s how big it was back in 1996.
No one forced me out of my job – I wasn’t cancelled -- but I had become radioactive. People steered clear of me. They were afraid that the CBS Evening News anchor, Dan Rather, might see us chatting and that they would soon become radioactive too. My offense, like that of Ms. Weiss, was also wrongthink. We just didn’t have a name for it back then.
In my case, as I’ve said before, they were throwing spitballs at a battleship. I stayed at CBS for 4 and a half years after my op-ed, leaving to write my first book, Bias, about liberal bias at CBS and in America’s newsrooms generally.
Maybe Bari Weiss will also write a book about liberal intolerance in the newsroom. Her resignation letter is a good start.