Daily Briefing: BARI WEISS TAKES STAND AGAINST ILLIBERALISM AT NEW YORK TIMES
A Letter on Justice and Open Debate: Harper’s Magazine, July 7, 2020
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us. [For the list of signees, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Table Of Contents:
Illiberal Liberals’ Letter to Harper’s To Live in Fatuity: Conrad Black, The Sun, July 15, 2020 —The recent letter “on justice and open debate,” published in Harper’s magazine on July 7 and signed by some 150 self-nominated intellectuals, will stand as one of the conspicuous fatuities of this intense American election year.
_Bari Weiss: Resignation Letter Bari Weiss Bari Weiss Blog, July 14, 2020It is with sadness that I write to tell you that I am resigning from The New York Times.I joined the paper with gratitude and optimism three years ago. I was hired with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home. The reason for this effort was clear: The paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant that it didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers. Dean Baquet and others have admitted as much on various occasions. The priority in Opinion was to help redress that critical shortcoming.I was honored to be part of that effort, led by James Bennet. I am proud of my work as a writer and as an editor. Among those I helped bring to our pages: the Venezuelan dissident Wuilly Arteaga; the Iranian chess champion Dorsa Derakhshani; and the Hong Kong Christian democrat Derek Lam. Also: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Masih Alinejad, Zaina Arafat, Elna Baker, Rachael Denhollander, Matti Friedman, Nick Gillespie, Heather Heying, Randall Kennedy, Julius Krein, Monica Lewinsky, Glenn Loury, Jesse Singal, Ali Soufan, Chloe Valdary, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Wesley Yang, and many others.But the lessons that ought to have followed the election—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. 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. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.] ______________________________________________________Quitting the Times
Bruce Bawer Front Page Magazine, July 15, 2020
I wrote my first book review for the New York Times in 1990. It was about a grim memoir, in the Face of Death, by a dying Swiss jurist called Peter Noll. Over the next decade and a half, several of the editors at the Book Review invited me to write about many other books, mostly literary fiction. Here are just the A’s and B’s: Louis Auchincloss, Deidre Bair, John Banville, Louis Begley, Veronica Buckley, Frederick Busch, A.S. Byatt.
After I published a book on gay rights in 1993, and another on Protestant fundamentalism in 1997, the editors at the Times opinion pages asked me regularly to bang out op-eds on relevant news stories, and their colleagues at the Leisure and Arts section commissioned articles from me about movies that touched on those topics.
In 1996 I reported for the New York Times Magazine on a heresy trial in the Episcopal Church. After I moved to Europe in 1998, I contributed articles about the Netherlands and Norway to the Times travel section. I also wrote several pieces for the Times Week in Review section, including a 2004 article about the mood in Amsterdam after the jihadist murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Over a period of several years, not a month went by without at least one phone call from an editor at the Times. I developed close working relationships with well over a dozen Times editors. They kept giving me work because I was easy to work with and because they knew I’d turn in a publishable piece on deadline.
Then, in 2006, I published a book called While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within. And guess what happened? The phone calls stopped. All of them. From everybody.
I could have phoned one of my editors and asked what had happened. But I didn’t. It was clear what had happened. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Bari Weiss’s Arc Represents the Media’s Failed Pivot After 2016 Emily Jashinsky The Federalist, July 15, 2020
The saga of Bari Weiss’s tortured tenure at The New York Times neatly encapsulates a much broader problem. Donald Trump’s election has indeed proven to be a turning point for the press. The industry, however, pivoted 180 degrees in the wrong direction and lost all ability to turn back. Media bias long predates Trump’s political career. Conflicted about his presidency, I remember waking up on Nov. 9, 2016, thinking it would at least shock the press into a course correction. If the host of “Celebrity Apprentice” defeating a former secretary of state in a presidential election couldn’t persuade the media to do better, nothing could. That formulation is, at least, still accurate.
At the time, most signs pointed to improvement. When Weiss, a centrist by any fair standard, resigned from the Times on Tuesday, she reflected on joining the paper three years ago in a letter to the publisher. “I was hired,” Weiss wrote, “with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages… The reason for this effort was clear: The paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant that it didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers. Dean Baquet and others have admitted as much on various occasions.”
Baquet was hardly alone back in 2016, when the shell-shocked corporate media briefly flirted with the concept of acquainting itself with the rest of the country. There were long-overdue admissions of coastal bias and insularity aplenty—and from some of the top offenders. “Since Tuesday night, there has been a lot of handwringing about how the media, with all its fancy analytics, failed to foresee Donald Trump’s victory,” John Cassidy observed in The New Yorker. Trump, wrote Chris Cillizza, had “proven that the political polling and punditry industries need a deep re-examination.”
Brian Stelter himself cited, “Groupthink. Acela corridor bias, which is a specific subset of liberal media bias. Some wishful thinking. A failure of imagination,” as explanations for the media’s failure in a Nov. 10 interview. “This was a rural roar, and journalists on the coasts had a hard time hearing it,” Stelter said. Flash forward to 2020 and a purportedly objective anchor at his own network laughed along as a guest mocked Trump supporters as “credulous Boomer rubes.”
The corporate media’s interest in self-reflection turned out to be fleeting, and gradually gave way to a growing Smart Person consensus on the evils of “bothsidesism.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.] ______________________________________________________
Barbara Kay: From Free Society to Fear Society in The Halls of Higher Learning Barbara Kay National Post, July 13, 2020
My editor, a man in his prime, recently tweeted bemusement that his older readers often preface their emails to him with allusions to their age (“as a 75-year old man …” “I’m an 82-year old woman …”).
I know these readers. Or others like them.
When my oldie readers introduce generation markers in their emails, it’s generally a semaphore signifying bewilderment at a cultural landscape so utterly changed from their youth, they cannot find their bearings. I empathize with these readers because, an oldie myself, I share their anxiety at the continual erosion of classic liberal principles we took for granted as permanent. Especially the freedom to dissent from popular views.
I share their anxiety at the continual erosion of classic liberal principles we took for granted.
I don’t claim my generation was the most virtuous in human history, but we were at least eager to become adults, with the responsibilities and comportment adulthood entailed. We took “mature” to be a great compliment, and acting maturely an obligation, even in difficult circumstances.
For example, in 1978, because of its dense population of Jews, thousands of them Holocaust survivors, Nationalist Socialists (Nazis) chose Skokie, Ill., to stage a march. It was an anguishing prospect that sparked a national debate, but the First Amendment prevailed. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Barbara Kay is a CIJR National Board Member
For Further Reference:
!Donald Trump Is Our National Catastrophe: Brett Stephens, NYT, June 5, 2020— This spring I taught a seminar (via Zoom, of course) at the University of Chicago on the art of political persuasion. We read Lincoln, Pericles, King, Orwell, Havel and Churchill, among other great practitioners of the art. We ended with a study of Donald Trump’s tweets, as part of a class on demagogy.
!The Most Dangerous Phase of Trump’s Rule: Roger Cohen, NYT, July 10, 2020 –– Think of postwar European institutions as an elaborate shield against fascism. The European Union diluting nationalist identity; the welfare state cushioning the social divisions dictators may exploit; NATO transforming the United States into a European power and the ultimate protector of democracy against totalitarian ideologies.
The above three articles represent the kind of vicious, over-the-top anti-Trump opinion pieces that find their home in progressive newspapers such as The New York Times, and Canada’s Globe and Mail. – Ed.
Is There Still Room for Debate: Andrew Sullivan, The Intelligencer, June 12, 2020 – In the last couple of weeks, as the purges of alleged racists have intensified in every sphere, and so many corporations, associations, and all many of civic institutions have openly pledged allegiance to anti-racism, with all the workshops, books, and lectures that come with it, I’m reminded of a Vaclav Hamel essay, The Power of the Powerlessness.
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