We’re witnessing an odd transformation in the media world. Increasingly, the debate within mainstream media institutions is what must not be written about, reported, or discussed.
Apparently the staff of the New York Times cannot abide the presence of a heterodox voice such as Bari Weiss. New York magazine no longer has room for Andrew Sullivan. A staff walkout led to Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, departing the paper, days after the paper ran an article with the headline “Buildings Matter, Too.” None of those figures would meet many definitions of “right-wing” or “conservative.” But they dared dissent from the hard Left in one way or another and thus became targets of the “cancel culture,” a phenomenon that its most ardent adherents insist doesn’t exist, a prototypical example of gaslighting if there ever was one.
Major institutions of American journalism have decided that certain viewpoints must not be expressed within their pages, and certain factions and narratives must not be questioned, challenged, or opposed. Certain arguments must not be heard, certain supporting evidence must not be examined; certain ideas are simply too dangerous or malevolent to be brought to a wider audience. We are instructed that the very expression of them in any form makes certain staffers “feel unsafe” and thus must be treated as akin to a physical assault.
This is not the pursuit of knowledge; this is the avoidance of knowledge. This is not curiosity; this is an ironclad certainty that everything that is needed to be known about any given subject is already known. This is not informing the audience about what is going on in the world; this is making sure they don’t hear what is going on in the world, because it might run counter to a preferred narrative.
Whatever you want to call what these institutions are doing now, this is not journalism. This is anti-journalism.
Apparently, the new purpose of an opinions and editorial section is to reassure and soothe, not challenge or provoke. Shortly after internal outrage about Tom Cotton’s op-ed led to the ousting of James Bennet as the acting editorial-page editor of the New York Times, Katie Kingsbury, a deputy editorial-page editor, told the staff of the opinion section, “any piece of Opinion journalism — including headlines or social posts or photos or you name it — that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”
The editors of these institutions would probably insist that the internal hostility toward certain viewpoints within their own walls never influences how they cover stories or how they see Americans and the world — an utterly implausible claim that is another textbook example of gaslighting. But the attitudes and consequences of cancel culture have far-reaching ramifications for how we discuss what matters in America — or whether it gets discussed at all. A new survey of 2,000 Americans finds that 62 percent of them say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.
National Review today represents what the mainstream media wants to believe it is. We have vehement dissent within our pages. You’ve probably noticed that Conrad Black and Jay Nordlinger don’t agree in their assessment of the president. John Fund is convinced Sweden has the right approach to the coronavirus, John McCormack isn’t. We have atheists and the religiously devout, libertarians and populists, free-traders and protectionists. You see a wider range of opinions and more vigorous debate of issues within the ranks of a self-identified conservative magazine than in most “mainstream” institutions — reflecting that they are nowhere near “mainstream” anymore.
Maybe you love everything you read here. Maybe you’ve objected to or strongly disliked something you’ve read here. But if you’re reading this, you probably appreciate something that many “mainstream” journalism institutions have chosen to abandon. Right now, powerful forces want this kind of institution to wither away and die and the future of public debate in the United States to be limited by the ever-growing censorious veto of the perpetually outraged.
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