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Bari Weiss and the Malignancy at the New York Times

Activists from the group Extinction Rebellion drop a banner on the New York Times building in New York, June 22, 2019. (Jefferson Siegel/Reuters)

Bari Weiss resigned today from the New York Times, five weeks after the Times essentially forced out editorial page editor James Bennet for publishing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton. Bennet had hired Weiss, and his departure for allowing a U.S. Senator to advocate the use of longstanding presidential powers was a sign of many things that spelled doom for Weiss’s position at the Times: the growing power of the progressive woke Left within the paper, the accompanying decline of tolerance for liberal ideas about permitting a range of views, and specifically, the loss of institutional support for Weiss. The reality was much uglier, as she details in her must-read public resignation letter discussing her private and public verbal abuse by her co-workers and the Times‘s tolerance of that. A sample of her critique:

[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. Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. 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 . . . . 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 . . . Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.

Part of me wishes I could say that my experience was unique. 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 . . . 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.

Weiss is not your standard-issue right-winger: She’s a Jewish lesbian centrist, and perhaps that is what rankled her critics most about her heterodoxy as a writer. She hints at a lawsuit in terms that make it legally impractical for the Times to purge its Slack archives and other internal communications, but it seems unlikely there would actually be a lawsuit, for a variety of legal and practical reasons. The public exposure is bad enough. One wonders how long Bret Stephens, who joined the paper with Weiss as refugees from the Trump-friendly tilt of the Wall Street Journal, will last; one assumes the Times will see no more value in publishing him once Trump is out of office.

The Times is a private corporation, and the free-speech rights of corporations mean that it is, and should be, free to purge its newsroom of anyone who deviates from its left-wing orthodoxies. But it becomes harder for the paper to pretend it is even vaguely interested in presenting even a mild diversity of thought or perspective. You can get a broader range of views from watching Fox News.

What is more striking is how badly Weiss’s co-workers treated her, frequently in public. You get into political journalism, criticism is part of the deal. Your own co-workers going after you in public should not be. This is no way to run a workplace. It would not be tolerated in a private business outside of politics, or if it was, it would lead to all sorts of legal and reputational damage in short order. It is drearily revealing how often woke progressivism seems to demand treating other people in shabby, mean-spirited ways. Politicizing everything has an inevitably corrosive tendency to turn disagreement into dehumanization; if you frame all disagreements as threats to your personal safety, then you internalize the logic of the battlefield in your daily interactions — the other man with the rifle dies, or I do.

If your ideas keep requiring you to abandon basic decency in dealing with the people around you, get different ideas. Bitter internecine personal invective is not exclusive to the Left; the Trump era has revealed that there are more truly awful people on the Right than I had believed before 2015. But at least it is still not the case that our side’s ideas systematically drive us to be horrible to those around us, to the people we go to work with on a daily basis. I cannot imagine National Review tolerating or even having to consider tolerating the kind of behavior towards fellow writers that Weiss experienced. In every battle within the Right, we should look to what life within the institutions run by the Left is really like, and do everything in our power to never be like that.

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