On July 14, 2020, opinion editor and writer Bari Weiss resigned her position at The New York Times. Weiss’s scathing resignation letter asserted that she was mistreated by coworkers due to her moderate political leanings and her commitment to ideological diversity. Worse yet, Weiss claimed that an enforced left-wing ideological orthodoxy contaminated the Times’s opinion pages, making it untenable for her to continue working for the paper. Weiss’s letter is disturbing, but illuminating; it offers one editor’s view of the pernicious and destructive mindset of the 21st century American left.
Weiss began working for the Times in 2017. In her letter, she stated that she 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.” However, Weiss added that lessons that the Times ought to have learned after the 2016 presidential 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.”
Weiss asserts the following:
- That Twitter has become the “ultimate editor” of the Times;
- That if an opinion piece is “perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it;”
- That opinion pieces that fail to fit in with left-wing orthodoxy are either discouraged by the Times or are “carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated” to make them palatable to the far left;
- That over the past couple of years, op-eds that might once have been published on the Times opinion page have not only become viewed as unacceptable, but as a reason to fire the writer or editor responsible for their publication;
- That Weiss’s efforts led co-workers to call her a Nazi, a racist, a liar, and a bigot, attacking both her work and her character on workplace communication channels and on social media;
- That colleagues openly called for her termination, posting “ax emojis” next to her name (ironically, said colleagues argued that Weiss’s termination would make the paper more “inclusive”);
- That management expressed private support for Weiss, but made no effort to address the harassment she experienced; and
- That “showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.”
According to Weiss, “all this bodes ill, especially for independent-minded young writers and editors paying close attention to what they’ll have to do to advance in their careers. 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.”
One recent example of the enforcement of left-wing orthodoxy at the Times was the furor over a June 3, 2020 op-ed by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) calling for the U.S. Armed Forces to be deployed to quell riots in various U.S. cities. Many employees at the Times were offended at Sen. Cotton’s op-ed and asserted that its publication endangered the lives of African-Americans. Times opinion editor James Bennet resigned due to the controversy. Bari Weiss weighed in, arguing that young leftists believe that “the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps…core liberal values, like free speech.” Proving Weiss’s point, some of her colleagues responded by calling for her termination.
The sad truth about Bari Weiss’s experience at the Times is the fact that it is not unprecedented. In 2020, it’s not even unusual. “Cancel culture” is in vogue on the American left. If a person expresses an unpopular view, it isn’t enough to disagree or debate the point; rather, the person should be punished for expressing it. National Review describes the phenomenon as follows:
The emergence of social media and a Millennial subculture built on asinine coddling and infantile entitlement…[created] what we now call “cancel culture.” [In the past], “canceling” was focused mainly on celebrities or high-profile public figures, and the criteria for canceling mostly had to do with real or perceived bigotry…or for acts of victimization à la Harvey Weinstein. But now the scalp-hunting has started to target ordinary and often obscure people, and the offenses in question have nothing to do with bigotry — it is simply having the unfashionable view of a public controversy, or being somehow associated, however lightly — [with] that controversy.
The “cancel culture” phenomenon is on display in the academy, in the media, and in the business world. We saw it in 2013, when A&E suspended Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” for daring to express support for traditional marriage. We saw it in 2014, when Brendan Eich was subjected to a nationwide pressure campaign that led to his resignation as CEO of Mozilla because he had donated to a pro-traditional-marriage campaign in California. We see “cancel culture” in the left’s ongoing efforts to punish Christian bakers, florists, and wedding venues that decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies.” We see it in recent decisions made by Instagram and Facebook to ban any material on sexual orientation change on phony “hate speech” grounds.
There are three major problems with “cancel culture.” The first is that it chills free speech and free inquiry. The second is that it frequently seeks to punish people not for doing evil, but for speaking the truth. The third is that it is based on a foundation of sand; given that the progressive left rejects both the existence and authority of God and—in some respects—the existence of truth, it has no basis for making any judgments at all about right and wrong.