The wrong person is leaving, and the right people are not

The New York Times reports on itself:

Bari Weiss, a writer and editor for the opinion department of The New York Times, has resigned from the paper, citing “bullying by colleagues” and an “illiberal environment.”

In a nearly 1,500-word letter addressed to A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher, Ms. Weiss offered a deep critique of Times employees and company leadership, describing a “hostile work environment” where co-workers had insulted her or called for her removal on Twitter and in the interoffice communications app Slack. …

Mr. Sulzberger declined to comment. In a statement, Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, said, “We’re committed to fostering an environment of honest, searching and empathetic dialogue between colleagues, one where mutual respect is required of all.”

After working at The Wall Street Journal and Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish culture and politics, Ms. Weiss joined The Times as an Op-Ed staff editor and writer in 2017 as part of the paper’s effort to broaden the ideological range of its opinion staff after President Trump’s inauguration.

Ms. Weiss, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has been known to question aspects of social justice movements that have taken root in recent years. She was critical of a woman who described an uncomfortable encounter with the comedian Aziz Ansari and questioned whether the sexual assault charges leveled against Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh should disqualify him from the post.

She was also criticized for a tweet suggesting that the California-born U.S. Olympic figure skating competitor Mirai Nagasu was an immigrant. (Ms. Weiss said in a later tweet that she knew Ms. Nagasu was a daughter of immigrants.)

In 2018 she wrote on the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, where she became a bat mitzvah, in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The murder of 11 Jews led her to write the book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” which won the 2019 National Jewish Book Award.

Ms. Weiss recently came under fire for online comments on the staff unrest that followed the publication of a Times Op-Ed piece by Senator Tom Cotton calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities during the widespread protests against racism and police violence.

More than 1,000 Times staff members signed a letter protesting the Op-Ed’s publication, and James Bennet, the editorial page editor, resigned days after it was published. An editors’ note was added to the essay, saying it “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.” The opinion department of The Times is run separately from the newsroom.

In a tweet, Ms. Weiss described the turmoil inside the paper as a “civil war” between “the (mostly young) wokes” and “the (mostly 40+) liberals.” Many staff members objected on Twitter to her comment, saying it was inaccurate or misrepresented their concerns. …

Kathleen Kingsbury, the acting editorial page editor, said, “We appreciate the many contributions that Bari made to Times Opinion. I’m personally committed to ensuring that The Times continues to publish voices, experiences and viewpoints from across the political spectrum in the Opinion report.”

Weiss wrote this to Sulzberger:

It 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 honoured 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.

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 moulded 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.

There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.

I do not understand how you have allowed this kind of behaviour 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.

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.

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 unscrutinised. 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.

It took the paper two days and two jobs to say that the Tom Cotton op-ed “fell short of our standards.” We attached an editor’s note on a travel story about Jaffa shortly after it was published because it “failed to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history.” But there is still none appended to Cheryl Strayed’s fawning interview with the writer Alice Walker.

The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.

Even now, I am confident that most people at the Times do not hold these views. Yet they are cowed by those who do. Why? Perhaps because they believe the ultimate goal is righteous. Perhaps because they believe that they will be granted protection if they nod along as the coin of our realm—language—is degraded in service to an ever-shifting laundry list of right causes. Perhaps because there are millions of unemployed people in this country and they feel lucky to have a job in a contracting industry.

Or perhaps it is because they know that, nowadays, standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back. Too wise to post on Slack, they write to me privately about the “new McCarthyism” that has taken root at the paper of record.

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.

For these young writers and editors, there is one consolation. As places like the Times and other once-great journalistic institutions betray their standards and lose sight of their principles, Americans still hunger for news that is accurate, opinions that are vital, and debate that is sincere. I hear from these people every day. “An independent press is not a liberal ideal or a progressive ideal or a democratic ideal. It’s an American ideal,” you said a few years ago. I couldn’t agree more. America is a great country that deserves a great newspaper.

None of this means that some of the most talented journalists in the world don’t still labour for this newspaper. They do, which is what makes the illiberal environment especially heartbreaking. I will be, as ever, a dedicated reader of their work. But I can no longer do the work that you brought me here to do—the work that Adolph Ochs described in that famous 1896 statement: “to make of the columns of the New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

Ochs’s idea is one of the best I’ve encountered. And I’ve always comforted myself with the notion that the best ideas win out. But ideas cannot win on their own. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be backed by people willing to live by them.

It appears that the Times has done a poor job of hiring employees, which management has made worse by not firing employees who behave as Weiss depicts.

Across town, the New York Post reacts in its usual restrained way …

… with columnist Michael Goodwin writing:

Back in 2012, a Goldman Sachs banker famously quit his job in a New York Times op-ed. On his last day at work, Greg Smith got on the biggest soap box he could find to declare that Goldman’s culture is “toxic and destructive.”

Bari Weiss has now done the same thing to the Times itself. Her resignation letter, posted on her Web site, is a classic example of going out with a bang.

Yet Weiss does something more than just make noise as she’s making her exit. She lays bare a hostile, coercive workplace and describes incidents and insults that reveal how the Times is the same bully in-house that it is to those on the outside who don’t subscribe to its warped views. …

In a chilling paragraph, Weiss cites “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.’ ”

That would make her a Nazi who supports Israel. The bullies need to work on their insults.

Although Weiss was a writer and editor on the opinion section, she makes the entire operation, especially the newsroom, sound like a college campus where dissent is demonized and silenced by threats. Who knew the Gray Lady could be so nasty?

Weiss does something else too — she dumps the whole mess in the lap of 39-year-old publisher A. G. Sulzberger. She addresses her letter to him and charges he personally stood by silently while a mob mentality seized control.

“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,” she writes. “And I certainly can’t square how you and other Times leaders have stood by while simultaneously praising me in private for my courage.”

As extra zingers, she quotes an 1896 line from Times patriarch Adolph Ochs — the current publisher’s great, great grandfather — who promised that the paper would always “invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

Sulzberger himself had quoted the same line in a statement when he assumed the job of publisher from his father in January of 2018, and Weiss is cleverly reminding him that he has failed to deliver.

In that statement, Sulzberger, the fifth member of his family to run the Times since Ochs died in 1935, all of them men, also promised the paper would “continue to resist polarization and groupthink by giving voice to the breadth of ideas and experiences — because we believe journalism should help people think for themselves.”

In fact, the Times is doing the opposite. As Weiss notes, groupthink now dominates the paper’s coverage from front to back and readers are encouraged to obey, not think.

If Sulzberger is looking for someone to blame, he should grab a mirror. His firing of opinion editor James Bennet last month was a green light to the Twitter mob that the publisher would bow before it, no matter how outlandish the ­demands.

Bennett’s sin was to publish an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton that said President Trump was right to consider using the military to quell riots in American cities. In a shocking breach with tradition, more than 800 Times staff members, the vast majority from the newsroom, signed a petition denouncing the piece and pushed for Bennett to be fired.

By surrendering, Sulzberger betrayed journalism’s best principles and there’s a straight line from that moment to Weiss’ resignation.

The publisher should pay special attention to one section of her letter. Noting she was hired after the Times failed to detect even a hint that Donald Trump would win the 2016 election, Weiss writes that the clear aim was to add “voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages.”

But instead of being open to those voices, she complains that “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.”

She’s absolutely right, which is why I have been saying that the Times no longer functions as an actual newspaper. Its “mission” is to rewrite the story of America, one that dovetails with the paper’s obsession with race, gender and every new form of identity politics.

The current crisis actually began two years before Sulzberger became publisher. In the summer of 2016, executive editor Dean Baquet abandoned the paper’s traditional standards of fairness and impartiality in its news pages in a bid to block Trump’s election. Since then, virtually every article on every page has been an editorial where the reporters’ opinions dominate.

Baquet’s decision to take away the guardrails against bias created a vacuum that was filled with a radical agenda. The paper is now published not to give readers facts and information, but to browbeat them with the far, far left political and social positions of the writers.

It’s a predictable Lord of the Flies outcome, where the official party line is the only acceptable position and you either go along or get out. So day after dreary day, from front to back, the Times reeks with the delusion that it knows best about everything.

That bloated hubris is a key reason why I revealed the Confederate roots of the Ochs-Sulzberger family in my Sunday column. The knowledge that members of the family, including Och’s mother, Bertha Levy, supported slavery and Ochs himself donated large sums of money to Confederate memorials should lead the staff to demand a full accounting of the family’s history. My fantasy is that the Times will apply the same standards to its own conduct that it applies to other people and institutions, and, humbled by what it learns, will be cured of its arrogance.

In that sense, Weiss and I are on the same page. We want the Times to be what it used to be and what Sulzberger promised it would be — a real newspaper.

Or is that too much to ask?

The New York Sun opines:

Jonathan Turley adds:

We have been discussing the shocking abandonment of journalistic principles by the New York Times in its recent apology for publishing a column by a United States Senator and forcing out an editor who had the audacity to publish an opposing view of the current protests.  The newspaper effectively declared echo-journalism to be its new mission.  Now another opinion writer and editor, Bari Weiss, has resigned after what she called an “illiberal environment” where she has been harassed and abused by other reporters without any intervention from the management. In a scathing resignation letter, Weiss called the Times a “Digital Thunderdome.”

In the Cotton controversy, various writers falsely claimed that the senator’s column contained false and unconstitutional statements.  Simply the act of publishing the column led to the removal of the editor. Yet, one of those writers recently spread a clearly false conspiracy theory about police with no such outcry.

After the removal of the editor and cringing apology of the newspaper, Weiss said that the environment at the newspaper became openly intolerant and hostile for anyone deemed insufficiently obedient to the new orthodoxy at the newspaper.  She wrote in her resignation letter that “showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.”  She claims to have been called a “nazi” and “rascist” for holding opposing views: “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.” …

The last few weeks have seen the rapid acceleration of attack on free speech and the free press. The most chilling aspect of this period is that the attacks has come from universities and the press itself.  Faculty and reporters have remained silent as their colleagues have been abused. Many are fearful that they will also be labeled as racist.  These attacks have succeeded in chilling speech.  Indeed, Weiss describes how management encouraged her in private but remained conspicuously silent in public.  She stated “Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these views. Yet they are cowed by those who do.” It is an account that is all too familiar for those of us in academia. However, the collapse of the New York Times — long the iconic paper of record in the United States — has been the most chilling development in this glacial period.

I have previously said that the actions of the New York Times on the Cotton column would stand alone in journalistic infamy.  It is not surprising that the New York Times has allowed an environment of intolerance and abuse to expand in the vacuum left by by its earlier abandonment of core principles.  None of this matters to most readers or reporters.  Readers now have a newspaper that will not challenge their assumptions or their positions.  Reporters will be allowed to continue to write so long as they do not challenge the orthodoxy of the new order.  It is a pattern that we have seen played out repeatedly in history and it has never ended well.

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