Wednesday, July 15, 2020

No Holds Bari

I don't know very much about the erstwhile New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, who sent an over-the-top letter of resignation to the publisher yesterday that I predicted would be misinterpreted as talking about the newsroom rather than the very separate opinion department for which she worked. (I knew I could count on you, New York Post. The Washington Post's longtime "center-right" columnist also took the bait, as did a rogues' gallery of the usual rightwing suspects.)

She writes:
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.
Weiss, whose less-than-twice-monthly columns apparently often incited controversy, claims the paper failed after the 2016 election to learn “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.” She says she was the subject of "constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views" and that Twitter has become the paper's "ultimate editor.”

I can't speak to her experience at the Times. But if not wanting to "understand" racist voters is the principal charge being leveled here, then pardon me for not jumping to prosecute. And as for the "bullying” allegation, my first instinct whenever an adult uses the term is that he or she simply can't handle any type of pushback. Weiss famously questioned whether sexual assault should disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court and people slammed her for it. Sorry, but not all criticism is illegitimate, despite what the Reality TV generation may have told you about ignoring "the haters."

And sure enough, Weiss is a millennial. And those who do know her claim she's much better at dishing it out than taking it. For example: She's said to have accused multiple Arab professors critical of Israel of being racists (sound familiar?) and has been accused of trying to get a Times contributor fired for using profanity on Twitter (is that "bullying"?). But even so, I wanted to learn more.

I still have contacts at the Gray Lady, some of whom tell me that a conference call to talk about the James Bennet situation was quickly commandeered by some of the younger staffers who were not willing to discuss the matter other than to say he had to be let go, immediately. (His deputy, James Dao, was removed from the paper's masthead and reassigned to the newsroom.) For the uninitiated, Bennet -- who was poached from The Atlantic as the possible next executive editor of the Gray Lady -- was fired for running a piece by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the U.S. government to deploy military troops to deter looting amid protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. The column drew immediately backlash, with hundreds of Times journalists voicing their opposition, tweeting the headline, writing “Running this put Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” 

Twenty-year NYT veteran Jodi Rudoren wrote that when Bennet was forced to resign as Opinion editor, she was worried

"I found the argument that publishing the OpEd endangered anyone’s life to be specious, though it was repeated by many of my former colleagues on Twitter; I thought that organized, open revolt violated every code of collegiality; and I worried that the paper was cowering from its historic role as the host of raucous but respectful debate."

At the time, his dismissal was attributed to the publisher’s disgust that Bennet argued that he hadn’t even read the piece before publication. But I've since been told that the "Bennet didn't even read it" smoking gun for his removal was absurd because deputies are frequently in charge of articles, including guest columns, and that he couldn't possibly read everything. And that several staffers on the call did want to speak up in his defense, but felt like they could not. Hmm. 

I generally don't feel much sympathy for people who willfully choose not to get with the program. Evolve or get out of the way is almost always the correct approach. But that being said, I have seen enough examples in the LGBTQ world of late to know things aren't always exactly as the kids say they are.

In recent years I've been told that because David France is white and csigender he's not "allowed" to make a film about Marsha P. Johnson -- even one starring a trans woman of color. And since he did, he must have stolen the work of a black transgender filmmaker. Queer black icon and drag pioneer RuPaul has been repeatedly labeled racist and transphobic. LGBTQ Nation shouted that Dolly Parton "just slammed nonbinary and pansexual people" ... because she takes what her capricious goddaughter Miley Cyrus says with a grain of salt. And in December I was informed that J.K. Rowling, about whom I know nothing other than being repeatedly told for 20 years that she was an "LGBTQ icon" -- read about 20 times she was one HERE! -- is transphobic because she offered her support for a female researcher who'd lost her livelihood for saying she believed there are two biological sexes. (I am talking about the wrath Rowling received the first time she had the temerity to speak about the subject; I have already addressed her subsequent comments.)

Meanwhile, "Harry Potter" star Miriam Margolyes is being lauded a "trans hero" for calling Rowling a "gender fascist" -- only when you click through you see that what Margolyes said -- "If you seriously want to become a woman, you should be allowed to" -- it sounds awfully similar to Rowling's "gender fascist" view. Isn't Margolyes implying there are TWO SEXES -- gasp! -- and one would be transitioning from one to become the other? How binary is that?!!!!

To be clear, I'm happy to see people get what they have coming to them when they deserve it. But each situation needs to be judged fairly on its own merits. And lately I find myself shaking my head more often than I used to -- and than I'd like to.


JP Aragon said...

I've been reading NYT since high school. It was always a liberal slanted newspaper but recently it's seems to have jumped the shark into the extreme leftist ocean.

Gian said...

Your blog is a daily treat but posts like this are when you really shine.

Tennis Fan said...

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Michael Klein said...

Hello, I've been reading the NYT since I was 17. I agree that it has been drifting off into a certain circle of thought in which viewpoints considered offensive by a certain PC wing aren't allowed. Those viewpoints may well be offensive, but you can see that the paper is losing its bearings in the controversy about the opinion piece by Tom Cotton that led to the firing of the OpEd editor. The opinion of Cotton, who is thought likely to be a contender for the Republican nomination post-Trump, is or ought to be within the ambit of what can be published as an OPINION piece. One doesn't have to like or agree with Cotton's viewpoint. What is important is to know what he has to say, as someone who has a significant following in the US. Similarly, with the opinion columnist who wrote the over-the-top resignation. She may be a bit of a drama queen, but she is likely onto something about the culture of our erstwhile paper of record.