Culture

Is Bari Weiss the New York Times' James Damore? Insider Spills the Beans on Stifling Cancel Culture

New York Times (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

On Tuesday, Bari Weiss, a centrist staff editor for The New York Times, resigned in protest over the paper’s “new McCarthyism” and cancel culture atmosphere. She described getting harassed as a “Nazi” and a “racist” for daring to question the stifling leftist orthodoxy. She wrote to management, “I can no longer do the work that you brought me here to do,” that is to bring 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.”

Weiss described a climate of fear and self-censorship at America’s newspaper of record. “Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery,” she wrote, lamenting that “intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times. … 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 unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets,” she reported. “Standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back. Too wise to post on Slack, [my co-workers] write to me privately about the ‘new McCarthyism’ that has taken root at the paper of record.”

Weiss’ resignation is extremely noteworthy. A graduate of Columbia University and a former editor at Tablet and The Wall Street Journal, Weiss joined The New York Times in 2017. The paper hired her in order to correct its blind spots. As she put it, “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 am proud of my work as a writer and as an editor,” Weiss wrote. “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.” (Chatterton Williams is particularly noteworthy here because he spearheaded the recent Harper’s letter condemning cancel culture.)

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In that effort, she worked with James Bennet, the opinion editor who recently resigned in the wake of backlash over Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) op-ed. While Cotton’s article endorsed the free speech rights of peaceful George Floyd protesters, it also called for the National Guard to put down the violent riots that have so far claimed the lives of at least 22 people, most of them black.

Responding to Cotton’s op-ed, several Times employees tweeted the message, “Running this puts black [New York Times] staffers in danger.” Bennet originally defended publishing Cotton’s op-ed, but eventually resigned amid mounting pressure.

Weiss mentioned the Cotton episode in her description of the cancel culture at the Times. “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, a proud anti-Semite who believes in lizard Illuminati,” Weiss lamented.

“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” she charged. “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.”

Weiss faced harassment and a “hostile work environment” for falling afoul of that 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.

Rather than learning the lessons of the 2016 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” — the Times has embraced the idea that “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.”

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“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,” Weiss lamented.

Weiss’ resignation letter reads like the damning tell-alls from Google’s James Damore and Facebook’s Brian Amerige. Damore condemned Google as an “ideological echo chamber” for far-left ideas that would brook no dissent from stifling leftist orthodoxy. Amerige described Facebook as a “political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views.” Both described witch-hunts against conservatives oddly similar to the way the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) uses routine defamation to silence conservative groups as KKK-style “hate groups.”

Conservatives have grown to expect this kind of leftist domination in Silicon Valley, on college campuses, in the entertainment industry, and even in the mainstream media. Project Veritas has done excellent undercover work revealing far-left bias at outlets like CNN. But Bari Weiss’ resignation illustrates just how impossible it is to check the leftward tilt and the cancel culture, even at The New York Times, a newspaper that thinks of itself as an organ of TRUTH.

The Times hired Weiss in order to correct its blindspots after the 2016 election caught its leaders off-guard. Her tenure has only illustrated that those blindspots are far more systemic than those leaders previously imagined.

Weiss concluded her resignation letter by noting that she had adopted Adolph Ochs’ 1896 vision: “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.” That is a marvelous idea, but one which it seems the Times will no longer stomach.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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