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If you're a culture warrior and they won't cancel you, you may just have to cancel yourself.
One is expected to have an opinion about Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times. This puts me at a disadvantage, because I never read her. Her writing appeared only infrequently in the print paper, which is where I usually read the Times’s “soft” copy—op-eds, editorials, book reviews, anything that isn’t News with a capital N. (I gather she was principally a staff opinion editor.) On the other hand, my ignorance allows me to approach her bid for victim status with greater objectivity than most others.
Weiss’s resignation has attracted a lot of interest because it happens in the midst of a culture war over free speech. She was a signatory to a letter published in Harper’s that said cancel culture was getting out of hand. I’m on record casting my lot with the letter-writers, and suggesting that the presence of signatories like Noam Chomsky, Katha Pollitt, Adam and Arlie Russell Hochschild, and Jeet Heer gave hope that the left and liberals, going forward, would be united in favoring free expression at the New York Times, Hachette Book Group, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and assorted other venues. Perhaps, I wrote, this is a signal that liberals and the left will come together in other ways, too.
Weiss has now spoiled my kumbaya moment by claiming that she got hounded out of the Times by intolerant wokies. The irony is that she’s mimicking cancel culture.
My enemies are bigots. In her resignation letter Weiss says criticism of her writings by colleagues made her a victim of “unlawful discrimination.” I’m not clear which category she has in mind—race, color, religion (Weiss is Jewish), sex (Weiss is bisexual and a woman), or national origin. But disagreement does not equal persecution, lawful or otherwise, and “discrimination” is never a good word to toss around without providing evidence.
I dish it out but I can’t take it. Weiss writes:
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.
It does sound as though incivility is out of control at the Times, and that’s bad for all sorts of reasons. But provocateurs are the last people who have a right to expect coddling. Say what you will about Bob Bartley, the hard-right conservative who edited the Wall Street Journal editorial pages when I worked on the news side in the early 1990s—and we did. The entire news staff expressed, internally, constant distaste not only for Bartley’s extremist views but also for his standards of accuracy, which stood well below those for the news pages. Bartley must have known that even Paul Steiger, the managing editor, didn’t bother to defend him. But I don’t recall Bartley ever crying to the publisher about it. He relished being a pariah, as pariahs ought.
Why aren’t my critics punished? Criticism of Weiss’s work has been largely internal; the Times, like most news organizations, doesn’t condone public criticism of the paper by its staff. But Weiss says some criticism of her by Times staffers dribbled out onto Twitter, and she complains that the perpetrators weren’t punished. One week ago Weiss signed a letter that noted (correctly) that “it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.” Now she’s complaining that her detractors didn’t get spanked.
You’re cancelled! We’ve seen no indication that the Times pushed Weiss out. If she held views that the Times found intolerable, it didn’t find them so intolerable that it showed her the door. The Times never demoted or sidelined her, as far as we know. It didn’t bow to internal critics and criticize her to the outside world. Maybe the Times didn’t bathe Weiss in constant approval, but no employee has a right to expect that, especially an employee who experiences a lot of conflict with coworkers. The Times kept her on.
So Weiss had to fire herself. I think the punishment was rash.