The dismissal of James Bennet was just one of many illiberal mistakes | Tech US News


Last week, Washington Publish media critic Erik Wemple wrote a column revisiting the 2020 firing of public editor James Bennet by the New York Times. Bennet made some mistakes during his tenure, but was fired in response to demands Times staffers angry that his site published a comment by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton advocating the use of the National Guard to prevent riots and looting.

Wemple’s column is famous for two things. First, his reporting notes that “fact-checking” is being done. Times used as a pretext to retract the op-ed was farcical. The op-ed had already been fact-checked before publication, and a second fact-check was designed to find reasons to support a decision that publisher AG Sulzberger had already made. (Indeed, the “fact checkers,” Wemple reports, seemed disappointed that their second search turned up nothing useful.)

Yes Times the ongoing invention of new standards was then fully evident. Why didn’t Wemple bring this up? This is the second, more interesting revelation from his column. He openly admits his “mid-career attitude of cowardice and risk management.”

Wemple may be alone in making this admission, but he is not alone in believing it. Many people shared similar beliefs with me, especially in the angry summer of 2020. It is an unhealthy culture that forces people to suppress their doubts and speak platitudes for fear of losing their livelihood.

But the truth is, Wemple’s fears were not imaginary. In recent years, many journalists have lost their jobs due to an internal social panic even more irrational than the Cotton episode. Philadelphia The inquirer purged its editor-in-chief after its architecture critic wrote a column lamenting the destruction of buildings during the George Floyd protests. The Times ousted his chief science reporter in the middle of the pandemic because a group of preschoolers he was leading on a trip abroad complained about his centrist policies and quoted (but did not use) a racial slur.

The Publish she single-handedly caused the sudden retirement of two of her most beloved and decorated staffers after they became the targets of growing anger. Gene Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist, wrote a column trying to make fun of himself for not liking Indian food, which, despite his apology, sparked calls to fire him and replace him with a person of color. . Weingarten quietly retired soon after. The Publish also published a bizarre story about editorial cartoonist Tom Toles throwing a Halloween party at which one guest he barely knew turned up dressed as “Megyn Kelly in blackface.” A few months later, Toles retired.

I don’t know exactly what happened in all these episodes. Some of them are complicated. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people responded to the internal outrage by deciding they’d had enough, but were never specifically told they couldn’t keep their jobs.

I am sure there are many more such incidents that have gone unreported. When I came across the news of David Shor’s firing in 2020, I was surprised that no one wanted to talk about it. Because these purges take place in institutions whose staffs are predominantly left-wing, most of the victims in these cases have beliefs that place them somewhere in the middle to the left of the political spectrum. They usually don’t want to be known as victims of the cancellation culture. Becoming a martyr on Fox News actually compounds the “social death” that many of these victims experience.

Wemple’s confession reveals that these purges have a multiplier effect: for every person humiliated or fired for a minor or nonexistent offense, many other people will refuse to criticize even transparently absurd left-wing piety.

Condemnation of the arson and looting that often arose around the George Floyd protests violated one such taboo. Even today, many progressives continue to defend Bennet’s firing and response to the op-ed as just and necessary, while refusing to acknowledge the actual contentious situation. In a column titled “James Bennet Was Wrong and It’s Good He Lost His Job,” Tom Scocca describes the op-ed as follows: “Cotton called on the federal government to send in the military against people protesting the police killing of George. Floyd.” Jonathan Katz writes that Bennet “published an opus by Senator Tom Cotton calling on the US military to quell the nationwide protests that erupted in response to the police killing of George Floyd.”

These descriptions are factually untrue, which is ironic given that Katz’s title is “James Bennet and the Transformation of 2020.” Cotton’s memo specifically called on the National Guard to stop rioting and looting and to protect peaceful protests. “The majority who want to protest peacefully should not be confused with groups of misfits,” Cotton wrote. “But the riots have nothing to do with George Floyd, whose grieving relatives have condemned the violence.” It could be argued that Cotton’s position would inadvertently lead to the suppression of peaceful protesters. But it’s just not like he was calls for this.

Cotton’s argument for sending troops to prevent the destruction was not particularly strong, but that does not explain the reaction to it. ( Times regularly publishes mediocre op-eds.) The point of the backlash was to pale beyond any overt acknowledgment of this aspect of the demonstrations.

The motive for many progressives to follow these stifling conventions was sympathetic. If you believe that systemic racism and inequality are the biggest crisis in America, which I do, and you also believe that the racism of the Republican Party is far more dangerous than any excesses on the left, which I do, then you may be hesitant to admit to anything that would can be used by Republicans to discredit the cause of racial justice. However, this hesitancy allows the most unreasonable people on the left to push the entire progressive movement into indefensible and self-discrediting positions.

The George Floyd protests are not the only topic where this dynamic has prevailed. Progressives decided that the hypothesis that COVID-19 might have originated in a laboratory rather than a zoonosis was “racist” – even though it was a purely scientific question, the evidence was and is unclear, so it was easier to imagine racist behavior. which is due to a theory that blames Chinese cultural practices for COVID than a theory that blames the Chinese government. Journalists in the central authorities followed this convention and essentially turned the scientific question into a political one. When institutions adopt illiberal norms of debate that make it impossible to challenge accusations of racism or sexism, they inevitably open themselves up to abuse.

I believe the cultural pressures that caused these mistakes have subsided. But they didn’t disappear. As Scocca and Katz demonstrate, there remains a deep-rooted impulse on the left to defend or deny illiberal norms. They insist that the wave of hysterical accusations, exaggerated language, and powerful outraged crowds were figments of critics’ imaginations, or that these things happened but were in fact good, or perhaps somehow both. As people in these institutions begin to lose their fear of speaking the truth, we need to honestly face what happened.


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