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.”
She said that she is not alone in such treatment under the new order and that “the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times.” She stated:
“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.”
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.