In an interview with Bill Maher on Friday, former New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss criticized cancel culture and her former employer, which has been wholly captured by the leftist woke radicals who populate social media. Weiss, who was disgusted by the whole Tom Cotton controversy that led to the NY Times’s op-ed director’s resignation, told Maher that the intolerance for free speech now growing on the left poses a significant threat to both the media and the country as a whole.
“We’re used to criticism. Criticism is kosher in the work that we do,” Weiss said of those in the media. “Criticism is great. What cancel culture is about is not criticism. It is about punishment. It is about making a person radioactive. It is about taking away their job. The writer Jonathan Rauch called it social murder. And I think that’s right.
“It’s not just about punishing the sinner. It’s not just about punishing the person for being insufficiently pure,” Weiss continued. “It’s about this sort of secondary boycott of people who would deign to speak to that person or appear on a platform with that person. And we see just very obviously where that kind of politics gets us. If conversation with people that we disagree with becomes impossible, what is the way that we solve conflict? It’s violence.”
She continued: “That’s an enormous problem because what it’s meant is the collapse of moderates. It’s meant the collapse of the center and the retribalization of this country and the whole deal with this country, the reason that it’s exceptional with all of its flaws is because we depart from history. We say that clannishness, tribalism, that we can overcome that, that there’s something bigger than lineage or kin or the political tribe we belong to. And I think what we’re seeing right now, and it’s a very scary moment, is a kind of returning to the mean of history. And I think it is up to us to defend the ideas that made this country unique and a departure of history.”
It would be nice to dismiss Weiss’s concerns as an overreaction, but it is anything but. Indeed, anyone still downplaying “cancel culture” as a right-wing fever dream or some kind of distraction from the larger issues is simply not paying attention. Either that, or they actively support the idea of shutting down anyone who doesn’t perfectly toe the leftist line on race, sex, trans, politics, and everything else.
Weiss said that the internet has given ordinary people power over the old media.
“The reason that Twitter is the assigning editor of The New York Times is because the printing press isn’t the printing press anymore. It’s because the printing press is in each one of our pockets,” Weiss said. “To do our job well, writers and editors, we need to have a level of bravery and thick skin and fearlessness. And when you’re living in fear of an online mob, you know, all it takes is a dozen people to repeat a lie about you — that you’re a racist, that you’re a transphobe, that you’re a bigot — for that lie to become true and that’s extremely dangerous.”
Well, exactly. The democratization of media is a good thing in some ways, but when we give undue power to a loud minority on social media, we’ve just traded one set of gatekeepers for another. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Except the new one is much more insane.