A Discouraging Word

It’s unlikely that there was any sort of backroom coordination happening, so when Andrew Sullivan twitted that this would be his last week at New York Magazine, it had  more of an impact than it would otherwise. Then again, his editor’s attempt to explain his departure said more, and less, than a mouthful.

I believe there is a way to write from a conservative perspective about some of the most politically charged subjects of American life while still upholding our values.

What values would that be? Honesty? Integrity? Factual accuracy? Or the overarching value of the moment, equity, such that a conservative could write about politically charged subjects as long as he pandered to progressive sensibilities? Was he trying to gently say that no idea, no argument, no fact, no word, could be tolerated that failed to comport with those values?

No matter, Sully was out and the delicate eyeballs of New York Magazine readers would never have to bleed from his savage takedowns of fertile pop culture. After all, Andrew Sullivan was a conservative white male, and gay is the new straight and left him at the bottom of the victim hierarchy, where no discouraging word was allowed.

The departure of Andrew Sullivan, who had already been told there was no real estate for him of late, would have raised hackles in some quarters, but came on the same day that New York Times editorial board member Bari Weiss quit her gig.

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. 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.

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.

Some will parse her resignation letter for disputable claims, or attack her for things she’s said or written in the past. Like Sullivan, she was hated in certain quarters, and like Sullivan, there are many who will react with “good riddance.” They will explain, to the extent that word has any meaning in a world where snarky epithets or a challenge question replace anything remotely resembling thought, why she was awful.

That’s their world, good and evil, and if you’re not promoting their agenda, and doing it in the latest woke fashion, you’re reviled. Bari Weiss was reviled by the woke, not because she was conservative. She wasn’t. She was fairly liberal, as that word used to be understood. She was staunchly pro-Israel, which made her a Palestianian murderer in the eyes of the woke, slipping out of the New York Times building at night to slaughter innocent Palestinian babies in their sleep. Who could tolerate such a killer?

All this bodes ill, especially for independent-minded young writers and editors paying close attention to what they’ll have to do to advance in their careers. Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.

For these young writers and editors, there is one consolation. As places like The Times and other once-great journalistic institutions betray their standards and lose sight of their principles, Americans still hunger for news that is accurate, opinions that are vital, and debate that is sincere. I hear from these people every day. “An independent press is not a liberal ideal or a progressive ideal or a democratic ideal. It’s an American ideal,” you said a few years ago. I couldn’t agree more. America is a great country that deserves a great newspaper.

The New York Times losing Bari Weiss isn’t the death of the paper of record. Indeed, losing James Bennett was likely more deadly, but he went first, in the midst of the Tom Cotton firestorm, and somehow didn’t really have the impact it should have. Nor is Sully’s departure the death of New York Mag, which was never high-brow literature to begin with. And they will both likely end up somewhere else, writing what they need to write and want us to read.

But for all the picking at the edges of Weiss’ and Sullivan’s writing, the message is clear: Don’t challenge the prevailing narrative of social justice if you don’t want to be a pariah. If the chill wasn’t clear enough, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize drove the point home.

If you want to know the truth, Nikole Hannah-Jones will tell you what it is, and that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

8 thoughts on “A Discouraging Word

  1. John Barleycorn

    Oh shit! How the heck are you gonna parlay your future semi-retired gig, putting on creative writing seminars for the Rand Corporation and the Kristiansen faimily’s Lego dynasty into a retirement gig as a columnist for that newspaper you read every day now?

    I dunno but you better start thinking about slipping in the back door at Christie’s to assist their general counsel office for a bit?*

    And don’t you worry about Bari, she has her own “they are picking on me” parlay going down and no, that will not include her kicking back in a tank top at the Tel Aviv cafés writing user manuals from the “feminist’s perspective” for Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, GenCorp Aerojet, Huntington Ingalls, and Lockheed Martin.

    *If you take this sound advice make sure to let me know as rumor has it there are gonna be a few Auguste Rodin sculptures hitting the streets in the next few months and I could make it worth your while for some non-biased information.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Don’t you worry esteemed one…

        Heck seems like it was only yesterday when Carlos loaned that newspaper you read every day 250 million and I do believe he called in his warrants on that note and is now the majority owner of that rag.

        Carlos is a good dude but he is busy, He has peoples though and if I were you I would take that long strategy Christie’s advice. Your time is near and don’t you worry about my aspirations I already got the Zine ink in motion down in Mexico City. It is just a matter of time before that play returns some 8th Ave dividends.

        It is gonna be fun, fun, fun!

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