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15 Jul, 2020 16:57

We’re allowing left-leaning Twitter to kill American journalism

We’re allowing left-leaning Twitter to kill American journalism

A prominent opinion writer and editor for the New York Times has quit, accusing the paper of pandering to the groupthink of social media and saying she was bullied for failing to conform. We’re self-censoring our way to oblivion.

Earlier this week, Bari Weiss, a prominent writer and editor for the Opinion section of the New York Times, publicly resigned from the paper. In an open letter to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger on her website, Weiss denounced the way today’s editorials are determined by the groupthink of social media, and the bullying – both online and at work – that she experienced as a result of expressing her opinions. 

“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” Weiss wrote. “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.”

Also on rt.com New York Times has double standards & serves woke mob? Bari Weiss’ shocking resignation letter only states the obvious

Weiss’ letter – which was thoroughly mocked on Twitter – is reminiscent of the Harper’s Letter that was similarly lampooned last week. Signed by prominent authors such as JK Rowling and Salman Rushdie, it took a stand against the illiberal online ‘cancel culture’ that makes it impossible for people to share dissenting views without fear of being hung, drawn, and quartered by social media trial. 

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” read the letter. “Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.” 

I completely agree that American journalism needs to be more inclusive and that we need to hear more from BIPOC writers and those with disabilities. I’m also very much for ending hate speech, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all of its ilk. But that is not the same as tearing people down for expressing an opinion that is different from yours or goes a little beyond the current trending hashtag – the new Party Line. 

I’m also aware of the fact that a lot of ‘cancel culture’ is about taking accountability, and that, realistically, Bari Weiss and JK Rowling will be just fine, and maybe it really is time for them to hand over the baton. But the people that we’re truly hurting are the ones who don’t have their platform, and will therefore not speak their mind for fear of ruining their nascent careers. It’s a point that prominent New York Magazine writer Andrew Sullivan – who announced yesterday that he would be leaving the paper for similar reasons – expressed in a tweet last night.

What we’re really hurting is the entire concept of a free press in general, which fundamentally functions on the premise of self-expression without censorship.

When I started writing op-eds for RT.com, I knew I was going to be lambasted for writing for the “Kremlin mouthpiece” (insert eyeroll here; if you want journalism to not be state-funded, then you need to pay for it, which is a whole other story). 

It bothered me more this time around than in my early days of being a journalist, because I have never actually experienced censorship while writing for a Russian outlet, even though I frequently espouse views that challenge what most Russians believe (and get hate for it).

I have, however, come across it more and more while working in American journalism over the last few years, as the phrase, “Do you think people on Twitter will be OK with this?” comes up over and over again. I’m not sure it matters if you’re not publishing something because of the government or because of Twitter; it’s censorship whenever you’re more worried about the reaction than the quality of the work. 

Then there’s the self-censorship I’ve experienced because of concerns that an anti-Trump article might offend the far-right sensibilities of whoever is funding the operation, which is a whole other problem. 

Everyone made fun of CNN host Chris Cuomo back in April, when he went on a rant about why he doesn’t want to work in journalism anymore, and he walked back on his comments later on. But I remember listening to it and thinking how much it expressed the off-the-record sentiments of so many journalists that I know working in American media today. 

“I don’t want to spend my time doing things that I don’t think are valuable enough,” he said. “Well, I don’t like what I do professionally, I’ve decided. I don’t value indulging irrationality and hyperpartisanship. I don’t think it’s worth my time.”

People don’t go into journalism for the money – which is generally pathetic – or the thrill of hate mail. They do it because they want to broaden people’s minds, engage in heated discourse, help people understand one another better, make the world a better place. For this to happen, there needs to be a free flow of ideas and a respectful dialogue, ideally one in which different people reach some sort of general consensus. 

The hyperpartisanship that Cuomo refers to is also a problem, given that you can’t say anything on social media these days without people trying to sleuth out whether you’re a conservative or a liberal. In general, I try to write balanced pieces that take a number of perspectives into account, which is why the same article often gets me deemed a “militant neo-liberal” by Russians and a “privileged conservative” by Americans.  

I’m personally of the opinion that these labels are outdated and, at this point, harmful. If someone puts up a Facebook post expressing Covid-19 concerns due to the protests, they are immediately labeled a conservative, which means they must be a Trump supporter, which means they must want to keep kids in cages, none of which is necessarily true. There’s no shortcut to finding out how someone thinks or feels; you have to actually ask them and listen instead of making assumptions and attacking. 

I met up with a friend over the weekend, whose opinions are typically more thoroughly in line with the general attitude on social media than mine. We discussed a wide range of current events in America. Sometimes, I found myself saying, “That’s an interesting point; I’d never thought of it that way.” 

The joy of saying, “That’s an interesting point; I’d never thought of it that way” is, as far as I’m concerned, the entire purpose of engaging in a discussion on current events, and it’s an intellectual right that will disappear if Left Twitter has its way.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.