By Josefin Dolsten
The opinions expressed here are that of the author alone
(JTA) – Bari Weiss, the Jewish opinion writer and editor who has been a lightning rod for left-wing critics, has resigned from The New York Times.
The author of a much-discussed recent book on antisemitism, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Weiss announced her resignation in a blistering letter to New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger posted to her website Tuesday morning. She wrote that the newspaper had become a place where “intellectual curiosity – let alone risk-taking – is now a liability” and said she had been subjected to bullying from colleagues who disagreed with the ideas she advanced in her columns and on Twitter.
“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,’” she wrote. “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. … I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.”
Weiss’s resignation is the latest in a series of changes at the Times’ Opinion section that began last month when the paper ran a piece by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican, calling for a military response to largely peaceful protests calling for racial justice. The piece elicited unusual resistance from journalists inside the Times newsroom and eventually led to the resignation of the Opinion section’s editor, James Bennet, who admitted that he had not read the piece prior to publication.
Bennet made a point of bringing in conservative voices, including Weiss and Bret Stephens, whose columns have also been dogged by criticism, and Weiss suggested in her letter that Bennet’s departure had worsened her work situation.
“Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain,” she wrote. “Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”
Weiss did not indicate what she plans to do next and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Katie Kingsbury, the Times’ acting editorial page editor, said in a statement that she is committed to an intellectually and politically diverse opinion section.
“We appreciate the many contributions that Bari made to Times Opinion,” Kingsbury said in a statement issued to NBC News. She added, “I’m personally committed to ensuring that The Times continues to publish voices, experiences and viewpoints from across the political spectrum.”
Since starting as an op-ed staff writer and editor at The Times in 2018, Weiss has risen to prominence for her commentary on issues such as anti-Semitism, Israel, the #MeToo movement and cultural appropriation. Her writing often criticizes what she sees as hypocrisies among progressives, which has earned her both praise and vilification.
Perhaps her most contentious claim deals with what she sees as an effort by young progressives to stifle free speech in what has been described by conservatives as “cancel culture.”
Last month, she wrote on Twitter that the Cotton saga reflected a “civil war inside The New York Times” between what she described as “The Old Guard” subscribing to “civil libertarianism” and “The New Guard … in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.” This week, Weiss was among 150 prominent intellectuals of diverse political orientations to sign a public letter defending the value of open debate and the free exchange of ideas, calling them “the lifeblood of a liberal society.”
In her resignation letter, Weiss said fear of eliciting critical reactions increasingly shape what is published at The Times.
“Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired,” she wrote. “If a piece is perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strongly enough to suggest it, she is quickly steered to safer ground. And if, every now and then, she succeeds in getting a piece published that does not explicitly promote progressive causes, it happens only after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated.”
Weiss criticized the way a number of articles were handled, several of which related to Jewish themes.
“It took the paper two days and two jobs to say that the Tom Cotton op-ed ‘fell short of our standards.’ We attached an editor’s note on a travel story about Jaffa shortly after it was published because it ‘failed to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history.’ But there is still none appended to Cheryl Strayed’s fawning interview with the writer Alice Walker, a proud anti-Semite who believes in lizard Illuminati,” she wrote.
Weiss has been a persistent critic of progressive spaces that have excluded Jews identifying as Zionists. She has written about accusations that Women’s March organizers did not address anti-Semitism and a Chicago lesbian rally that excluded Jews who carried banners with a Star of David because the event was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.”
“What concerns me, and this is sort of what’s behind my piece on the Women’s March or the [Chicago] Dyke March, is a progressivism that forces Jews to check their Jewish or pro-Israel or Zionist identity at the door in order to be good progressives,” Weiss told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2018.
Prior to working at The Times, Weiss wrote for The Wall Street Journal, where she said she experienced similar frustrations. (Before that, she wrote for Tablet, an online Jewish magazine.)
“I was no longer able to write for the op-ed page because I kept getting stonewalled because I was told that my pieces were too critical of Trump and Trump supporters,” she said in 2018.
Main Photo: Bari Weiss in the New York Times newsroom in 2018. (Josefin Dolsten)
The bullying of Bari Weiss and the end of classic journalism
By Jonathan S. Tobin
(JNS) For most observers of American journalism, The New York Times has long been regarded as the flagship of liberal thought and opinion. But after a woke mob essentially hounded Bari Weiss, a centrist Jewish writer who has been outspoken about anti-Semitism, to the point where she thought that her continued presence at the paper was untenable, it’s no longer possible to describe the Times as “liberal.”
It’s true that in the shorthand of American politics, the paper’s point of view can be described as left of center. But while the meaning of labels like liberal and conservative have shifted somewhat over the years, any organization that is as irredeemably hostile to a broad range of views as the Times can’t be described in that manner. The only way to describe the newspaper that is depicted in Weiss’s shocking and devastating resignation letter is “illiberal.”
The end of Weiss’s tenure at the Times is a watershed moment for the paper both in terms of its short-lived experiment at editorial diversity that her hiring represented, and the way it treats Jews and the issue of anti-Semitism.
Weiss and columnist Bret Stephens were recruited to the Times in 2017 from The Wall Street Journal, where both no longer felt comfortable because of their fervent opposition to President Donald Trump. Stephens, a past Pulitzer Prize winner for Commentary is a conservative on most issues, though cannot abide Trump. Weiss’s politics are less easily defined, but while she is an opponent of Trump, she is also a reliable commentator on anti-Semitism, in addition to the effort to demonize Israel and its supporters.
As Weiss relates in her letter, the Times made a concerted effort after the 2016 presidential election to come to terms with the fact that its political tunnel vision had caused it to misread the electorate and the mood of the country. However, for the left-wingers who run the Times, the distance between that laudable intention and being able to actually abide having people on staff who challenge their assumptions and prejudices is a bridge too far. Unless Stephens and Weiss were prepared to assimilate into their new environment–as is the case with David Brooks, a former conservative at the paper’s opinion section–and discard their principles in order to be a comfortable fit, then they were headed for conflict.
It’s one thing for the paper’s overwhelmingly liberal staff not to welcome those who dissent from such a groupthink atmosphere. But the problem in contemporary journalism that has infected the newsroom there and other places is the widespread belief by many, if not most, young journalists is that traditional beliefs about fairness and objective reporting are outdated concepts. As illustrated in this insightful and frightening Times profile of Wesley Lowery, a former Washington Post reporter now at CBS News, the culture of contemporary journalism at legacy media outlets has shifted to the point where many reporters believe that their primary duty is to promote a particular point of view, and to denigrate and delegitimize those who disagree.
The spirit of intolerance has infected the opinion section at these newspapers because the staff is simply unwilling to publish points of view that contradict their assumptions and biases. In such an environment, an independent thinker like Weiss was in trouble even if she agreed with her colleagues about Trump.
The turning point occurred the week after the George Floyd protests when peaceful demonstrations gave way to rioting and looting. Opinion editor James Bennet, who had hired Weiss, approved an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that called for the use of federal troops to stop the violence and looting (and not, as the article’s critics falsely claimed, to put down peaceful demonstrations or impose a fascist regime on the United States). Cotton’s article outraged the Times’s staff, and a newsroom revolt forced publisher A.G. Sulzburger and Bennet to disavow the piece even after they had rightly defended it as in keeping with their obligation to publish opposing views. But the woke mob at the Times no longer believes in free discourse and tolerance of opponents. They see all contrary opinions as a threat to be abolished, and their advocates to be canceled and shunned. As Weiss aptly states, Twitter (and the woke mobs of bullies who dominate that platform) has become “the ultimate editor” of the Times since not even its publisher is capable of standing up to it.
After Bennet was forced to resign over this debacle and he was replaced by Charlotte Greensit, a hardcore leftist from The Intercept – a radical rag that specializes in publishing conspiracy theories about American and Israeli perfidy – few believed that Weiss could survive at the paper.
But what she describes in her resignation letter is more than a difference over philosophy or politics. No one who reads it can really accept the paper’s commitment to a fair editorial process. Just as important, the intolerance shown her was stunning in its ferocity.
And it is her identity as a Jewish writer and outspoken commentator on anti-Semitism that is particularly disturbing. Weiss wasn’t attacked in spite of being Jewish, but in large measure because she was widely identified as a Jew willing to speak out against anti-Semitism.
As she points out, the tone of the constant bullying towards her was particularly troubling because it included calling her “a Nazi and a racist.” She said she “learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.’ ” Can anyone imagine an African-American writer being denigrated for writing about their community, especially when, as in Weiss’s case, she grew up at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshippers were shot dead in the fall of 2018 during Shabbat-morning services?
Her willingness to take on anti-Semites on the left, rather than just white nationalists, outraged her colleagues. They never forgave her for activism as a student at Columbia University when she first made her name as someone determined to oppose the bullying of anti-Zionist professors determined to intimidate and silence Jewish students. In the eyes of the intolerant left, a willingness to stand up for Israel and Jewish rights is, in a classic case of projection, an act of repression.
As Weiss noted in her letter, at the Times, coverage of Israel is invariably negative while anti-Semites, like novelist Alice Walker, are treated with kid gloves and never confronted about their hate.
The picture Weiss paints is of a paper where deviation from ideological conformity is met with contempt, insults and threats. That it is a hostile environment for proud Jews like Weiss is hardly a surprise, given the paper’s long and troublesome history on Jewish issues.
The chilling nature of her account should be a sobering read for everyone. If many Americans no longer regard an outlet like the Times as reliable or objective, it’s not because they are brainwashed by conservative outlets or are racists. It’s because those now at the Times aren’t ashamed of their biased coverage and editorial judgment. To the contrary, they pride themselves on their illiberalism and regard tolerance of opposing conservative views as a heresy that must be stamped out.
That someone like Weiss cannot survive there is worrisome for the Jewish community. It also illustrates the end of American journalism as we once knew it.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS – Jewish News Syndicate.
This op-ed has been edited slightly for space purposes only.