This week Bari Weiss left the New York Times. She was an opinion editor with a focus on antisemitism. Sadly, we expect such a writer to receive criticism and abuse from the general public – we certainly receive our fair share here at HonestReporting. But shockingly it was Bari’s own colleagues at The Times who called her a “Nazi” and a “racist,” and demeaned her for “writing about the Jews again.”
This at a time when antisemitic attacks in America are at an all-time high: including mass shootings in synagogues, such as in Pittsburgh (where Weiss had her Bat Mitzvah) and Poway, California, a kosher grocery in New Jersey, a mass stabbing at a Hannukah party in a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, and more, and more, and more…
Bari Weiss on Real Time with Bill Maher on YouTube
Weiss wrote that co-workers at The Times bullied her and her colleagues, and insisted she be rooted out of the company: all, ironically, in the name of “inclusiveness.” This is an example of what is sometimes called, “cancel culture,” the notion that any idea you don’t like is evil and must be – not debated – but outright erased from existence, along with the person who expressed the idea. “Cancel culture” and the related phenomenon of “wokeness” claim a monopoly on morality, and to that end, some of its proponents take license to behave in ways that are objectively (and ironically) immoral.
In her open letter of resignation, Weiss explained,
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.”
Weiss goes on to explain that the reactions of people on Twitter and a kind of “group-think” had effectively become the real New York Times editors, rather than the professional, human journalists who are supposedly tasked with that job.
The New York Times lost an important voice this week, and a very special journalist.
What does it mean to be a journalist?
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal in the pages of the Washington Post in 1972, ultimately bringing down the Nixon presidency. I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of their role in our world today. Regrettably, some journalists, imbued with a sense of mission, believe that the pinnacle of journalism is to stand up for the oppressed, and to bring down the powerful. It is not. Not even for Woodward and Bernstein.
Bob Woodward (l-r) & Carl Bernstein (Wikimedia Commons)
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did not set out to bring down Nixon, but merely to follow the story, as consummate professionals. Had the facts of their story led to a vindication of the President, they would have reported it just as faithfully and accurately – at least this is the impression I have from knowing something about their character, and how they felt about their profession. Their goal wasn’t to bring down anyone, just to expose the truth, whatever that truth may be.
I’m reminded of Israeli doctors who tell me with pride that they will treat every patient the same, even if one is a terrorist and another is a victim. If a patient has done wrong and deserves punishment, there are courts and lawyers and judges for that, people and systems outside the doctor’s purview. In the same way, a journalist’s job is to give the public the best possible tools to draw their own conclusions, to exercise their curiosity, and to learn about our world. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of a doctor choosing to kill a patient out of some sense of moral judgment.
Journalism vs. activism
Some journalists will argue that no one can be truly objective, and this is true. However, that’s like saying that a doctor cannot possibly save every patient. That is also true, but a doctor can try. And therein lies the difference: a journalist can always try to be objective and enlightening, to put their own opinions to the side and to inform people in a way that enriches our society, rather than trying to dominate it. Many journalists do the opposite: they try to be activists, and even act abusively toward their colleagues who do otherwise. And if Weiss’ resignation is any indication, those activists are winning.
Certainly there is a place for activism: many people and groups do excellent work lobbying for specific, worthy causes, and even unworthy causes. However, to call yourself a “journalist,” and yet behave as an activist, is simply dishonest: you are declaring to the world that you are a source of reliable, unbiased information, even as you work with specific intent to do the opposite.
Despite it all, we at HonestReporting remain optimistic. Bari Weiss eloquently captured the source of our optimism in this statement:
“Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these views. Yet they are cowed by those who do.”
This is, apparently, the state of journalism today: an industry made up of many thoughtful, competent people who work in fear of a minority who are the loudest, most hateful, and most driven by cynical agenda.
These are dark times for professional journalism, but not devoid of hope. We see that hope every time HonestReporting achieves a correction, adds context or changes and informs the background that guides a journalist’s story. We see it every time a journalist thanks us for our help: for teaching them something new or for giving them the solid support they need in order to speak truthfully in the face of pressure. We even see this hope when some journalists, who are intractably infected by agenda or antisemitism, find they have no viable choice but to issue retractions and corrections or simply step back and remain silent.
Most of all, we see hope when we issue a “call to action,” and thousands of readers like you jump in to help: like this week when you spoke up, and then YouTube removed Louis Farrakhan’s antisemitic 4th of July speech from their platform.
On behalf of HonestReporting, I commend Bari Weiss for her courage and diligence, and cannot wait to see where she ends up next.
She, and journalists like her, are a source of inspiration and hope – for all of us.