All posts filed under: Media

Is Political Diversity on the Op-Ed Page Worth Defending?

The Atlantic’s decision to fire the conservative columnist Kevin D. Williamson has occasioned an avalanche of think pieces, the latest of which is a Wall Street Journal article from Williamson in his own defence. All these commentaries swirl around the same question: Exactly how important is political diversity in media? For some, Williamson’s firing is proof that the mainstream media practices something like institutional discrimination against conservatives. For others, Williamson’s views were so beyond the pale that hiring him in the name of ‘diversity’ would be no more justifiable than a university astronomy department hiring a flat-earther. Diverse, yes, but also disqualifyingly wrong. Of the latter group—those who are skeptical of the need for media outlets to pursue political diversity—the ablest pen currently belongs to Osita Nwanevu, who laid out his argument in a piece for Slate entitled “It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.” There are two layers to his critique: firstly, the media actually has plenty of political diversity, but secondly, this diversity isn’t a particularly important value for publications like the Atlantic …

Sam Harris was Right; Ezra Klein Should Know Better

Earlier this week, Ph.D. neuroscientist turned pop-philosopher Sam Harris invited Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein to debate Harris on his popular podcast. The topic: Harris’s decision to feature Charles Murray for the purposes of defending him— from charges of racism, on his show last year. Murray is famous in part for writing The Bell Curve, which included a controversial chapter which mentions racial differences in IQ. But this isn’t Klein’s first flirtation with character assassinations. In case you missed it, Harris and Klein have been feuding publicly since Murray appeared on Harris’s show last year. Vox published a piece attacking Harris for featuring Murray, accusing the two of participating in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation.” Vox then refused to publish a rebuttal written by Richard Haier, respected psychologist and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence. (It finally found a home at this publication, here.) Next, Harris released his email correspondence with Klein, and that eventually led to this week’s heated podcast. Mid-way through the podcast, Harris says: you appear to be willing to believe people… are not speaking with real integrity about data because it serves political ends, …

Kevin Williamson, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Victimhood Culture

The circumstances of The Atlantic’s recent firing of columnist Kevin Williamson make clear that victimhood culture is rapidly spreading beyond university campuses. Williamson was fired for comments about abortion — comments made in tweets and a podcast before The Atlantic ever hired him. His position, that abortion is murder, is certainly a mainstream position shared by millions of Americans. What is not mainstream is his view that women who have abortions should be subject to the same legal penalties as other murderers — possibly including the death penalty. This is an unpopular opinion that even many pro-lifers find offensive.  Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, in explaining why he fired Williamson, called it “callous and violent.” But to focus too much on the statement itself, and whether or not it’s extreme or offensive, is to miss the point of what’s happening. Williamson isn’t the first columnist to be targeted in this way. Bari Weiss at the New York Times and Megan McArdle at the Washington Post have also faced the wrath of online social justice mobs. And the abortion comments weren’t the only thing of Williamson’s that the mobs were objecting …

The Deleterious Effects of Our Tabloid Discourse

The president’s habitual butchering of language is by now well documented, and the effects of his linguistic ineptitude, willful or unintentional, are corrosive. It would not be unfair to suggest that he shoulders a sizable share of the blame for the gradual dissolution of the quality of discourse in the public sphere. But in this vice he can find a partner just as guilty. Digital news platforms and the social media feeds that help them thrive have become increasingly bold in the strategies they employ to capture viewers’ interest. This has, however, resulted in a sustained assault on the integrity of language. A strikingly careless habit to fall into on the part of those who participate in the mass distribution of information, its consequences are severe. Chief among them is how the use of words at inappropriate times diminishes their meaning – an abuse so significant that its contributions to the unhealthy, noise-riddled online milieu that we experience each day must not be ignored. To truly grasp the wicked nature of this practice, we must …

Fundamentalists vs The New York Times

Last week, Bari Weiss, a staff editor and columnist for the opinion pages of the New York Times, became the latest person to find herself at the centre of a social media feeding frenzy for sending a carelessly worded tweet. Even that summary doesn’t do justice to the inanity of the controversy, since “carelessly worded” concedes more to her critics than their bad faith deserves. On February 12, upon learning that US figure skater Mirai Nagasu had successfully performed a triple axel at the Winter Olympics, Weiss shared an NBC video of Nagasu’s spectacular achievement along with the comment, “Immigrants: They get the job done.” Her tweet was a reference to a line from the Hamilton musical – later turned into a song for The Hamilton Mixtape – celebrating the contribution immigrants have made to America (sample lyric: “Who these fugees? What did they do for me?/But contribute new dreams/Taxes and tools, swagger and food to eat…”). It ought to have been obvious to all but the most stubbornly obtuse that Weiss was using Nagasu’s …

The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence

It was while I was watching Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman’s spectacularly disastrous interview with University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson that what was wrong with much of journalism today crystallized in my brain. I’d been oscillating between anger and frustration watching Canadian media fail again and again – and often in jaw-dropping fashion – in reporting on Peterson and I couldn’t quite establish what was going wrong. Peterson is the teacher and clinical psychologist who burst onto the scene after making a video decrying the government’s Bill C-16 which compelled the use of invented gender pronouns (ze and zir, etc) for non-binary and transgender people. Peterson connected the “compelled speech” of the legislation (and the unscientific instantiation of gender as a non-biologically-correlated social construct) to radical leftist ideology and authoritarian governments. In an admittedly complex and controversial argument, Peterson blamed the spread of postmodernism within the academy for the rise of both identity politics and the emergence of the illiberal left. Many of the stories about him were shallow or missed the point, …