Another week, another defenestration. This time it’s Ian Buruma, forced to resign his post as editor of the New York Review of Books after publishing an essay written by Jian Ghomeshi – a disgraced Canadian radio journalist who was acquitted on several charges of sexual assault back in 2016. Buruma said in Slate:
I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behaviour — how much consent was involved — I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc.
The rate at which such purges are happening now is disquieting. Ghomeshi’s piece was published online just last Friday and Buruma is out the door before the article hit the presses. Social media has sped time up. In the world of Twitter, outrage is instantaneous, and deliberation impossible. Skittish organisations and corporations seem genuinely unable to withstand the pressure of online warriors, putting everyone’s employment at even greater risk in already precarious industries.
Quillette has published similar stories about online ‘uproars’ that have led to swift and unmerciful action taken against people working in creative and intellectual fields. Last week we published a story in which comic Jamie Kilstein defends comedian Norm MacDonald, who was dumped from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon after expressing sympathy for Louis CK and Roseanne Barr while on a publicity tour for the debut of a Netflix show that’s not a week old. We published the touchstone piece about Steven Galloway, a Canadian author and former head of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia who was unfairly accused of sexual assault. And our associate editor, Toby Young, documented his own painful story of feeling obliged to resign his roles in various charities after a belligerent social media mob set to work on him.
Beyond these high profile examples, as politics become increasingly tribal and polarised, there are thousands of other people toiling in creative industries, academia and publishing feeling the pressure to conform to certain positions just to keep their jobs. Most often creatives and intellectuals are finding the riptide pulling them toward the hard left. Certain media organisations surely pull their staff to the hard right. Either way, the pressure builds as one’s integrity and freedom come into conflict with one’s instinct for self-preservation.
I want to reassure readers that Quillette will remain a Salon des Refusés for those who find themselves in this predicament. Although we cannot publish or employ everyone who is squeezed out of a job due to puritanical partisan hysteria, we remain committed to protecting the freedom of expression and conscience that allows imagination and fearless creativity to thrive.
Quillette’s structure makes us virtually immune to mobbing and boycotting. I currently write this from Los Angeles, but am based in Sydney, Australia. Jamie Palmer, our managing editor, and Toby Young, our associate editor, both work from London. Jonathan Kay, our Canadian editor works from Toronto. No physical office makes a staff insurrection a challenge.
Our business model is also boycott-proof. Because we rely on a growing legion of patrons scattered around the world to keep the wifi on, a social media campaign targeting them is not possible. Similarly, we do not rely on support from skittish corporations or government agencies that may disapprove of what we publish.
Our only loyalty is to our own consciences, and you, our readers. It’s proving to be a wonderful combination.