Former New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss told Bill Maher that the paper of record is making illiberal editorial decisions that alienate “half of the country” because it is living in constant fear of being the next target in today’s cancel culture.
Ms. Weiss made an explosive exit from The Times last month after she published her resignation letter online, alleging that she had been constantly bullied at the publication for her “centrist” political beliefs and that Twitter had become the paper’s “ultimate editor.”
Appearing Friday on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Ms. Weiss expanded on her resignation letter and said the last straw was when former Editorial Page editor James Bennet was ousted from the paper in June after he published a controversial op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton.
“My boss got fired for running an op-ed by a sitting U.S. senator,” Ms. Weiss said. “Now, you might say that Tom Cotton is detestable, that you disagree with him, but I don’t want to live in a world where the views of half of the country can’t be heard in the paper of record. And that’s, I fear, where we’re headed.
“In order to do our job well, writers and editors, we need to have a level of bravery and thick skin and fearlessness,” she said. “And when you are living in fear of an online mob, you know, all it takes is a dozen people to repeat a lie about you — that you’re a racist, that you’re a transphobe, that you’re a bigot — for that lie to become true and that’s extremely dangerous.”
Ms. Weiss was joined on the show by Harper’s Magazine columnist Thomas Chatterton Williams, who spearheaded a letter last month denouncing cancel culture signed by Ms. Weiss and dozens of other prominent liberals, including J.K. Rowling and Noam Chomsky.
Ms. Weiss said Friday that the purpose of the letter was to denounce the “growing culture of illiberalism” that is taking over America’s institutions.
“Thomas and I, and you, Bill, we’re used to criticism,” she said. “Criticism is kosher in the work that we do. Criticism’s great. What cancel culture is about is not criticism. It is about punishment. It is about making a person radioactive. It is about taking away their job.
“It’s not just about punishing the sinner, it’s not just about punishing the person for being insufficiently pure,” she continued. “It’s about a sort of secondary boycott of people who would deign to speak to that person or appear on a platform with that person.”
Ms. Weiss went on to lament that politics have supplanted religion for many Americans.
“Politics has come to be people’s almost religious identity,” she said. “That’s an enormous problem because what it’s meant is the collapse of moderates. It’s meant the collapse of the center and the retribalization of this country.”
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