Thursday, June 11, 2020


Discourse is on death’s door at one of the largest newspapers in the nation. On June 3, The New York Times ousted its opinion editor following the publication of a Republican lawmaker’s op-ed. 

Sen. Tom Cotton’s piece, titled “Send in the Troops,” argued for an “overwhelming show of force” to deal with violent riots across the nation. This piece caused an internal uproar, resulting in the resignation of Editorial Page Editor James Bennet, a brouhaha amounting to an institutional capture by totalitarian ideologues.

As NYT writer and editor Bari Weiss noted, there’s a conflict within many institutions between moderate “civil libertarian” types and young, far-left radicals. The former values open discourse, a market of ideas and true ideological diversity, whereas the latter aims to shrink the Overton Window and excise “problematic” opinions. 

While the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” Ms. Weiss astutely recognizes the difference between these two camps: “One group emphasizes the word ‘all.’ The other, the word ‘fit.’”

To the far-left camp, what strays from the political prescriptions of so-called “social justice” is unfit. To argue for a military response to riots — an opinion held by a majority of Americans, mind you — is unacceptable and problematic. It’s better, apparently, for no one to know the views of a sitting U.S. senator. The publication of bad ideas (and I do think Mr. Cotton’s idea is a bad one) amount to their promulgation. Apparently, we should only publish and study the morally “correct” political opinions. 

And that’s precisely what the social justice types are aiming at: The active suppression of countervailing opinion, inconvenient facts and dissent. 

In a word, this is totalitarian. And acting Editorial Editor Katie Kingsbury has no interest in changing that. Quite the opposite, in fact, she assured the staff that if they see “any piece of Opinion Journalism — including headlines or social posts or photos or you name it — that gives [them] the slightest pause, [to] please call or text [her] immediately.” Employees have been given the power of veto, and we shouldn’t expect the radical contingent to exercise restraint.

The insurrection of The New York Times is an instance of institutional capture by a radical contingent for the dissemination of a specific set of political beliefs. This is not incidental, either, but an explicit strategy to forward a worldview often referred to as ideological intersectionality or critical social justice — which aims to dismantle tradition, truth, capitalism, individualism and liberalism broadly.

James Lindsay, researcher and founder of New Discourses, an organization that studies this trend, told me that the goal in capturing media and educational institutions is to “seize the means of cultural production.”

What’s happening at The New York Times is the same as what’s happening at many universities, with bias response teams, diversity and inclusion training, and restrictions on open expression. Again, this is not a coincidence, but an explicit strategy. According to Mr. Lindsay, this strategy has been explained by its proponents with a viral metaphor. The objective is to “infect” institutions from within, he explains, “and to cause ‘cancers’ in the long term that represent ‘transformational change.’” 

While some Republicans lament the “anti-conservative” bias in mainstream and social media, this is far more than a left versus right issue. It’s a question of free, pluralistic debate of ideas versus totalitarian group-think. Contrary to the rumblings of some conservatives, there should not be any sort of governmental or regulatory interference with the media. The New York Times is a private company, and it’s free to do what it likes. This is not an issue that can or should be solved with force, but rather, with discourse. 

Discourse is the means by which we can shed light on this troubling trend, which is why totalitarians always oppose free expression. “The recipe is simple,” explained Mr. Lindsay. “Expose it for its radical agenda, explain what it really means with all its jargon, and offer clear alternatives that are solidly liberal in the sense of the American Constitution.” For the sake of journalistic integrity and civility, people who oppose this kind of ideology must speak up. 

Critical social justice does not hold up under scrutiny — only by threat and force can such a corrupt ideology can be sustained. Cancel culture, one such mechanism of force, is intimidating, but often it’s a paper tiger. It’s a tiger that ate James Bennet, fair enough. But cancel culture is only as strong as people allow it to be. 

“You’re not cancelled until you decide you’re cancelled,” Mr. Lindsay explains. “The attempt to cancel is a test to find out who is weak enough to be manipulated by them. If you resist it, it can’t stop you.” So for the sake of our pluralistic, liberal society, let’s speak out, think wider, and — for the love of God — stop caving to the mob.

• Shaun Cammack (@shaunjcammack) is a graduate student at the University of Chicago and a contributor to Young Voices.

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