Bari Weiss, a former writer and editor for the opinion section of The New York Times, according to her biography, resigned July 14 in a letter that was highly critical of the Times and described it as a hostile work environment for political centrists.
Weiss’ letter has garnered much attention, accusing the Times of showing a persistent ideological bias to the political progressivism, giving Twitter backlash too much consideration in editorial positions and allowing other writers at the paper to consistently bully her on internal communication platforms.
Weiss, who is 36, has had experience at a number of papers, including at the Wall Street Journal as an associate editor. Before arriving at the Wall Street Journal in 2013, Weiss worked as a senior editor at the Tablet, a Jewish-focused online magazine, where was responsible for editing political and news content.
Weiss, a Pittsburgh native who is Jewish, wrote about the Tree of Life synagogue murders and the massacre prompted her to craft the book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” for which she won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award.
However, her work at the Times has invited much criticism from the public and from her own colleagues. Her resignation letter comes a little over a month after she responded to the controversial editorial written by Tom Cotton, drawing ire from her colleagues and other incidents, in which they spoke openly about their issues with her on internal communications.
Weiss’ Letter Was A Stark Critique of The New York Times And Her Colleagues There
The letter Weiss wrote to publisher A. G. Sulzberger contained several criticisms of the paper, some of which were personal – such as attacks from colleagues that Weiss felt were inappropriate and never properly addressed – to operational failures – such as a general attitude of derision regarding ideological diversity and/or centrism.
Weiss posted the letter on her website, which read, in part:
I joined the paper with gratitude and optimism three years ago. I was hired with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home. The reason for this effort was clear: The paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant that it didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers. Dean Baquet and others have admitted as much on various occasions. The priority in Opinion was to help redress that critical shortcoming … But the lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor … 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.
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.
Weiss went on to say how she couldn’t understand how the publisher “allowed this kind of behavior go to on inside your company in full view of the paper’s entire staff and the public.” She also said that “intellectual curiosity … is now a liability at The Times” and accused the paper of instead, relying on opinion pieces criticizing Donald Trump’s leadership.
She also said the threat of social media backlash and alluded to “cancel culture” as being discouraged, leading “self-censorship” to “become the norm.”
What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.
If a piece is perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strongly enough to suggest it, she is quickly steered to safer ground. And if, every now and then, she succeeds in getting a piece published that does not explicitly promote progressive causes, it happens only after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated.
Weiss went on to criticize the editors’ progressive biases, comparing the paper’s reaction to backlash from Tom Cotton’s op-ed (which quickly led to two job changes) to what Weiss described as “Cheryl Strayed’s fawning interview with the writer Alice Walker, a proud anti-Semite who believes in lizard Illuminati.”
Weiss expressed disappointment in colleagues who she described as “cowed” by Twitter mobs and essentially, groupthink and speculated that perhaps the media industry’s “contracting” nature has encouraged silence as the paper attempts to reach its goal of a more ideologically diverse platform. At one point, Weiss referenced private messages she said that she received on Slack referring to a “new McCarthyism” taking place at the paper and would go on to describe the Times as a “once-great,” more than implying that the Times is not anymore.
She even left writers and editors with some advice: “Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”
After noting that “some of the most talented journalists in the world” are still at the Times, Weiss said the paper’s “illiberal environment” is heartbreaking and that is why she could no longer stay there.
“… I’ve always comforted myself with the notion that the best ideas win out. But ideas cannot win on their own. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be backed by people willing to live by them,” she said at the end of her letter.
Weiss’ Career Was Controversial Before Her Resignation
The Huffington Post released leaked communications among New York Times staffers regarding a tweet Weiss made in which she erroneously described the California-born ice-skater Mirai Nagasu as an immigrant, and then doubled-down when someone pointed out the error. Many were offended and took to Slack, the internal communications system at the Times, to vent about the fact that Weiss had not even apologized and seemed to minimize the encounter; after receiving heavy backlash, Weiss began a tweet in response by quipping, “Do you need another sign of civilization’s end? Here’s one: I tweeted “Immigrants: we get the job done” with a video of Mirai Nagasu’s triple axel. The line is a Hamilton reference. I know she was born in Cali. Her parents are immigrants. I was celebrating her and them … For this tweet, I am being told I am a racist, a ghoul and that I deserve to die. So I deleted the tweet. That’s where we are.”
“i guess it’s too much to even expect a “we’re sorry you’re offended” apology since asians don’t matter,” one New York Times employee allegedly wrote, according to the Huffington Post.
Weiss also drew backlash for an opinion piece she wrote titled, “We’re All Fascists Now,” which described pushback against college professors and others as going too far and asked whether “true liberals do what it takes to reverse it?” The article was roundly criticized for its content and also because, among its list of examples of people being persecuted by liberals, was a Twitter account that was discovered to be fake.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote a blistering critique of Weiss’ work and for what he described as “her involvement in numerous campaigns to vilify and ruin the careers of several Arab and Muslim professors due to their criticisms of Israel.”
And Weiss was publicly criticized by her colleagues after she wrote about the controversy surrounding the Times’ publication of Tom Cotton’s editorial, titled “Send In the Troops.” Regarding the op-ed, Weiss wrote a thread, saying:
The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country. The dynamic is always the same. (Thread.) … The Old Guard lives by a set of principles we can broadly call civil libertarianism. They assumed they shared that worldview with the young people they hired who called themselves liberals and progressives. But it was an incorrect assumption … The New Guard has a different worldview, one articulated best by @JonHaidt and @glukianoff. They call it “safetyism,” in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.
The thread earned a quick rebuttal via Twitter:
And according to a Vox reporter who spoke to other Times staffers, “Weiss’s characterization was widely rejected by her colleagues … They argued that elements of Bennet’s op-ed page — including Weiss, deputy editor James Dao (who oversaw the Cotton piece), and columnist Bret Stephens — have elevated trolling the Times’s liberal readership into a kind of raison d’être, one that has led to the publication of poor-quality material and damaged the ability of other staffers to do their jobs. ‘Does op-ed care at all about how its actions affect the newsroom whose legitimacy and sweat it trades on in order to sling hot takes? It’s not clear that they do,’ one Times staffer told me.”
]The author of that same Vox article noted, “The op-ed page employs Ross Douthat and David Brooks as staff columnists and regularly publishes outside contributions by Republicans and conservative thinkers, mostly without serious controversy.”
Criticism and backlash of Times reporters has not been limited to conservative or centrist writers at the paper. Notably, White House reporter and writer Maggie Haberman has also been criticized by conservatives and progressives and Nikole Hannah-Jones was the subject of many professional and personal attacks after winning a Pulitzer for her 1619 project.
Weiss’ Resignation Letter Has Received Mixed Reviews
Some have wholeheartedly agreed with the letter and have used it as further proof that the Times is hopelessly biased in its coverage. Others have suggested that controversial comments Weiss has made about her own colleagues may have contributed to the hostile work environment she described. Some have said she has been over-sensitive.
Yet others have expressed quiet skepticism about the allegations Weiss leveled in the letter about being bullied. Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones simply remarked in response to a tweet regarding the letter, “Interesting how everything in this letter is simply taken as fact.”
The Times released its own piece in the wake of the letter, noting that the opinion department is run separately from the newsroom. The article also included the statement from a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, which said, “We’re committed to fostering an environment of honest, searching and empathetic dialogue between colleagues, one where mutual respect is required of all.”
Acting Editorial Page Editor Kathleen Kingsbury said:
We appreciate the many contributions that Bari made to Times Opinion. I’m personally committed to ensuring that The Times continues to publish voices, experiences and viewpoints from across the political spectrum in the Opinion report.