A culture of ‘Wrongthink’

“All the news that’s fit to print.” “The newspaper of record”

These are just two phrases long associated with The New York Times — the first being the paper’s motto and the second the manner in which the paper has long been viewed by its readers around the country.

But starting with an open letter in Harper’s entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” signed by 153 prominent writers and academics, many of them outspoken liberals and then followed by the surprising and very public resignation by New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, the culture of “the newspaper of record” is being scrutinized as never before. Weiss, who had signed the Harper’s letter along with Martin Amis, John Banville, Louis Begley, David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Meghan Daum, Tod Gitlin, Michelle Goldberg, Susannah Heschel, Wendy Kaminer, Greil Marcus, Wynton Marsalis, Steven Pinker, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Katha Pollitt, Salman Rushdie, and Gloria Steinem, among others, was hired by now former opinion editor James Bennet in an attempt to bring other voices, some of them conservative, some of them centrist into the NY Times opinion sphere. From the beginning, however, the centrist Weiss was apparently an object of derision by other Times staffers and subjected to ongoing harassment because her views were not in lock step with the mostly progressive views of the opinion staff. This is how Bari Weiss described the climate at the New York Times: “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.”

The journalist, whose book “How To Fight Anti-Semitism” has been on the best seller lists since its publication in the fall of 2019, also maintained “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.’” The New York Times has a well-documented history of problematic reporting on Jews and Jewish topics going back to how it minimized and even ignored what was happening to European Jewry during the Holocaust and its coverage of the State of Israel. Despite the fact that a majority of Israelis, and both its right wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and its center-left Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz agree on the subject of whether to annex parts of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank that are predominantly populated by Israelis, reading the pages of the New York Times, one would think that there is no consensus at all in the Jewish State on this issue. Bari Weiss was one of the few Opinion writers at the Times who, along with Bret Stephens, had the audacity and the courage to present another view on Israel, one held by a majority of Israelis as well as a sizable number of American Jews. But the situation clearly became too incendiary and untenable for Weiss and she could no longer tolerate the double-standard as she saw it, relating in her widely-read resignation letter: “We attached an editor’s note on a travel story about Jaffa shortly after it was published because it ‘failed to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history.’ But there is still none appended to Cheryl Strayed’s fawning interview with the writer Alice Walker, a proud anti-Semite who believes in lizard Illuminati.”

James Bennet, a respected liberal, who was once lauded for his decision to bring in other points of view to the NY Times opinion page, was summarily dismissed by its publisher A.G. Sulzberger after an outcry from so-called progressive voices at the paper who were outraged by his decision to publish an opinion piece by a right-wing US senator, Tom Cotton. As if the senator’s words had some kind of mystical power to bring down the progressive world. And now Bari Weiss, one of the few centrist voices at the New York Times, a voice that was both proudly Jewish and unapologetically, but not uncritically, Zionist, is also gone. For those readers of the New York Times, whose views and sensibilities are similar to those of Weiss, many are likely wondering: who is next? Bret Stephens? David Brooks? Ross Douthat? Will there be any other voices published at the NY Times outside of the progressive left, to whom the existence of the State of Israel is an affront to Western civilization and the idea of clearly denouncing the anti-Semitism and hatred of Louis Farrakhan and many of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement is anathema?

In her letter to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who has refused to go on the record with any response to his now former employee, Bari Weiss stated the following: “Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.” Unfortunately, this is a growing problem at many major newspapers and increasing numbers of Americans no longer see their views represented in the daily papers to which they subscribe. And this is not just an issue for conservatives and centrists but increasingly for liberals too, as evidenced by the predominantly liberal group of signatories to the Harper’s letter. There is no doubt that a writer as talented and as insightful as Bari Weiss will find another forum for her views. However, the biggest loss from her decision to leave her job will be suffered by Times readers who will no longer be able to read her pieces on the opinion page and may not be able to read other divergent points of view because they are what she describes as what now constitutes “Wrongthink” at the pages of “All the news that’s fit to print.”

In closing her letter to A.G. Sulzberger, Bari Weiss quoted a statement made in 1896 by the publisher’s great-great-great grandfather Adolph Ochs. The first-generation American son of two German Jewish immigrants outlined what he saw as the purpose of his newspaper…“to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” It is truly ironic how a now former employee is the true journalist heir to the philosophy that this once great newspaper was founded upon and not his great-great-great grandson.

The above was co-authored by Richard Trank, who is the writer, director and executive producer of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s award-winning Moriah Films division and an Academy Award-winner for “The Long Way Home.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a two-time Academy Award-winner for producing “The Long Way Home” (1997) and “Genocide” (1982). 

About the Author
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He founded the Center in Los Angeles in 1977 as a global Jewish human rights NGO to confront anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. Rabbi Hier is also the founder of Moriah Films, the Center’s documentary film division, and has been the recipient of two Academy Awards™. He has twice been named as "The Most Influential Rabbi in America" by Newsweek Magazine.
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