During the BLM race riots, Senator Tom Cotton placed an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the use of military force to stop the rioters. The resulting outrage from the woke staffers led to the purge of assorted editorial staff people, including James Bennett, the editorial page editor. Since then, the editorial section has become ever more tediously woke.
Bennett recently revisited his firing. The Washington Post’ Erik Wemple reported on it and made a stunning admission.
It’s also long past time to ask why more people who claim to uphold journalism and free expression — including, um, the Erik Wemple Blog — didn’t speak out then in Bennet’s defense.
It’s because we were afraid to.
It’s easy to sneer, but it really is a stunning admission by a media guy in a top paper. We’ve seen all sorts of backpedaling, unspoken revisions, narratives being shifted on the deck.
I don’t recall a major media figure coming out and saying that he was afraid to speak out.
Certainly not one that hasn’t been fired yet.
In this case, admitting cowardice is a kind of courage. It reminds me of some of the post-Soviet reckonings that took place in Eastern Europe and more briefly in Russia. Or some of the reckonings with the widespread Nazi collaboration in France and the resistance posturing.
Wemple is saying that he knew it was wrong, but he was afraid.
Our criticism of the Twitter outburst comes 875 days too late. Although the hollowness of the internal uproar against Bennet was immediately apparent, we responded with an evenhanded critique of the Times’s flip-flop, not the unapologetic defense of journalism that the situation required. Our posture was one of cowardice and midcareer risk management.
During his original take, Wemple leaned heavily on including angry tweets, including from the 1619 lynch mob leader herself. Now he offers the rare commentary on the routine “death threats” and “threats to safety” routine that have long since become part of media theater.
“The Twitter chain claiming “danger” to Times staffers suffered from the same journalistic failings leveled at the op-ed. It was an exercise in manipulative hyperbole brilliantly calibrated for immediate impact.”
And not just in that instance.
Does this fix anything? No. Wemple admits that. Next time around he may act just the same way. But the admission, small as it is, allows people to discuss and tell the truth about what’s going on. It will reach the sorts of people who will never see the things that we write. It will affirm the private secret knowledge that what is going on is totalitarian and abusive.
That it’s not just in their heads.
Sometimes admitting cowardice can be an act of courage. However slight. Because it makes it possible to talk about what otherwise cannot be discussed.