Terry McLaughlin: Who’s next to be dehumanized?
“When you start to humanize your enemy, you may be dehumanized by your community.” This statement by documentary filmmaker Cassie Jaye caught my attention last week.
It got me thinking about the editors, teachers, executives, and host of other persons, many of whom would describe themselves as liberal or progressive, who in recent months have been removed or forced to resign from their positions for stating a fact, or not being sufficiently critical on a particular issue, or “humanizing” the perceived “enemy.”
One of these is Bari Weiss, who recently resigned from her position as an editor with The New York Times. In her letter of resignation Ms. Weiss describes how, in the wake of the paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election, The Times recognized that they did not have a firm grasp of the country they seek to cover and she was hired specifically to help redress that shortcoming.
What Weiss discovered in the three years since her hiring was that “intellectual curiosity is now a liability at The Times. … 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 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 … My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in … some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly ‘inclusive’ one … Still other NYT 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.”
For the infraction of attempting to provide a variety of opposing viewpoints as she was hired to do, Bari Weiss has been “dehumanized” by the journalism community. To underscore this injustice, the NYT editor that hired Weiss three years ago, James Bennet, was also forced to resign for allowing publication of an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton discussing the possible deployment of the U.S. military to quell violence in American cities during the recent rioting and protests. As Bari Weiss wrote: “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.”
Michael Tracey is an independent journalist who has been driving around the country to the sites of riots and protests, interviewing local residents and photographing the destruction within these communities. He believes that media outlets have not conveyed the enormity of what has happened in cities throughout the country in the past two months. He reported on the “divergence in opinion between local black and minority populations about the ethical implications of the riots, and the activists/journalists who claim to speak on their behalf. … Locals are almost uniformly condemnatory of the riots …They wonder why the destruction wrought in their neighborhoods has received so little attention.” Asked what drives the lack of media interest in these communities, Tracey says “It’s clear that most members of elite media institutions are deeply invested in what they regard as ‘the movement’, even if they can’t precisely define what ‘the movement’ is … they would be horrified to produce any coverage that might be seen to undermine the moral and political legitimacy of said ‘movement.’”
As an independent journalist, Tracey describes himself as left-leaning, but has written articles for the American Conservative, while at the same time publishing in progressive outlets such as The Nation, Salon, Mother Jones, and Vice. He has concluded that “many people in the media deserve resentment for the exceptionally poor job they do covering the country in which they live. Their failures have real-world consequences.”
As another journalist “dehumanized” by his community, Tracey’s reporting on the nationwide protests has resulted in “an onslaught of online hatred, which has the potential to materialize as offline hatred.” He was “doxed” last month, and with his personal information revealed to the public he felt unsafe remaining in his own home.
It is not just journalists who have been affected by this phenomenon. The President of the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, Henry Bienen, and Board Chairman Willard Bunn III issued a statement on June 3 that stated “In solidarity with the Black Community” the Poetry Foundation recognizes “that there is much work to be done, and we are committed to engaging in this work to eradicate institutional racism.” This statement was deemed by critics to be “worse than the bare minimum” and both men were removed from their positions with the foundation.
Political data analyst David Shor, a self-described Social Democrat, recently tweeted that statistical research shows riots hurt Democrats at the polls. He was citing the conclusions of a research study by a Princeton Sociology professor, and for this he was accused of “anti-blackness” and fired from his position.
According to climate-change activist Benji Backer, a recent speaking engagement was canceled because of a past tweet wherein he linked COVID-19 to its country of origin, China.
Are our livelihoods, characters, reputations, and even physical safety now at risk for simply stating statistical or demonstrable facts, presenting opposing views on an op-ed page — which literally means “opposite the editorial” — or daring to “humanize” a perceived enemy? If this is the new standard in America, each one of us will always be looking over our shoulder and wondering if we are next.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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