Former New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss ripped cancel culture and had some parting shots at her former employer during her appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday.
“We’re used to criticism. Criticism is kosher in the work that we do,” Weiss told Bill Maher. “Criticism is great. What cancel culture is about is not criticism. It is about punishment. It is about making a person radioactive. It is about taking away their job.”
“The writer Jonathan Rauch [of The Atlantic] called it social murder. And I think that’s right,” she said.
“It’s not just about punishing the sinner. It’s not just about punishing the person for being insufficiently pure,” Weiss explained. “It’s about this sort of secondary boycott of people who would deign to speak to that person or appear on a platform with that person.”
“And we see just very obviously where that kind of politics gets us,” she continued. “If conversation with people that we disagree with becomes impossible, what is the way that we solve conflict? It’s violence.”
“That’s an enormous problem because what it’s meant is the collapse of moderates,” the former Times writer said. “It’s meant the collapse of the center and the retribalization of this country and the whole deal with this country, the reason that it’s exceptional with all of its flaws is because we depart from history.”
“We say that clannishness, tribalism, that we can overcome that, that there’s something bigger than lineage or kin or the political tribe we belong to,” she said on the HBO talk show. “And I think what we’re seeing right now, and it’s a very scary moment, is a kind of returning to the mean of history. And I think it is up to us to defend the ideas that made this country unique and a departure of history.”
Weiss said that “politics has come to supplant religion,” where people on the right see President Donald Trump as a “deity,” and people on the left who believe “anything less than defunding the police or abolish the police to choose the issue of the day, makes you something like a heretic.”
Weiss resigned from The New York Times last month with a scathing public letter to publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Weiss wrote that her “forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.” She alleges that coworkers called her a “Nazi and a racist,” making for a “hostile work environment.”
“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,” she wrote. “Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.”
Weiss also talked about her fiery departure from the New York Times, and provided some criticisms of the newspaper of record.
“The reason that Twitter is the assigning editor of The New York Times is because the printing press isn’t the printing press anymore. It’s because the printing press is in each one of our pockets,” Weiss said.
“To do our job well, writers and editors, we need to have a level of bravery and thick skin and fearlessness,” she said. “And when you’re living in fear of an online mob, you know, all it takes is a dozen people to repeat a lie about you — that you’re a racist, that you’re a transphobe, that you’re a bigot — for that lie to become true and that’s extremely dangerous.”
This week’s episode of “Real Time” also featured Harper’s Magazine columnist Thomas Chatterton Williams, who was one of 150 liberal writers, journalists, and academics who signed an open letter calling for an end to cancel culture. Others who signed the open letter include Weiss, “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling, philosopher Noam Chomsky, and feminist Gloria Steinem.
“What strikes me about it is the pushback is coming from liberals and almost everyone who signs this letter … is a liberal!” Maher said. “Bari, the fact that you — they call you a centrist or right-winger! I mean, if a hip, millennial, Jewish bisexual girl living in San Francisco is not a liberal … who is these days?”
“What we’re trying to say with the letter – and what Thomas did in forming it – was saying what’s happening now with this growing culture of illiberalism is different from criticism,” Weiss stated.
Williams said that “cancellation” isn’t about “bringing down elites back to Earth” but instead causes an “onlooker effect” that has “a chilling and stifling and narrowing influence on all of our behaviors.”