Matt Taibbi: False accusations of racism are destroying the media

Last week I wrote about a progressive data analyst who was fired for citing research (by a black author) that suggested peaceful protests were more effective than violent ones in creating political change. No one claimed the data analyst had misstated the research or that the research itself was false. He was mobbed on Twitter and then fired because he’d said something that appeared to be critical of riots and, by extension, could be seen as critical of Black Lives Matter protesters.

There was another similar situation last week which I mentioned in passing here. A progressive journalist named Lee Fang who writes for the Intercept came close to being fired after posting an interview online. Tens of thousands of people eventually weighed in against him. What was the content of this explosive interview? Fang spoke to a black person who said, “I always question, why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?”

Again, the person who said this is a real person named Max. Fang didn’t put these words in his mouth. In fact he probably had no idea what the man was going to say in advance. But for publishing and thereby amplifying a voice that some thought sounded too much like a conservative response about black-on-black crime, Fang was denounced as a racist by one of his co-workers! Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote about the incident last week:

A co-worker of Fang’s, Akela Lacy, wrote, “Tired of being made to deal continually with my co-worker @lhfang continuing to push black on black crime narratives after being repeatedly asked not to. This isn’t about me and him, it’s about institutional racism and using free speech to couch anti-blackness. I am so fucking tired.” She followed with, “Stop being racist Lee.”

The tweet received tens of thousands of likes and responses along the lines of, “Lee Fang has been like this for years, but the current moment only makes his anti-Blackness more glaring,” and “Lee Fang spouting racist bullshit it must be a day ending in day.” A significant number of Fang’s co-workers, nearly all white, as well as reporters from other major news organizations like the New York Times and MSNBC and political activists (one former Elizabeth Warren staffer tweeted, “Get him!”), issued likes and messages of support for the notion that Fang was a racist. Though he had support within the organization, no one among his co-workers was willing to say anything in his defense publicly…

To save his career, Fang had to craft a public apology for “insensitivity to the lived experience of others.” According to one friend of his, it’s been communicated to Fang that his continued employment at The Intercept is contingent upon avoiding comments that may upset colleagues. Lacy to her credit publicly thanked Fang for his statement and expressed willingness to have a conversation; unfortunately, the throng of Intercept co-workers who piled on her initial accusation did not join her in this…

Lacy says she never intended for Fang to be “fired, ‘canceled,’ or deplatformed,” but appeared irritated by questions on the subject, which she says suggest, “there is more concern about naming racism than letting it persist.”

Max himself was stunned to find out that his comments on all this had created a Twitter firestorm. “I couldn’t believe they were coming for the man’s job over something I said,” he recounts. “It was not Lee’s opinion. It was my opinion.”

Taibbi appeared on the Hill’s “Rising” show this week to talk about the incident. “Essentially the problem is if you say a certain thing and an employee accuses you of racism, either your career is over or your reputation is ruined,” he said. He continued, “What ends up happening is that people just sort of shrink back from wherever they perceive the boundaries are and don’t say anything. And that’s not a healthy climate for journalism.” Later he returned to this point saying, “If you’re labeled a racist in this corner of the media you really can’t work. So if he were to lose his job as a result of that, where is he going to go? Fox after that?”

Taibbi made clear in his piece and in the interview with the Hill that he sees the Fang incident as just one example of a more widespread change taking place in journalism. He said the new “style of thought” had originated on college campuses but was now finding a home in many newsrooms. “It’s bullying in tone, it’s accusatory, it uses shaming tactics and it doesn’t particularly believe in civil liberties. It’s very illiberal in its conception of the world.”

He cited the battle within the NY Times newsroom over the Sen. Cotton op-ed as another example. In that case, staffers at the paper claimed the op-ed was putting their lives in danger and that’s what eventually led the Times to do an about face. In each case, with Lee Fang, with the fired data analyst and at the NY Times, you have accusations of racism used to push people out of their jobs (or in Fang’s case come very close).”It’s this mechanism that’s being repeated over and over again.”

At the end of this interview, Krystal Ball asked Taibbi where to draw the line between ideas that belong in a paper like the NY Times and ideas that you wouldn’t want to see given space anywhere. Taibbi conceded there are some arguments that are simply beyond the pale, but he said the debate about where to draw the line was happening because there were two different worldviews in conflict about how to draw that line. His view is that the Times, as a leading paper, should try to represent the full spectrum of actual debate.

“When the member of congress opens up his Times in the morning, he wants to see what the parameters of debate are,” Taibbi said. He continued, “These people are thinking this. These people are thinking that. What the Times is now saying is ‘You can’t see what one side of the aisle is thinking in our newspaper. We’re not going to permit that.’ So you have to go to Fox News now to see that argument made.

“I don’t think that’s helpful. What it really accomplishes is it puts your readers in the dark about what a huge segment of the country is thinking.”

I think he’s exactly right. The leftist insurgents in these newsrooms are working to shut down space for what is considered acceptable debate and lots of regular people are following their lead. Here’s the full interview with Matt Taibbi:

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