What New York Times contributing editor and writer Bari Weiss recently called the “civil war” within the Times has just claimed another victim: Bari Weiss.
In a scathing open letter to publisher A. G. Sulzberger that instantly went viral on Twitter and other social media, Weiss asserted that she was resigning to protest the paper’s failure to defend her against internal and external bullying; senior editors’ abandonment of the paper’s ostensible commitment to publishing news and opinion that stray from an ideological orthodoxy; and the capitulation of many Times reporters and senior editors to the prevailing intolerance of far-Left mobs on Twitter, which she called the paper’s “ultimate editor.”
Weiss was apparently stripped of her role as editor, and not immediately offered another position; the implication that she was no longer welcome was clear. “The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people,” she wrote. “Nowadays, standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back.”
Weiss did not respond to a request for comment. But friends and supporters said Tuesday that her decision was prompted in part by events surrounding the forced resignation last month of opinion editor James Bennet, to whom she reported during her three years at the Times. Bennet left the paper, and his deputy James Dao was demoted, after Times staffers revolted against their decision to publish an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton arguing for deploying the military into U.S. cities to quell riots, if local law enforcement was unable to restore order. Many staffers protested the paper’s decision to give Cotton the powerful platform of the Times’s opinion page.
Some reporters argued that the conservative senator’s claims were contradicted by the paper’s own coverage, and that publishing the essay had endangered blacks, including minority reporters at the paper. Other Times staffers criticized Weiss’s characterization of the debate over Bennet’s publication of the Cotton op-ed as a “civil war” inside the Times between “the (mostly young) wokes” and “(mostly 40+) liberals,” reflecting a broader culture war throughout the country. Several staffers attacked her for having betrayed the paper by publicly describing its internal feuds.
In the aftermath of the Cotton episode, Weiss and many others quietly opposed the paper’s new “red flag” system, which effectively enables even junior editors to “stop or delay the publication of an article containing a controversial view or position,” as one senior editor characterized it.
Weiss has been a lightning rod ever since arriving from the Wall Street Journal, along with her friend, former colleague, and fellow columnist Bret Stephens, who declined to comment today on her resignation. Soon after joining the Times, she wrote a piece about a figure skater of Asian-American descent who was the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics. She was attacked on Twitter after posting a story on the achievement, tweeting the line from the Hamilton musical “Immigrants get the job done”—but the skater was not an immigrant herself, merely the child of immigrants. Twitter exploded, accusing Weiss of “othering” an Asian-American woman.
At the Times, Weiss described herself as a centrist liberal concerned that far-Left critiques stifled free speech. She frequently wrote about anti-Semitism and the Women’s March and warned of the dangers of overly zealous proponents of #MeToo culture in a controversial column about comic Aziz Ansari, which inspired a skit on Saturday Night Live. One friend said that many of Weiss’s Times colleagues resented her because they envied her success. “She was a mid-level editor who made a splash and whose essays became the basis of Saturday Night Live skits,” the friend and former colleague said, asking not to be named.
In her letter, Weiss wrote that she had joined the paper to help publish “voices that would not otherwise appear in the paper of record, such as first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of the Times as their home.” She had been hired, she wrote, after the paper failed to anticipate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory because it “didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers.” But after three years at the paper, she wrote in her open letter, Weiss had concluded, “with sadness,” that she could no longer perform this mission at the nation’s ostensible paper of record, given the bullying that she had experienced within the newsroom and the almost daily attacks on her, often from Times colleagues, on social media. She deplored the paper’s unwillingness to defend her or act to stop the online intimidation. “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,’” she wrote.
Her criticism of Sulzberger rang true to several Times veterans, who note that he has been accused before of yielding to disgruntled liberal staff members. A publisher said to have intervened often in the paper’s news decisions, Sulzberger initially defended James Bennet and the decision to publish the Cotton op-ed, for instance. But faced with a staff revolt, he criticized the essay and the paper’s publication of it, saying that the editorial process had been too “rushed” and that the essay “did not meet our standards.”
Weiss’s departure was quickly hailed by her many critics within and outside of the paper on social media, among them Glenn Greenwald, who has called her a “hypocrite” for her alleged efforts to suppress Arab professors while in college, and for her defense of Israel and some of its controversial policies as a newspaper writer. But her stinging letter rang true to many others, among them former presidential aspirant Andrew Yang and talk-show host Bill Maher. “As a longtime reader who has in recent years read the paper with increasing dismay over just the reasons outlined here, I hope this letter finds receptive ears at the paper. But for the reasons outlined here, I doubt it,” Maher wrote on Twitter.
Her resignation was also lamented by such leading right-of-center thinkers as Glenn Loury. “What a shame—for the country, and on the Times,” wrote Loury, an economics professor at Brown University, in an email. Calling Weiss “courageous,” he added that while the climate she described at the paper was “no surprise,” that it had “driven her to this point is, indeed, shocking.” He also noted that Weiss was one of the few Times writers to sign the controversial “Harpers letter,” which he speculated might have been “the last straw” for the paper.
That letter, signed by over 150 academics, writers, and other intellectuals and artists, decried the “rising illiberalism” resulting not only from President Trump and his followers’ provocations, but also from what signatories called the growing “dogma and coercion” of those who oppose Trump. The rise of online mobs to suppress controversial views with which they disagree, said the letter, has become “a potent and possibly destructive force.” The signers deplored what they described as American liberals’ growing “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”
Only one prominent Times reporter was quick to leap to Weiss’s defense. “It’s one thing that many of our readers and staff disagree with @bariweiss’ views—fine,” tweeted Rukmini Callimachi, an award-winning foreign correspondent and reporter. “But the fact that she has been openly bullied, not just on social media, but in internal slack channels is not okay.”
In a statement, acting editorial page editor Kathleen Kingbury said that the paper appreciated “the many contributions that Bari made to Times Opinion.” A Times spokesperson said that Sulzberger was not planning to issue a public response to Weiss’s letter. But given the evidently censorious climate at the paper of record these days, silence should not surprise us.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images