About Bari Weiss’s Resignation Letter, Free Speech and Power

Here is Bari Weiss’s resignation letter from the New York Times today.

I find this letter fascinating. It makes me wonder if maybe the New York Times is really making some changes, if Weiss feels this way. She describes an experience of losing power. Perhaps this is a description of a writer starting to get edited, when she hasn’t gotten edited much before, and of being suddenly asked to share power when she is used to only wielding it.

I hope I am not being too optimistic in hoping that perhaps this means the dominance of the male Right of Center point of view at NYT is lessening.

Americans historically have been somewhat blind to issues of power. Many have been surprised at the evidence of of economic inequality published in recent years. They had just assumed we were closer to being equal than that.

Since Americans are so blind to power, we often think that power, or the loss of it, is not real. When it occurs, it’s often mislabeled as something else. For example, loss of power, or requirements to share power with others as equals, may seem like a denial of free speech to the previously highly powerful.

That’s what the other recent letter published in Harper’s seems to do — to mistake moves toward equality as denial of free speech. I’ve written about that here:

Losing power can feel hurtful. It can feel unfair. People who lose feel the pain and usually focus on that. They may not ask what would be fair to other people. Having your pieces edited, just like others do, when you had gotten used to being edited lightly, or not at all, can feel totally unfair.

It sounds as if perhaps Weiss had recently begun to be treated as more of an equal to other writers who have always had their pieces edited — writers whose work she and others always felt free to criticize. It’s hard to see one’s own privilege when one has it — or to realize that one had privilege and outsize power, once it is taken away or lessened.

It just seems so familiar and normal that your own opinion should count for more than opinions of others — especially if you’ve been treated as if it does for years. We all live in our habits of behavior and emotion.

Here is what is perhaps the most important part of Weiss’s resignation letter.

“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. 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 then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”

It sounds as if Weiss resents that NYT’s managers care about responses of journalists and others on Twitter to NYT articles — rather than simply caring about what those high on the newsroom status hierarchy, like herself, think.

She is right that “stories have been chosen & told to satisfy the narrowest of audiences.” However, she’s blind to the fact that the narrow audience has for years been a Right of Center male audience — her own preferred point of view.

She claims to want “the public to read about the world and draw their own conclusions.” She never noticed this she is the one who’s been trying to prevent this from happening for years — that she and others at NYT who hold the Right of Center male point of view, have successfully squelched other viewpoints and kept the NYT audience from reading about the world from a variety of different viewpoints and drawing their own conclusions.

Weiss apparently didn’t notice this about NYT way of operating all these years, because it favored her own views & voice. It just seemed so familiar and normal for her and others like her to call the shots so very often. But now that NYT may be changing to include other voices, NOW she claims the coverage is narrowing — when actually it’s broadening. Her own voice is — horror of horrors — now treated as equal to voices of others — rather than superior. She’s been blind to her own power.

History has always been “molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative” at NYT — a white male Right of Center narrative. For example, New York Times acted as cheerleaders for the Iraq War. Prior to the 2016 election, they published excerpts from Hillary Clinton hit job book Clinton Cash, as if they were true, helping the Republicans and Trump immeasurably. Many at NYT have not wanted to admit it when Trump lies or says racist things. Many have normalized him as if he’s a typical POTUS, rather than the dangerous person he is.

Many of the rest of us are just as blind to where power is and isn’t, as Bari Weiis is. So how do we correct our American power blindness?

Journalists and all Americans could benefit from educating ourselves about power and hierarchy. These are facts of our lives. We ignore them at our own peril — especially given our federal government’s current moves toward authoritarian rule and Democrats’ less than powerful response to it. Many Democrats in Congress show habits of passivity and of deferring to Republicans.

Americans often ignore status and power hierarchies — for example, by urging Dr. Fauci to speak up on public health matters.

Because Dr. Fauci is lower in status than our Con-Artist-in-Chief, he isn’t free to speak up, if Trump doesn’t want him to. That would likely get him fired. Trump’s administration is currently bashing Fauci, apparently because the narcissistic Trump wants all the positive attention for himself, despite his incompetence. However, it’s beginning to dawn on some people in mainstream media that lies from an incompetent individual are not really news or information — even if the individual is president.

On the other side of the coin, many people jump to the conclusion that the president is all powerful. He’s not. Much of Trump’s power comes from having the full support of the GOP-dominated Senate, no matter what he does. People often blame Obama for not enacting policies they wanted done — even at times when Republicans controlled Congress and blocked Obama every step of the way.

In mainstream media, blindness to power and status has led to cluelessness about the predominant view in media — the view of a Right of Center white male — because media has long considered that the “objective” point of view.

There are reasons why that point of view is the one used — not the least of which is that the Right Wing has a powerful outrage machine that it punishes people who displease the Right Wing. Everyone bends to the Right Wing outrage machine, including government officials and media.

Democrats don’t have such a machine. Because of that, they often can’t defend themselves or get fair media coverage. Mainstream media and social media also have often been passively giving in, rather than defending or protecting themselves from the Right Wing outrage machine.

How can we Americans face and solve our power blindness problem? It would be helpful if journalists and all Americans would start looking at con artistry, narcissism, psychopathy and other issues relevant to abuse of power, hierarchy and status. Abuse of power is the central issue of politics in our time. Perhaps it is the most important political issue of most times.

Journalists should educate themselves about these areas, and ordinary Americans should too. If you are in a book club, you might suggest the club read books like these.

Snakes in Suits

https://www.amazon.com/Sheeps-Clothing-Understanding-Dealing-Manipulative-ebook/dp/B005CN6PJ0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594758983&sr=8-1

Konnikova’s The Confidence Game

https://www.amazon.com/Confidence-Game-Fall-Every-Time/dp/0143109871/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594760579&sr=8-1

The Sociopath at the Breakfast Table

https://www.amazon.com/Sociopath-Breakfast-Table-Recognizing-Manipulative-ebook/dp/B00LMKYSDW/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594760612&sr=8-1

The Sociopath Next Door

https://www.amazon.com/Sociopath-Next-Martha-Stout-Ph-D-ebook/dp/B000FCJXTC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594760656&sr=8-1

In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People

Here is a book about the counterpropaganda used successfully by the the Allies in World War II.

Psychological Warfare (WWII Era Reprint) by Paul M. A. Linebarger

Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.

https://www.amazon.com/Why-Does-He-That-Controlling-ebook/dp/B000Q9J0RO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594760721&sr=8-1

The last book is about abusive domestic partners. This is relevant because Trump and his administration treat mainstream media the way an abusive spouse treats their partner. The abusive spouse is dependent on their partner but is also hostile, controlling and insulting.

Mainstream media have been acting like an abused spouse who doesn’t understand what’s happening. They try to empathize with the abuser — to understand him and see events from his point of view. They try to change their own behavior, to get the abuser to change. Maybe they try to be nicer. Maybe they try to be more aggressive. The partner often tries to take all the responsibility for the abuser’s behavior.

This doesn’t work because the abuser isn’t acting abusive because of their partner’s actions. The abuser is abusing because of their own issues — for example, feeling entitled to act controlling, abusive and even criminal.

Journalists and all Americans could see a new dawn where we have more control over our fates than we’ve had in the past, if we will educate ourselves about these forces and circumstances that impact our lives. If we learn to understand power and hierarchy, our society can gain a new freedom to shape our future in ways that will work better for all of us.

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