Published July 15, 2020
Bari Weiss brought keen intelligence and broadminded liberalism to the editorial pages of the New York Times. So naturally, she had to go. Liberalism—by which I mean a commitment to open inquiry—is fast disappearing from American life. The right will cackle that this proves how dangerous the left is. They’re not totally wrong, but they need to look in the mirror.
Many Twitter denizens first became aware of former New York Times writer and editor Bari Weiss, who resigned on July 14, when she was dragged for tweeting about an ice skater. It was during the Olympics, in February of 2018. An American skater named Mirai Nagasu became the first female American to land a triple axel at the Olympics. Weiss tweeted an image of her whirling body and jauntily retweeted an NBC Sports tweet: “‘HOLY COW!’ You just witnessed a historic triple axel from Mirai Nagasu. #WinterOlympics.” Weiss added a line from Hamilton, the musical, “Immigrants: They get the job done.”
Landmine. Her colleagues at the Times were outraged. It turns out that Nagasu is not an immigrant herself but is the daughter of two immigrants from Japan. When someone responded with “she was born in California,” Weiss tweeted “Yes, yes, I realize. Felt the poetic license was kosher.”
It wasn’t. At least not according to the many indignant Times staffers who aired their dissatisfaction on the paper’s Slack channel. Weiss was labeled a racist for “othering” Nagasu. A leaked transcript of the Slack conversation featured complaints that Weiss was “doubling down” when she denied ill-intent. One wrote, “i guess it’s too much to even expect a ‘we’re sorry you’re offended’ apology since asians don’t matter.” They nitpicked at her because, in a follow-up tweet, she had misquoted herself quoting Hamilton, rendering the line as “Immigrants: We get the job done!” instead of “they get the job done” as the original tweet was worded. Sheesh. The person who said “asians don’t matter” continued, posting “sorry, but I felt that tweet denied Mirai her full citizenship just as the internment did. and nothing will be done because no one was offended! (since we don’t count)”
To which the only proper response is: Get a grip! Weiss was obviously celebrating Nagasu, cheering her on, and taking pride in immigrants’ contributions to America. The lyric from Hamilton, originally sung by the Hamilton and Lafayette characters in a scene about the Battle of Yorktown for God’s sake, was also made into a music video about immigrants. Shortly after Trump’s election, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda explained that “This election cycle has brought xenophobia and vilification of immigrants back to the forefront of US politics. This is a musical counterweight.” The title of the video was “Immigrants: We Get the Job Done.” But, sure, let’s pretend that Weiss was “othering.”
Bari Weiss might seem an unlikely target of wrath. She left the Wall Street Journal editorial page in protest of its gradual surrender to Trump. The editorial section of the Journal (unlike the news pages) leans right, so her tenure there may have engendered suspicion on the part of her new colleagues at the Times. Maybe they were expecting Ghengis Khan. But a little due diligence, to say nothing of good faith, would have shown the skeptics that Weiss is a firm centrist.
One of her early pieces for the Times traced the (limp) response of many conservative-leaning think tanks to the Trump phenomenon. “Will the Trumpists capture the principled conservative intellectual establishment in 2017 as easily as they captured the Republican Party in 2016?” she asked, in a piece titled “The Trump Debate Inside Conservative Citadels.”
She also contributed a deeply researched piece on the Women’s March that took aim at figures like Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, citing their fondness for Fidel Castro and Louis Farrakhan. There was a time when the Grey Lady was hospitable to takedowns of far leftists, but that piece earned her bitter enemies both inside and outside the paper.
In response to the #MeToo movement, Weiss demonstrated balance and perspective. Neither a traditional conservative like me, nor a woke activist like Alyssa Milano, she sounded a note of caution. Recognizing that the phrase “believe all women” was empowering, she nonetheless worried about it being abused:
The huntresses’ war cry—‘believe all women’—has felt like a bracing corrective to a historic injustice. . . . In less than two months we’ve moved from uncovering accusations of criminal behavior (Harvey Weinstein) to criminalizing behavior that we previously regarded as presumptuous and boorish (Glenn Thrush). In a climate in which sexual mores are transforming so rapidly, many men are asking: If I were wrongly accused, who would believe me?
I know the answer that many women would give—are giving—is: Good. Be scared. We have been scared for forever. It’s your turn for some sleepless nights.
Three years later, when Tara Reade demanded uncritical trust, many feminists found new wisdom in Weiss’s hesitancy.
Weiss’s Twitter feed is characterized by concern for human rights—there are many references to the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and other oppressed people. She shows a particular sensitivity, unsurprisingly, to cancel culture. She is a passionate, but hardly mindless, supporter of Israel. She’s been critical of the Israeli government on a number of occasions, as for example, when it moved to deny visas to Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota because of their support for BDS, and she’s been openly hoping for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s electoral defeat.
In her resignation letter, Weiss denounced the Times’ leadership for its weakness in the face of leftwing pressure emanating from Twitter. “Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” she wrote.
The story of Bari Weiss’s tense parting with the Times will doubtless provide several days’ worth of fodder for the right. Weiss will become, for a while, a right-wing pin-up—symbol of the dangerous cancel culture that Democrats want to impose on the whole nation. Andrew Sullivan announced on the same day that he is leaving New York magazine. Coming on the heels of other prominent departures from progressive standard bearers, the scent of purges is in the air.
But the right has no credibility on this. If the left is woke, the right is bespoke—it has become tailored around one person. Look at conservative publications and search for Trump critics. They are thin on the ground. National Review parted ways with David French and Jonah Goldberg. The Wall Street Journal lost Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss. Fox News staffed up with fulsome Trump enthusiasts, but dispensed with George Will’s services.
This narrowing of the American mind is making everyone dumber and nastier. Debate is practically dead. What Bari Weiss stands for is the individual conscience attempting to evaluate issues fairly. She stands for dispassionate analysis in a world that increasingly favors zealotry and intolerance. That’s why her fate matters.
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a contributor to The Bulwark, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast.