“Fear of speech is replacing freedom of speech”; WSJ: We are not the NYT; & a discussion with Amanda Foreman

July 27, 2020

 

“IF LIBERTY MEANS ANYTHING AT ALL IT MEANS THE RIGHT TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach six articles from recent days about the current state of free speech.

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” as George Orwell put it, a sentiment that is increasingly being suppressed.

Before a summary of those articles, there is another in my series of informal “conversations with friends”.

 

HISTORIAN AND WRITER AMANDA FOREMAN (NEW YORK)

https://youtu.be/lFHkJcf0qO0

http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/001938.html

Amanda Foreman talks about her life and career; her father Carl Foreman (who wrote the films Bridge on the River Kwai, High Noon, and Guns of Navarone, but who was then driven out of town by Senator McCarthy’s witchhunts); Amanda’s own encounter with John Wayne; her books; her TV series on the ascent of women; her nonprofit that helps deprived American kids to read; and about curating an exhibition last year on Queen Victoria for the current English queen in Buckingham Palace. Amanda also discusses why statues and icons are such popular targets in the History wars.

 

A MENTION IN THE JERUSALEM POST

Yesterday, the Jerusalem Post grapevine column mentioned my ongoing series of informal zoom conversations with friends. Last item here:

https://www.jpost.com/opinion/grapevine-july-26-2020-zooming-in-on-tisha-beav-636325

The Jerusalem Post writes:

MOST ENGLISH-language journalists living in Israel, and several living in the US and England have at some stage or another worked as reporters, feature writers, copy editors and section editors at The Jerusalem Post, which for many has been a stepping stone to a broader journalistic career.

Former staff members of the Post either worked, for or are currently working, for Israel Hayom, Haaretz, KAN, i24, Bloomberg, the New York Times [for example, Bret Stephens], the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, CNN [for example, Wolf Blitzer], the London Jewish Chronicle, The Economist, the Independent, the Australian, the Bulletin, Associated Press, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Reuters and numerous other media outlets.

Among the many journalists who once worked in the old Romema offices of The Jerusalem Post is Tom Gross, a British-born journalist and international affairs commentator who is also a campaigner for human rights, specializing in the Middle East. Gross is now more in the nature of an opinion writer than a news reporter and writes for Israeli, Arab, British and American publications, and is a frequent commentator on the BBC and various Middle East networks.

In addition, he monitors Middle East news and sends out a Middle East dispatch list to journalists, politicians and members of think tanks.

Unable to move around as much as he used to before COVID-19 put a blight on travel, Gross decided to do a series of YouTube informal conversations with people such as Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff; Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland; former aide to Margaret Thatcher John O’Sullivan, author, commentator and a senior editor of the National Review David Pryce-Jones; Iranian-born screen writer and film director Hossein Amini and several other interesting citizens of the world. The conversations cover an extraordinary broad range of subjects. In Jewish religion it is believed that he who saves a single life saves a whole world. But all of us are part of many worlds, a factor which repeated itself in the various conversations and caused Gross to realize that he too was part of many worlds.

So he put himself into the series as well and in conversation with Paul Lewis, who asks Gross about his own life experiences and views Gross talks about: growing up surrounded by cultural and literary luminaries in London and New York who were the friends and acquaintances of his parents, distinguished author and critic John Gross, and his mother Miriam, a literary editor; Sunday brunches with Elvis Presley’s songwriter; crossing Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin with his grandmother during communism; helping the Roma when almost no one else would; his close relationship with his godmother Sonia Orwell (the model for the heroine Julia of her husband George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984); being in Manhattan on 9/11; the Mideast; the importance and legacy of the Holocaust; and other matters.

 

SUMMARIES OF ARTICLES BELOW

Tom Gross writes:

I attach six articles from recent days about the current state of free speech.

In the first piece, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes: “For generations, Americans were raised to see robust debate as essential to democratic health. Is that still true?”

“Culturally, the freedom to express unpopular views has never been more endangered,” he says. “On college campuses, in workplaces, in the media, there are ever-widening no-go zones of viewpoints and arguments that cannot be safely expressed. Voice an opinion that self-anointed social-justice warriors regard as heretical, and the consequences can be career-destroying.”

 

In an editorial titled “A Note to Readers” the Wall Street Journal says “We are not the New York Times.”

“These pages won’t wilt under cancel-culture pressure,” says the Journal Editorial Board in response to a letter signed by 280 of the more left-wing news and other staff at the Wall Street Journal, calling for the Journal opinion pages to become more “politically correct”.

 

Then there is an article by Princeton Classic professor Joshua Katz who has (for the time being) survived a campaign of harassment by other academics to censor him by the university for daring to think outside the box.

 

In the fourth piece, Sunday Telegraph columnist Zoe Strimpel asks “Why does cancel culture never apply to anti-Semitism?”

“The right may hold power, but it’s the hard left that’s making the culture laws we must live by – and they’re riddled with double standards,” she says.

 

In the fifth piece, in “A Farewell Letter” for “New York” magazine, Andrew Sullivan writes: “I’ve just been “canceled,” sent into oblivion and exile for some alleged sin. I haven’t. I’m just no longer going to be writing for a magazine that has every right to hire and fire anyone it wants when it comes to the content of what it wants to publish.

“The quality of my work does not appear to be the problem. I have a long essay in the coming print magazine on how plagues change societies, after all. I have written some of the most widely read essays in the history of the magazine, and my column has been popular with readers. And I have no complaints about my interaction with the wonderful editors and fact-checkers here – and, in fact, am deeply grateful for their extraordinary talent, skill, and compassion. I’ve been in the office maybe a handful of times over four years, and so there’s no question of anyone mistreating me or vice versa. In fact, I’ve been proud and happy to be a part of this venture.

“Two years ago, I wrote that we all live on campus now. That is an understatement. In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the woke program – and those few left are being purged. The latest study of Harvard University faculty, for example, finds that only 1.46 percent call themselves conservative. But that’s probably higher than the proportion of journalists who call themselves conservative at the New York Times or CNN or New York Magazine. And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.”

 

Finally, there is a news article: “Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All: Projects take longer. Collaboration is harder. And training new workers is a struggle. This is not going to be sustainable.”

(Three of these writers – Jeff Jacoby, Zoe Strimpel and Andrew Sullivan – are subscribers to this list.)


CONTENTS

1. “Fear of speech is replacing freedom of speech” (By Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, July 26, 2020)
2. “A Note to Readers” (Wall St Journal Editorial Board, July 24, 2020)
3. “I survived cancellation at Princeton” (By Joshua Katz, Wall St Journal, July 27, 2020)
4. “Why does cancel culture never apply to anti-Semitism?” (By Zoe Strimpel, UK Sunday Telegraph, July 19, 2020)
5. “See you next Friday: a farewell letter” (By Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine, July 17, 2020)
6. “Companies start to think remote work isn’t so great after all” (By Chip Cutter, Wall St Journal, July 25, 2020)

 

ARTICLES

FEAR OF SPEECH IS REPLACING FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Fear of speech is replacing freedom of speech
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
July 26, 2020

For generations, Americans were raised to see robust debate as essential to democratic health. Is that still true?

“FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the famous Norman Rockwell painting that depicts a young man addressing a local gathering, was inspired by a real event. One evening in 1942, Rockwell attended the town meeting in Arlington, Vt., where he lived for many years. On the agenda was the construction of a new school. It was a popular proposal, supported by everyone in attendance – except for one resident, who got up to express his dissenting view. He was evidently a blue-collar worker, whose battered jacket and stained fingernails set him apart from the other men in the audience, all dressed in white shirts and ties. In Rockwell’s scene, the man speaks his mind, unafraid to express a minority opinion and not intimidated by the status of those he’s challenging. He has no reason not to speak plainly: His words are being attended to with respectful attention. His neighbors may disagree with him, but they’re willing to hear what he has to say.

What brings Rockwell’s painting to mind is a new national poll by the Cato Institute. The survey found that self-censorship has become extremely widespread in American society, with 62 percent of adults saying that, given the current political climate, they are afraid to honestly express their views.

“These fears cross partisan lines,” writes Emily Ekins, Cato’s director of polling. “Majorities of Democrats (52 percent), independents (59 percent), and Republicans (77 percent) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.” The survey’s 2,000 respondents sorted themselves ideologically as “very liberal,” “liberal,” “moderate,” “conservative,” or “very conservative.” In every category except “very liberal,” a majority of respondents feel pressured to keep their views to themselves. Roughly one-third of American adults – 32 percent – fear they could be fired or otherwise penalized at work if their political beliefs became known.

Freedom of speech has often been threatened in America, but the suppression of “wrong” opinions in the past has tended to come from the top down. It was the government that arrested editors for criticizing Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy, made it a crime to burn the flag, turned the dogs on civil rights marchers, and jailed communists under the Smith Act. Today, by contrast, dissent is rarely prosecuted. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, freedom of expression has never been more strongly protected – legally.

But culturally, the freedom to express unpopular views has never been more endangered.

On college campuses, in workplaces, in the media, there are ever-widening no-go zones of viewpoints and arguments that cannot be safely expressed. Voice an opinion that self-anointed social-justice warriors regard as heretical, and the consequences can be career-destroying. The dean of the nursing school at UMass-Lowell lost her job after writing in an email that “everyone’s life matters.” An art curator was accused of being a racist and forced to quit for saying that his museum would “continue to collect white artists.” The director of communications for Boeing apologized and resigned after an employee complained that 33 years ago he was opposed to women serving in combat.

Virtually everyone would agree that some views are indisputably beyond the pale. If there are supporters of slavery or advocates of genocide who feel inhibited from sharing their beliefs, no one much cares. But the range of opinions deemed unsayable by today’s progressive thought police extends well into the mainstream. And in many cases, the most enthusiastic suppressors of debate are students, journalists, artists, intellectuals – those who in former times were the greatest champions of uninhibited speech and the greatest foes of ideological conformity.

It isn’t only on the left that this totalitarian impulse to silence dissent exists. President Trump, always infuriated by criticism, has called for columnists who disparage him to be fired, hecklers at his rallies to be beaten up, and TV stations to lose their licenses if they run ads vilifying his handling of the pandemic – calls routinely amplified on social media by tens of thousands of his followers. When a Babson College professor joked that Iran ought to bomb “sites of beloved American cultural heritage” like the Mall of America and the Kardashian residence, a right-wing website launched a campaign that got him fired.

The new Cato survey found that more than one in five Americans (22 percent) would support firing a business executive who donated money to Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, while 31 percent would be OK with firing someone who gave money to Trump’s re‐election campaign. The urge to ostracize or penalize unwelcome views isn’t restricted to just one end of the spectrum.

Americans’ right to free speech is shielded by the Constitution to a degree unmatched anywhere else. But our First Amendment guarantees will prove impotent if the habit of free speech is lost. For generations, Americans were raised to see debate as legitimate, desirable, and essential to democratic health. They quoted Voltaire’s (apocryphal) aphorism: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Editors, publishers, satirists, and civil libertarians took to heart the dictum of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who wrote that “the principle of free thought” is meant to enshrine “not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

But that principle has been turned on its head. The “thought that we hate” is not tolerated but stifled. It is reviled as taboo, forbidden to be uttered. Anyone expressing it may be accused not just of giving offense, but of literally endangering those who disagree. And even if only some people lose their careers or reputations for saying something “wrong,” countless others get the chilling message.

“And so dread settles in,” writes journalist Emily Yoffe. “Challenging books go untaught. Deep conversations are not had. Friendships are not formed. Classmates and colleagues eye each other with suspicion.”

And 62 percent of Americans fear to express what they think.

The speaker in Norman Rockwell’s painting may have had something unpopular to say, but neither he nor his neighbors had any doubt that it was appropriate for him to say it. Now, such doubt is everywhere, and freedom of speech has never been more threatened.

 

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: “WE ARE NOT THE NEW YORK TIMES”

A Note to Readers
These pages won’t wilt under cancel-culture pressure.
By The Editorial Board
Wall Street Journal
July 24, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-note-to-readers-11595547898

We’ve been gratified this week by the outpouring of support from readers after some 280 of our Wall Street Journal colleagues signed (and someone leaked) a letter to our publisher criticizing the opinion pages. But the support has often been mixed with concern that perhaps the letter will cause us to change our principles and content. On that point, reassurance is in order.

In the spirit of collegiality, we won’t respond in kind to the letter signers. Their anxieties aren’t our responsibility in any case. The signers report to the News editors or other parts of the business, and the News and Opinion departments operate with separate staffs and editors. Both report to Publisher Almar Latour. This separation allows us to pursue stories and inform readers with independent judgment.

It was probably inevitable that the wave of progressive cancel culture would arrive at the Journal, as it has at nearly every other cultural, business, academic and journalistic institution. But we are not the New York Times. Most Journal reporters attempt to cover the news fairly and down the middle, and our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media.

As long as our proprietors allow us the privilege to do so, the opinion pages will continue to publish contributors who speak their minds within the tradition of vigorous, reasoned discourse. And these columns will continue to promote the principles of free people and free markets, which are more important than ever in what is a culture of growing progressive conformity and intolerance.

 

I SURVIVED CANCELLATION AT PRINCETON

I Survived Cancellation at Princeton
It was a close call, but I won’t be investigated for criticizing a faculty ‘open letter’ signed by hundreds.
By Joshua T. Katz
Wall Street Journal
July 27, 2020

(Joshua T. Katz is a professor of classics at Princeton.)

https://www.wsj.com/articles/i-survived-cancellation-at-princeton-11595787211

Now is the time to debate with renewed vigor existential questions of what counts as justice and how to fashion an equitable society. But the stifling of dissent is impeding the search for answers and driving people who disagree still further apart. Because students like to push boundaries and professors like to argue, colleges and universities are a crucible.

Take the university where I teach, Princeton. The campus – or at least the online campus, in the age of the coronavirus – has been in uproar since early July over a letter of demands to the administration signed by hundreds of my faculty colleagues, and especially over my response to that letter. I was immediately denounced on social media and condemned publicly by my department and the university president. At the same time, the university spokesman announced ominously that the administration would be “looking into the matter further.” On July 14, the Journal’s editorial board commented: “Princeton is demonstrating how a lack of leadership enables the cancel culture.”

It is therefore gratifying to report that Princeton’s leadership has done the right thing. I learned recently that I am not under investigation. The story of how I survived cancellation should be of interest to others, since I have no doubt that many more people, from once-obscure professors to public figures, will be vilified and in some cases materially punished for thought crimes.

In my response to the open letter, I agreed with some of my colleagues’ demands but objected to others, including some that are illegal (giving financial rewards specifically to faculty based on race) or, in my view, immoral (creating a new faculty committee to investigate research for traces of racism and discipline those responsible).

These demands deserve attention, not least because I believe that my colleagues are, for the most part, sensible people who are striving to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, heat over my use of the phrase “terrorist organization” to describe a defunct student group called the Black Justice League – whose members targeted and smeared fellow undergraduates for disagreeing with them – has triumphed over light: Neither my colleagues’ substantive demands nor my objections have received the attention they deserve.

The president of Princeton, Christopher Eisgruber, told a student newspaper that I had violated my obligation to exercise free speech “responsibly,” stating that he “personally and strongly” objected to my “false description” of the defunct student group. Four colleagues in my department, none of whom have been in touch with me directly, used the Princeton Classics website to denounce my language as “abhorrent” and made the astonishing claim that I had placed “Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk.” Some students and alumni went after me as well. And that’s to say nothing of the general vitriol online.

I emphatically do not want anyone to come away with the impression that I feel victimized. Yes, I’m bruised and angry, and sad because so many people who privately say they agree with me are too frightened to state their opinions publicly. But everyone has the right to free speech – my critics and I equally. I am certain that the university president was motivated by a concern for the Princeton community, as I was. We were both defending people we believe have been wronged. Each of us has every right to do this, and while we disagree about what constitutes offensive rhetoric, this is not a scandal. It should be normal for people with differing views to criticize each other in a civil fashion.

I believe my blunt words were justified. I also understand why some were offended by them. I wrote in good faith, expecting that my response would contribute to a necessary discussion on campus – even more necessary than I had realized, I now see. I also wrote in the expectation that my right to express my opinion would be protected under the legally enforceable guarantees of free speech known as the University of Chicago principles, adopted by vote of the Princeton faculty in 2015 and set forth in the university’s regulations.

It was therefore shocking to read that the university would be “looking into” what I had said. As Alex Morey of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote a few days ago, “Princeton’s suggestion alone that such action might be forthcoming has serious – and chilling – implications.”

But here we are. The administration is not investigating me, and my departmental colleagues have taken down their unwise statement of condemnation. Meanwhile, support keeps pouring in: from undergraduates, graduate students and faculty in my department and across the university; from alumni; from teachers all over the country and beyond; and from people unconnected to academia who are concerned that suppressing speech only makes worse the many problems the U.S. faces.

All this explains why free speech matters – for everyone. The president of Princeton is entitled to express his personal beliefs. So are my colleagues, at least on private websites. And I am particularly impressed with those very few students and alumni who demonstrated courage by writing to me in harsh but thoughtful terms about their objections to my words rather than bullying me quasi-anonymously online. I wish we were not at odds, but how much better it is for people to be permitted to argue than to follow, unthinkingly, the orthodoxy du jour. Free speech and robust debate have prevailed at Princeton.

 

WHY DOES CANCEL CULTURE NEVER APPLY TO ANTI-SEMITISM?

Why does cancel culture never apply to anti-Semitism?

The right may hold power, but it’s the hard left that’s making the culture laws we must live by – and they’re riddled with double standards

By Zoe Strimpel
Sunday Telegraph (London)
July 19, 2020

For years now, those made uneasy by the bullying, intellectually dishonest and manipulative tendencies of the illiberal and identity-obsessed left have been sneered at for raising their concerns.

Stop snivelling about free speech, they are told. You’re just part of a right-wing conspiracy, manipulating reality to wreak evil on oppressed minorities, they are told. And what are you complaining about anyway? Conservatives hold high political office. As the headline on the most recent offering from slippery social justice warrior-in-chief Owen Jones whined: ‘The right are in power everywhere, but they can’t stop playing the victim.’

That’s certainly not how I, or a growing number of shocked bystanders of diverse political stripes, see things. Yes, the right holds formal power in a handful of civilised nations: the UK, the US, Australia, Israel. It does have political power.

But it’s not ‘playing the victim’. It’s rather that when it comes to influence over culture and our everyday lives, it’s the unelected hard left that increasingly wields the weaponry, and it’s chilling. The elected parties make actual laws, but it is the illiberal left now making all the other laws; those we increasingly must live by if we want to work, express ourselves in public and private, and keep our friends.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ascendancy of the mass anti-racism movement, the grip on what we are allowed to say and think has tightened still further. It all finally became too much for a wide range of intellectuals and personages – many of whom were once standard-bearers of the left – resulting in an open letter to Harper’s Magazine last week denouncing the ‘vogue for public shaming and ostracism’ engulfing the public sphere and institutional culture. Signatories included JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis and Steven Pinker.

The backlash was immediate, and predictable, with signatories mocked for being privileged cry-babies, and worse, for leveraging it all for personal gain.

But I was particularly interested by another high-profile analysis of the tyrannical groupthink at the pinnacle of supposedly liberal society. For this one showed with clarity the black heart of anti-Semitism that beats in plain sight amid all the virtue signalling.

Bari Weiss, the 36-year old author of How To Fight Anti-Semitism, announced her resignation from the New York Times where, to the paper’s credit, she had been hired in 2017 to bring in diversity of opinion as an op-ed editor and writer.

The open letter in which she described her reasons for leaving was forceful, clear and plain-speaking. “My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views,” she wrote.

Notably, that bullying often took the form of brazen anti-Semitism: “They have called me a Nazi and a racist,” Weiss wrote. “I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again”.

Weiss’s letter highlighted a now-familiar irony: not only does anti-Semitism not count in the new reckoning of racial harms, but Jews are seen as the enemy. She noted that colleagues could “publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. [It never is].” Indeed: cancel culture never applies to anti-Semitism.

The responses to Weiss’s letter made me feel even queasier. Writing in Forbes, Dani Di Placido was just one writer who managed to distort the real outrages Weiss had elucidated, and mock her reasons for resigning: “Bari Weiss, famous for trying to silence professors during her college years… recently quit her position at the New York Times because of perceived harassment and the supposed self-censorship of the newspaper, apparently the fault of Twitter.” The jibe about silencing professors is a reference to Weiss’s involvement in calling out the social and intellectual bullying she experienced and observed, as a pro-Israel undergraduate, by pro-Palestinian professors at Columbia University, where she studied. Di Placido’s sneer about silencing professors just offers another example of how the left now operates: when a Jew calls out flagrant anti-Semitism, that Jew is accused of ‘silencing’ criticism about Israel. This is a mendacious trick.

Di Placido continued, implying that Weiss was duplicitous, with greedy ulterior motives for resigning: “Whatever your opinion of Weiss, she’s likely to land on her feet; there’s a very lucrative market out there for opinionated people who loudly claim to have been ‘cancelled.’” This is gaslighting plain and simple, and it is vile.

In the UK, of course, the idea that those who call out anti-Semitism are conspiring for personal gain against the true warriors of truth and justice (the PC mob) gained significant ground under Jeremy Corbyn. And even though he’s gone, the idea persists. Last week saw his allies throwing tantrums as Labour seemed set to apologise to anti-Semitism whistleblowers for the harassment and bullying they faced under the former leader. Corbyn’s hangers-on still think the whistleblowers’ evidence of anti-Jewish culture under the dear leader, revealed in a Panorama programme last year, was just a cynical attempt to smear the party, rather than the sign of a party gone rotten to the core.

The illiberal left, obsessed with policing thought, speech, art and expression, insists it wants justice for the oppressed. It is a grotesque irony that this campaign requires treating Jews just like our persecutors always have: liars who – no matter what we say or what happens to us – are always on the side of manipulation and greed. A culture that allows this kind of thinking about Jews to flourish, or that tolerates the kind of double standards experienced by Bari Weiss, is a culture that needs a reboot – fast.

 

SEE YOU NEXT FRIDAY: A FAREWELL LETTER

See You Next Friday: A Farewell Letter
By Andrew Sullivan
New York magazine
July 17, 2020

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/andrew-sullivan-see-you-next-friday.html

The good news is that my last column in this space is not about “cancel culture.” Well, almost. I agree with some of the critics that it’s a little nuts to say I’ve just been “canceled,” sent into oblivion and exile for some alleged sin. I haven’t. I’m just no longer going to be writing for a magazine that has every right to hire and fire anyone it wants when it comes to the content of what it wants to publish.

The quality of my work does not appear to be the problem. I have a long essay in the coming print magazine on how plagues change societies, after all. I have written some of the most widely read essays in the history of the magazine, and my column has been popular with readers. And I have no complaints about my interaction with the wonderful editors and fact-checkers here – and, in fact, am deeply grateful for their extraordinary talent, skill, and compassion. I’ve been in the office maybe a handful of times over four years, and so there’s no question of anyone mistreating me or vice versa. In fact, I’ve been proud and happy to be a part of this venture.

What has happened, I think, is relatively simple: A critical mass of the staff and management at New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with me, and, in a time of ever tightening budgets, I’m a luxury item they don’t want to afford. And that’s entirely their prerogative. They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here.

Two years ago, I wrote that we all live on campus now. That is an understatement. In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the woke program – and those few left are being purged. The latest study of Harvard University faculty, for example, finds that only 1.46 percent call themselves conservative. But that’s probably higher than the proportion of journalists who call themselves conservative at the New York Times or CNN or New York Magazine. And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.

It seems to me that if this conservatism is so foul that many of my peers are embarrassed to be working at the same magazine, then I have no idea what version of conservatism could ever be tolerated. And that’s fine. We have freedom of association in this country, and if the mainstream media want to cut ties with even moderate anti-Trump conservatives, because they won’t bend the knee to critical theory’s version of reality, that’s their prerogative. It may even win them more readers, at least temporarily. But this is less of a systemic problem than in the past, because the web has massively eroded the power of gatekeepers to suppress and control speech. I was among the first to recognize this potential for individual freedom of speech, and helped pioneer individual online media, specifically blogging, 20 years ago.

And this is where I’m now headed.

Since I closed down the Dish, my bloggy website, five years ago, after 15 years of daily blogging, I have not missed the insane work hours that all but broke my health. But here’s what I do truly and deeply miss: writing freely without being in a defensive crouch; airing tough, smart dissent and engaging with readers in a substantive way that avoids Twitter madness; a truly free intellectual space where anything, yes anything, can be debated without personal abuse or questioning of motives; and where readers can force me to change my mind (or not) by sheer logic or personal testimony.

I miss a readership that truly was eclectic – left, liberal, centrist, right, reactionary – and that loved to be challenged by me and by each other. I miss just the sheer fun that used to be a part of being a hack before all these dreadfully earnest, humor-free puritans took over the press: jokes, window views, silly videos, contests, puns, rickrolls, and so on. The most popular feature we ever ran was completely apolitical – The View From Your Window contest. It was as simple and humanizing as the current web is so fraught and dehumanizing. And in this era of COVID-19 isolation and despair, the need for a humane, tolerant, yet provocative and interesting, community is more urgent than ever.

So, yeah, after being prodded for years by Dishheads, I’m going to bring back the Dish.

I’ve long tried to figure out a way to have this kind of lively community without endangering my health and sanity. Which is why the Weekly Dish, which launches now, is where I’ve landed. The Weekly Dish will be hosted by Substack, a fantastic company that hosts an increasingly impressive number of individual free thinkers, like Jesse Singal and Matt Taibbi. There is a growing federation of independent thinkers and writers not subject to mainstream media’s increasingly narrow range of acceptable thought.

The initial basic formula – which, as with all things Dish, will no doubt evolve – is the following: this three-part column, with perhaps a couple of added short posts or features (I probably won’t be able to resist); a serious dissent section, where I can air real disagreement with my column, and engage with it constructively and civilly; a podcast, which I’ve long wanted to do, but never found a way to fit in; and yes, reader window views again, and the return of The View From Your Window contest. I’m able to do all this because Chris Bodenner, the guru of the Dish in-box and master of the Window View contest, is coming back to join me. He’ll select the dissents, as he long did, in ways that will put me on the spot.

Some have said that this good-faith engagement with lefty and liberal readers made me a better writer and thinker. And I think they’re right. Twitter has been bad for me; it’s just impossible to respond with the same care and nuance that I was able to at the Dish. And if we want to defend what’s left of liberal democracy, it’s not enough to expose and criticize the current model. We just need to model and practice liberal democracy better.

And that’s my larger hope and ambition. If the mainstream media will not host a diversity of opinion, or puts the “moral clarity” of some self-appointed saints before the goal of objectivity in reporting, if it treats writers as mere avatars for their race and gender or gender identity, rather than as unique individuals whose identity is largely irrelevant, then the nonmainstream needs to pick up the slack. What I hope to do at the Weekly Dish is to champion those younger writers who are increasingly shut out of the Establishment, to promote their blogs, articles, and podcasts, to link to them, and encourage them. I want to show them that they have a future in the American discourse. Instead of merely diagnosing the problem of illiberalism, I want to try to be part of the solution.

I’ll still probably piss you off, on a regular basis. “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” as my journalistic mentor George Orwell put it. But I’ll also be directly accountable, and open to arguments that I, too, don’t want to hear but need to engage. And I hope to find readers who are fine with being pissed off – if it prompts them to reevaluate ideas.

If you believe in that vision or are simply interested in engaging a variety of ideas in a free-wheeling debate, then please join us. Those of you who were loyal Dishheads receive this column every Friday in an email, and you will get the same email next week directing you to the new Weekly Dish. If you are not on that list, or have not received an email lately, or have gotten to know me from my work at New York alone, you can add your name by clicking here.

The Weekly Dish will be free for a bit, while we iron out kinks and prep a podcast for the fall. But if you want to subscribe right away, or be a founding Weekly Dishhead, we’d love it, and it would help us enormously in getting this off the ground.

Dishness lives. All we’re waiting for is you.

See you next Friday.

 

COMPANIES START TO THINK REMOTE WORK ISN’T SO GREAT AFTER ALL

Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All

Projects take longer. Collaboration is harder. And training new workers is a struggle. ‘This is not going to be sustainable.’

By Chip Cutter
The Wall Street Journal
July 25, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/companies-start-to-think-remote-work-isnt-so-great-after-all-11595603397

Four months ago, employees at many U.S. companies went home and did something incredible: They got their work done, seemingly without missing a beat. Executives were amazed at how well their workers performed remotely, even while juggling child care and the distractions of home. Twitter Inc. TWTR -2.34% and Facebook Inc., among others, quickly said they would embrace remote work long term. Some companies even vowed to give up their physical office spaces entirely.

Now, as the work-from-home experiment stretches on, some cracks are starting to emerge. Projects take longer. Training is tougher. Hiring and integrating new employees, more complicated. Some employers say their workers appear less connected and bosses fear that younger professionals aren’t developing at the same rate as they would in offices, sitting next to colleagues and absorbing how they do their jobs.

Months into a pandemic that rapidly reshaped how companies operate, an increasing number of executives now say that remote work, while necessary for safety much of this year, is not their preferred long-term solution once the coronavirus crisis passes.

“There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable,’” said Laszlo Bock, chief executive of human-resources startup Humu and the former HR chief at Google. No CEO should be surprised that the early productivity gains companies witnessed as remote work took hold have peaked and leveled off, he adds, because workers left offices in March armed with laptops and a sense of doom.

“It was people being terrified of losing their jobs, and that fear-driven productivity is not sustainable,” Mr. Bock said.

Few companies expect remote work to go away in the near term, though the evolving thinking among many CEOs reflects a significant shift from the early days of the pandemic.

“You can tell people are getting fatigued,” said Peter P. Kowalczuk, president of Canon Solutions America, a division of copier and camera giant Canon Inc., which employs about 15,000 people across the country.

Mr. Kowalczuk, who worked for months out of a bedroom in his home, went back to Canon’s U.S. headquarters in Melville, N.Y., in early July. Now, no more than 50% of the company’s employees are coming into work at the 52-acre office campus, which features two ponds and a walking trail, and typically includes more than 11,000 staffers in a single building.

Returning is voluntary, Mr. Kowalczuk said, and requires answering a series of health questions on an app the company created, called Check-In Online, before getting approval to drive in. The company has also blocked off desks to allow for greater distancing, stepped up cleaning and created a rotating schedule so that staffers come in on alternating weeks.

“We’re really a face-to-face business,” he said. “I don’t think offices are dead.”

The nature of what some companies do makes it tough, if not impossible, to function remotely. In San Francisco, startup Chef Robotics recently missed a key product deadline by a month, hampered by the challenges of integrating and testing software and hardware with its engineers scattered across the Bay Area. Pre-pandemic, they all collaborated in one space.

Problems that took an hour to solve in the office stretched out for a day when workers were remote, said Chief Executive Rajat Bhageria. “That’s just a logistical nightmare,” he said.

Chef Robotics had little choice but to make do. Its office space could not accommodate all eight full-time employees and allow for distancing. For a while, Mr. Bhageria invited four people in at a time, on a voluntary basis, to work together.

“We tried it,” he says. “It’s just not the same. You just cannot get the same quality of work.”

Chef Robotics moved in mid-July to a new office in the South of Market neighborhood with double the square footage, better ventilation and non-communal restrooms.

Teams physically building a product need to be together, Mr. Bhageria said. “There’s this thrill of being a little hacky group of people, on a shared mission, in a startup, with little money, eating pizza and ramen.”

The Boston-based video technology firm OpenExchange, which helps run large, online conferencing events, is going a step further to bring employees together. Workers on the company’s European team said they could benefit from some in-person interaction during this time of huge growth at the company. So in late July, OpenExchange is renting a house in the English countryside, with about 15 bedrooms, so many of its employees can live and work together, while still distancing. In some cases, family members are coming along.

It’s important to have people in a room and see body language and read signals that don’t come through a screen, says Mark Loehr, the CEO, noting the event is optional. “They’re going to do their work there – modestly, individually, sometimes in group rooms – but try to meet together for breakfast, lunch and meals,” he says. “And maybe out on the lawn, just to know each other.”

One benefit of working together in person, many executives said, is the potential for spontaneous interactions. Mary Bilbrey, global chief human resources officer at real-estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., returned to her Chicago office in early June, as the company reopened its spaces. She noticed that she was soon having conversations with peers that wouldn’t have happened in a remote set up – a discussion sparked by a passing question in the hall, for instance. “They weren’t going to think about scheduling a 30 minute call to do it,” she said.

Commercial real-estate firms like JLL stand to benefit from a widespread return to office work. For now, the length of most office leases means that most companies are unlikely to move away from physical offices immediately. The majority of U.S. office leases are eight years or longer, according to an analysis by credit-rating agency Moody’s Investors Service. In an early July report, analysts noted that they didn’t expect an exodus from offices, despite popular claims that offices were now dead.

More companies now envision a hybrid future, with more time spent working remote, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams. CompuCom Systems Inc., the IT service provider owned by Office Depot, may institute “core hours” for its employees, similar to office hours that professors hold on college campuses. The idea under consideration is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and strategize, says CompuCom president Mick Slattery. Online education provider Coursera expects half of its 650 employees to work “blended” hours once the pandemic passes, with staffers spending three days a week in the office and the rest remote, says Chief Executive Jeff Maggioncalda.

The toll of extended work-from-home arrangements is likely to affect career development, particularly for younger workers, several executives said. At Stifel Financial Corp., which employs more than 8,000 people around the world, junior employees learn how to underwrite deals or develop pitch books by sitting beside more experienced colleagues and watching them work, said Chief Executive Ronald J. Kruszewski. That’s hard to do remotely.

“I am concerned that we would somehow believe that we can basically take kids from college, put them in front of Zoom, and think that three years from now, they’ll be every bit as productive as they would have had they had the personal interaction,” said Mr. Kruszewski.

In March, Stifel transformed from eight group trading desks to more than 180 separate trading locations. Dozens of staffers fanned out to smaller office locations in Connecticut and New Jersey, and some people set up work-from-home stations using secure cloud technologies.

Mr. Kruszewski said the company didn’t miss a beat, but when the pandemic has passed, or there are viable treatment options, employees will be recalled from their alternative locations.

“Our traders need to be together,” he said, adding that, at a broader company level, employees benefit from interaction. “We’re missing things, and that will become more evident over time.”

And then there’s the challenge of training employees who began work after the pandemic began and have had to work remotely from the start. At Discover Financial Services, thousands of new call-center workers and other employees have come on board since March, said Andy Eichfeld, chief human resources and administrative officer.

Most of those new employees have never worked in a Discover office. Customer-service agents who once got six weeks of in-classroom training now must learn the information remotely. They don’t have the same casual day-to-day opportunities to ask more experienced workers for help or advice that they would if they were working in the same office, even as the company has tried to connect people virtually. New employees in marketing and analytics roles haven’t been able to quickly pick up company jargon and shorthand in meetings, leaving some of them lost.

“If you were physically on site, you might have someone physically whispering, ‘Hey, that means this.’ We don’t have that here. So, it’s taking longer for the new employee to understand what’s happening,” he said.

In a recent company survey, less than a third of Discover employees said they want to work from home permanently, though many said they would like the flexibility to do it sometimes, which the company plans to offer. Without the interactions that define office life, Mr. Eichfeld worries that Discover’s culture will gradually fray, which is why he’s eager to get workers back together once it is safe.

“It was easier to go remote fast than most people would have ever imagined,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s great.”

 

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