Opinion writer Bari Weiss resigns from New York Times
New York Times Opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss will leave the newspaper after a three-year tenure.
In a resignation letter Weiss posted to her website, she attributed the decision to what she described as an “illiberal environment” within The New York Times. “The truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times,” she wrote.
Weiss said that her “forays into Wrongthink” had caused her to be singled out for criticism by colleagues. “My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in,” she wrote. “There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly ‘inclusive’ one, while others post ax emojis next to my name.”
Her colleagues were often inhospitable to her work on anti-Semitism, Weiss continued. “I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again,’” she wrote.
She also accused New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, to whom the letter was addressed, and other leaders of the newspaper of “praising me in private for my courage” while declining to defend her work publicly.
Kathleen Kiely, the Lee Hills Chair of Free-Press Studies at the University of Missouri, said Weiss’s decision reflected a broader political climate. “We’re at an extremely polarized time, in which unfortunately there is not a lot of room for nuance,” she said. “On the other hand I can understand why people are exasperated [with Weiss].”
As a mainstay of the New York Times Opinion page since 2017, Weiss established herself as a liberal unafraid to speak out against what she saw as leftist dogma: among other things, she praised cultural appropriation and critiqued the #MeToo movement. Her articles about issues faced by the modern Jewish community and the 2019 release of her first book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” made her a prominent voice and coveted speaker in the Jewish world.
Weiss often wrote about free speech and the importance of civil discourse, especially on college campuses. Just a week before leaving The New York Times, she was one of dozens of thinkers who signed an open letter in Harper’s Magazine decrying the rise of “ideological conformity” in America’s major cultural institutions. But she’s also been accused of using her platform to stifle speech with which she doesn’t agree.
Weiss’s resignation arrived shortly after that of the Opinion section’s editor, James Bennet, who stepped down after publishing an op-ed by Senator Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that called for the deployment of troops against demonstrators protesting police violence and sparked backlash within and outside the newspaper. Amid debate over the incident, Weiss alluded on Twitter to an internal “civil war” about the limits of free speech between “(mostly young) wokes” and “(mostly 40+) liberals.” Some colleagues disagreed with her characterization of the newspaper’s climate, and fellow Opinion editor Max Strasser called the tweet “inaccurate.”
On Twitter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center championed Weiss, saying her exodus was the result of “having chutzpah to speak out against Jew-hatred.”
Brilliant writer @bariweiss hounded by Twitter and Slack bullies inside New York Times. Resigns for having chutzpah to speak out against Jew-hatred. No place for intellectual debate at hostile work environment at @nytimes.https://t.co/geyUUdf4bx
— SimonWiesenthalCntr (@simonwiesenthal) July 14, 2020
Blake Flayton, a college student who wrote a New York Times op-ed under Weiss’s guidance, said he wasn’t surprised by her decision. “She’s leaving because the culture at institutions of journalism has become hostile to people who aren’t afraid to offend anyone in their writing,” he said. “The work she commissions is controversial, is contrarian. But it’s important to have those stories in print.”
Rabbi David Wolpe, who has hosted Weiss at Sinai Temple and calls her a “friend,” agreed. “That her voice couldn’t be sustained at the New York Times says nothing good about it and nothing bad about her,” he said, adding that Weiss’s departure comes as the newspaper becomes, in his view, “more hospitable to people whose feelings about Israel, and even Judaism, I find anywhere from troubling to objectionable.”
Some journalists took to social media to defend Weiss. “What the Times did to @bariweiss is unconscionable,” wrote Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Flanagan.
What the Times did to @bariweiss is unconscionable. It’s not civil, It’s not in the reader’s interest, and the well-documented culture of extreme harassment will, I hope, now come to light. This is the biggest media story in years.
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) July 14, 2020
“People who obsess over Bari the columnist will miss Bari the editor,” Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer for Tablet.
It’s no secret that @bariweiss and I disagree on many things. But she never deserved the extraordinary performative abuse she received, and she was the rare superb editor of those who disagreed with her. People on here who obsess over Bari the columnist will miss Bari the editor. https://t.co/QTsXRwQfPm
— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) July 14, 2020
Conservative figures including Donald Trump, Jr. and Ted Cruz also expressed support.
Others disputed Weiss’s claims of censorship. “Weiss on multiple occasions expressed bigoted, racist views about Palestinians and never faced any censure from the Times,” wrote Mehdi Hassan, a columnist for the Intercept, a digital news outlet focused on politics and national security.
Finally, Weiss on multiple occasions expressed bigoted, racist views about Palestinians and never faced any censure from the Times – and none of her supporters ever engage with those very legitimate criticisms of her:https://t.co/xKfvhT37lD
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 14, 2020
As Bari Weiss complains about leaving the Times because her colleagues didn’t like her, I can’t help but remember the time she tried to get @erinbiba fired because Erin used a swear in a tweet. https://t.co/DI5IxlPOqw
— Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) July 14, 2020
In an article on its website the New York Times quoted a statement from spokeswoman Eileen Murphy saying, “We’re committed to fostering an environment of honest, searching and empathetic dialogue between colleagues, one where mutual respect is required of all.” The newspaper has not responded to the Forward’s request for comment.
Prior to working at the New York Times, Weiss worked for the Wall Street Journal, Tablet, Haaretz, and The Forward.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.