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An ‘open letter’ published by Harper’s Magazine encouraging the restoration of First Amendment values and exchange of ideas has sparked internal dissent at Vox.
Ironically headlined, “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” the letter makes a number of observations about the current state of journalism: That ‘mainstream media’ newsrooms have been engulfed by a stifling ‘cancel culture’ where journalists are no longer free to express themselves outside the parameters of a narrow Leftist worldview.
“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” the letter says. “As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.”
The letter was signed by a bevy of mostly Left-leaning journalists, academics, and writers — including Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias, that latter of which sparked infighting within his organization.
Thus proving the point of the letter.
Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff, a trans-woman, tweeted correspondence she sent to the publication’s editorial staff lamenting Yglesias’s signature, adding that it was also signed by a number of “anti-trans” critics and that it made her feel “less safe” at the outlet.
“As a trans woman who very much values her position at Vox and the support the publication as given her through the emotional and physical turmoil of transition, I was deeply saddened to see Matt Yglesias’s signature” on the letter, she wrote.
“Matt is, of course, entitled to his own opinion, and I know he is a more nuanced thinker than signing the letter would suggest. He has never been anything but kind to me and has often supported my work publicly, all of which I am extremely grateful for.”
I sent a version of this to the editors of Vox. (I have redacted some bits that are internal to Vox and shouldn’t be aired publicly.) pic.twitter.com/splNNSMivd
— Emily VanDerWerff 🙋♀️ (@emilyvdw) July 7, 2020
“But the letter, signed as it is by several prominent anti-trans voices and containing as many dog whistles toward anti-trans positions as it does, ideally would not have been signed by anybody at Vox, much less one of the most prominent people at our publication,” she added.
Several Vox writers sided with VanDerWerff, including engagement editor Nisha Chittal, who claimed the letter was signed by “a bunch of mostly white people with platforms at prestigious media outlets complaining that minorities are silencing them.”
it's a bunch of mostly white people with platforms at prestigious media outlets complaining that minorities are silencing them….
— Nisha Chittal (@NishaChittal) July 7, 2020
Just a quick glance at the signatory list shows there are a whole lot of non-white people who also signed onto the letter so I don’t think reducing it to that is accurate or useful. Speaking for myself, that is certainly not the sentiment I’m expressing support for here.
— Jenny from the Vox (@jenn_ruth) July 7, 2020
Ok last thought about the Harper's letter:
The sheer number of signatories who have waded into the transgender debate on the anti-trans side is astounding. I read many of the references to specific gripes in the letter's text as specifically directed at trans critics.
— Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) July 7, 2020
But German Lopez, a senior correspondent at Vox, defended the contents of the letter, pointing out that the negative reaction it provoked proved the point.
Senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams also backed the letter’s content and intent, noting that it lines up with “what I personally see happening in the media and public.”
Other journalists and media figures were highly critical of Vox staffers who didn’t agree with the premise of the letter.
If you weren't fired, then you don't know squat about cancel culture. You look to get other people fired, and then you're shocked to find out that many people might want you fired. Boo Hoo
— Jack Furnari (@JackBPR) July 8, 2020
Vox staffers ripping on Yglesias for having the gall to say open debate is good is the most predictable development of the day
— Grant Addison (@jgrantaddison) July 7, 2020
Hearing another viewpoint makes them feel “unsafe.” You are to either submit to their worldview or remain quiet forever.
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) July 7, 2020
Frankly, this is a debate that American journalists should never have: Whether or not all voices are worthy of being heard and whether all political, cultural, and societal views can and should be shared freely, without reprisal.
Those are fundamental principles behind the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause, as envisioned by our founders and as practiced throughout our country’s history.
And yet, in these increasingly volatile political times, the profession has reached a place where so-called ‘mainstream’ journalists are being shunned and even silenced if their views do not comport with what can best be described as a Marxist worldview.
That said, the Harper’s Weekly letter is highly critical of conservative voices, accusing right-leaning journalists of being “demagogues” and an actual threat to free speech.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty,” it says.
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