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Monday, August 3, 2020

Bucking the Digital Thunderdome

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On July 20, the Los Angeles Times published a column by TV critic Lorraine Ali with the headline “Trump’s Failures Leave Conservative Media Figures, Acolytes Exposed.” Her thesis was that regardless of what Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, radio host Rush Limbaugh and former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss may say about their recent reversals, the “true reason fissures are opening under their feet” lies for all three in President Donald Trump’s deadly mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and his role in stoking racial tensions.

This stance misses the boat. 

Let’s focus on the three individuals whom Ali profiles. Carlson and Limbaugh are extremists who can be saddled fairly with the current president’s woes. But Weiss is woven from an altogether different cloth. Describing herself as “a left-leaning centrist,” her most famous comment came in response to the massacre at the synagogue where she grew up; commenting on the 2018 attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, she critiqued American Jews who had supported Trump, calling on them to face “the price of that bargain.”

So the problem in Ali’s formulation is her zeal to explain everything and everyone in reference to Trump’s failures. Her article explicitly discounts Weiss’ own claim that “the newsroom’s ‘cancel culture’ [was] her reason for leaving The New York Times.” But Ali fails to point to anything that might remotely cast doubt on Weiss’ stated rationale.

Weiss left the Times because, according to her, her journalistic colleagues could not abide anyone who failed to walk in lockstep with all their views. That “woke” mob represents a new intolerance for positions that were perfectly acceptable until recently. Let’s focus on Weiss’ cardinal sin against what she calls the “new orthodoxy” — support for the State of Israel. Hearkening back to the time, not so long ago, when the country voted Bill Clinton into office, his party platform included the following:

“The Democratic Party remains committed to America’s longstanding special relationship with Israel, based on shared values, a mutual commitment to democracy and a strategic alliance that benefits both nations. The United States should continue to help Israel maintain its qualitative edge. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. We are also committed to working with our Arab partners for peace to build a brighter, more secure and prosperous future for all the people of the Middle East.”

Lorraine Ali’s column illustrates that the identical groupthink that prompted Bari Weiss to resign from The New York Times is no stranger to the Los Angeles Times.

Not only support for Israel but numerous other verities of the Clinton administration now have become unbearably regressive to the Twitterati. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act almost unanimously, with support from a coalition running from the ACLU to the American Jewish Congress to the National Association of Evangelicals. Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spearheaded the bill in the House; Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was its Senate sponsor; President Clinton signed it into law.

More recently, Vice President Mike Pence supported an Indiana counterpart to that federal law when he was the governor of that state. For that supposed offense, he repeatedly has been denounced as a hate monger. While Pence’s willingness to whitewash every excess committed by his boss certainly merits condemnation in my eyes, that failure does not translate into a blunderbuss rendering his support for Clinton-era legislation into a threat against the very existence of his detractors.

Weiss’ mandate at the Times was to bring in divergent viewpoints — which is why she invited contributions from a series of voices as unlike Donald Trump as can be, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Masih Alinejad and Zaina Arafat. But Weiss was forced out of what she lamented as an “illiberal environment” that she found “heartbreaking.”

Sadly, Ali’s column illustrates that the identical groupthink that prompted Weiss to resign from The New York Times is no stranger to the Los Angeles Times, as well. Weiss’ unforgivable offense was not to support Donald Trump; it was charting her own course even when it diverged from “authorized” viewpoints. In short, the same “digital thunderdome” that chased her out of the Times of New York has followed her to the Times of Los Angeles. Sign of the Times.


David Nimmer, a lawyer, law professor and treatise writer, is past president of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation.

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