Tough hide re­quired for news busi­ness

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - GENE LYONS eu­gene­lyons2@ya­hoo.com Gene Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times.

When it comes to self-pro­mo­tion, you’ve got to hand it to Bari Weiss. Her tren­chant res­ig­na­tion let­ter from The New York Times has gen­er­ated a whole lot more at­ten­tion than her col­umns ever did.

Or maybe that’s just me talk­ing. I rarely, if ever, read her work. When it comes to Is­raeli apol­o­gists, I long ago con­cluded that re­gard­ing Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, both sides are right, both sides are wrong, and no­body ever changes their mind. I un­der­stand that Weiss wrote about other top­ics as well, but none that caught my at­ten­tion.

My bad. Too many colum­nists, too lit­tle time. La­bor­ing in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity far from New York, I just never caught on. The Times alone runs eight or nine opin­ion col­umns most days. No­body can read them all.

In­deed, I was sur­prised to learn from Weiss’ per­sonal web­site that “The Jerusalem Post just named Bari the sev­enth most in­flu­en­tial Jew in the world. Her par­ents were dis­ap­pointed she didn’t rank higher.”

Cute. Alas, she and Ivanka Trump have both dis­ap­peared from the Post’s 2020 lineup. But then the whole idea of such a list strikes me as silly.

But back to Weiss’ well-pub­li­cized res­ig­na­tion. Con­ser­va­tive out­lets that al­low no pro­gres­sive opin­ions at all are hav­ing a big time call­ing the Times hyp­o­crit­i­cal. In­deed, Weiss’ open let­ter to pub­lisher A.G. Sulzberger makes the Times news­room sound like the world’s worst univer­sity English depart­ment, re­plete with ri­val cliques, gos­sip-mon­ger­ing, back-stab­bing and holierthan-thou pos­tur­ing on all sides.

Been there, done that; es­caped with my life and ca­reer in­tact. As any num­ber of sa­vants have ob­served, aca­demic politics are so vi­cious pre­cisely be­cause the stakes are so small.

It’s prob­a­bly more ac­cu­rate to say that the nas­ti­ness of feud­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als de­rives from two fac­tors: First, it’s all about sta­tu­sanx­i­ety, who’s smarter than whom; sec­ond, there’s no ob­jec­tive way to keep score, so the con­test never ends.

I used to say that I’d spent my youth among two groups: ath­letes and lit­er­ary in­tel­lec­tu­als. On bal­ance, I’d take the jocks ev­ery time. When the rules are agreed upon, the score is openly posted and the con­test yields a de­ci­sive re­sult, peo­ple have to come to terms with their own egos. That’s also why the nas­ti­est dis­putes among ath­letes are about cheat­ing.

In his Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette column, Philip Martin made a re­lated point about the news­pa­per busi­ness: “News­pa­pers have al­ways har­bored bul­lies, and some­times we ven­er­ate them and tell cock­tail party sto­ries about the atroc­i­ties they com­mit. News­pa­pers are no dif­fer­ent than any other work­place; some­times there is cronyism, some­times there are nat­ter­ing cliques, al­ways there is gos­sip. There is no per­fect mer­i­toc­racy.”

Alas, to hear Weiss tell it, she was sub­jected to bru­tal on­line bul­ly­ing for be­ing a self-de­scribed “cen­trist” among le­gions of “woke” young jour­nal­ists. “My own for­ays into Wrong­think have made me the sub­ject of con­stant bul­ly­ing by col­leagues who dis­agree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist ... (O)ther New York Times em­ploy­ees pub­licly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twit­ter with no fear that ha­rass­ing me will be met with ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion. They never are . ...

“If a per­son’s ide­ol­ogy is in keep­ing with the new or­tho­doxy,” she con­tin­ued, “they and their work re­main un­scru­ti­nized. Ev­ery­one else lives in fear of the dig­i­tal thun­der­dome.”

Now, “dig­i­tal thun­der­dome” is an ar­rest­ing phrase, and I’ve no doubt things have got­ten ugly. Pu­ri­tans are al­ways mer­ci­less, cru­sad­ing young adepts of so­cial jus­tice par­tic­u­larly so.

Jonathan Chait re­ports about a data an­a­lyst at a “pro­gres­sive” think tank who got fired for cit­ing a Prince­ton pro­fes­sor’s pa­per sug­gest­ing that civil rights protests dam­aged Demo­cratic hopes dur­ing the 1968 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Of course they did. Read Rick Perl­stein’s “Nixon­land” for de­tails. Yet cit­ing this self-ev­i­dent fact was deemed “racist,” and the fel­low lost his job.

If Democrats find a way to blow the 2020 elec­tion, such fol­lies will have played a con­sid­er­able part.

For that matter, I also agree with Weiss that the Times op-ed pages too of­ten read like epis­tles from per­sons “liv­ing in a dis­tant gal­axy, one whose con­cerns are pro­foundly re­moved from the lives of most peo­ple.” One colum­nist re­cently ex­pressed shame and sor­row that his own chil­dren chose “boy toys and girl toys, boy col­ors and girl col­ors, boy TV shows and girl TV shows.”

Poor kids.

That said, my ad­vice to Weiss would be this: If you’re that thin-skinned, you’re in the wrong line of work. Per­sonal abuse comes with the ter­ri­tory. One rea­son I think Trump will lose in Novem­ber, for ex­am­ple, is that I haven’t had a death threat in weeks.

Read­ing what peo­ple say about you on Twit­ter is like read­ing the com­ment lines to your col­umns: ill-ad­vised for any­body not equipped with al­li­ga­tor hide.

Grow one, or choose a dif­fer­ent ca­reer.

JULIO CORTEZ/AP FILE PHOTO

Bari Weiss, an ed­i­tor and writer for The New York Times’ opin­ion sec­tion, has re­signed, say­ing she was ha­rassed for ideas that didn’t con­form with a lib­eral point of view.

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