Thursday, September 16, 2021
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Yesterday, YIVO held a panel on "The Jewish press today", featuring top editors from the Forward, JTA, and Tablet Magazine. In the run-up to the panel, I suggested that the Tablet editor, Alana Newhouse, should be sharply questioned on why they continue to publish Liel Leibovitz. This was in the immediate wake of his article decrying synagogue COVID restrictions as a form of idolatry, but that was hardly his only offense, nor were Tablet's dodgy journalistic choices limited to Liel. Remember their alarmingly chummy interview with the infamous antisemite Kevin MacDonald? Or Lee Smith calling arrested 1/6 insurrectionists "political prisoners"? Or the article on California Ethnic Studies that highlighted a completely fabricated antisemitic quote?
In any event, I thought that, on a panel dedicated to the Jewish press, Tablet's representative should be asked about whether her choices adequately met the standards we should expect out of Jewish (or any) journalism. I wasn't alone. But I also got pushback. One of my longtime readers thought Newhouse would have an easy response to me:
"[In my opinion] she will tell you that she publishes a wide variety of opinions from various parts of the political spectrum and she doesn't believe in censoring voices bc leftists want a veto, and [in my opinion] she will be correct in saying so."
imo she will tell you that she publishes a wide variety of opinions from various parts of the political spectrum and she doesn't believe in censoring voices bc leftists want a veto, and imo she will be correct in saying so.— Mordy (@mordygoespop) September 1, 2021
- Citation to "free speech"? ✅
- Acknowledgment that not everyone will agree, but the perspective is important? ✅
- Importance of "challenging mainstream narratives and assumptions"? ✅
- Appeal to elevating "silenced" voices, and suggesting that not publishing this writer is akin to refusing to entertain any divergent perspective? ✅
- Implying that critical backlash is tantamount to "intimidation"? ✅
Persons who have drank of these waters believe we are overwhelmed with attempts at censorship, sugar-coating, and kowtowing to online gangs. For such persons, then, there is no greater betrayal, no greater cowardice, than acceding to the demand for a retraction. It doesn't really even matter if the claim under attack was justified or not; it ceases to be about defending the claim on its merits. The "principle", such as it is, is to stand up to the mob. Anyone who fails to do that is weak.
We cannot disconnect this from the sense of grievance which inspired some, albeit not all, of the popularity of the initial article. There is a segment of the Jewish community (and other communities) which views Ethnic Studies as so much PC claptrap, a sop to loud and angry minorities who want to silence anything and everything that doesn't present America as a bigoted hell-hole. They read the Tablet article and understood this curriculum as reflecting the ambitions of this cohort, they view the critiques of the article as Tablet being besieged by this cohort, and if the article was retracted they'd view Tablet as having been captured by this cohort. Ironically, Tablet's credibility with its readership (or at least large chunks of it), depends on them not correcting even obvious mistakes. Many of the folks who couldn't care less about the realities of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (the author of the article now forthrightly admits that it doesn't matter what's in the curriculum; she thinks it's a poisonous idea no matter what it teaches) would never forgive Tablet if seemed to be giving in to "the left" (whatever that means).
One can predict a similar dynamic here. When a goodly chunk of the appeal of your writer is that he gets the right type of reader to "stay mad", and when you've already staked your credibility on the idea that it would be a failure of ethics, a betrayal of journalism and free speech itself, to give an inch to anyone who is mad, then it doesn't really matter why people are mad. It's already baked into the cake that they will be mad, and that that's their problem. It's not just a matter of "they knew who he was when they hired him." The entire discursive framework they used to promote his hiring now would make it impossible to disavow him, any more than Tablet could disavow a factually wrong smear on an Ethnic Studies article without losing its "anti-woke" cred.
How can this all work? Well, it is, after all, true -- and by no means irrelevant -- that many readers (on this subject and quite a few others) do get and stay mad for partisan, biased, or outright stupid reasons, and a journal which lacked the backbone to tell those readers "sorry, but you're going to have to stay mad" isn't going to be doing its job. Again, the classics are classics for a reason. But that truth offers a refuge to hide from a different truth, which is that sometimes the mad readers are mad for good reason, to which the rote appeal to "free speech" doesn't suffice as a response.
Lashing yourself to the mast of this particular "free speech" genre certainly comes with some benefits, and it shouldn't surprise to see this move appear across the political spectrum. But it is not always virtuous, and it is never cost-free.
Buzzfeed has a story about House Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)'s alleged terrible treatment of her staff. It reminds me a bit of the worker/boss antagonisms that torpedoed the NYC mayoral candidacy of left-wing activist Dianne Morales ("torpedoed" may be a strong word, since Morales never was winning that race to begin with, but you get what I mean).
Certainly, it is not only stalwart progressives who get hit with the "bad boss" tales -- Amy Klobuchar was a prior subject, and she's very much on the moderate end of her party. Still, the Jayapal accounts do feel as if they're part of a trend of "progressive hero is actually a monster to her own workers" stories. What do we make of that trend? A few potential explanations:
- There is no underlying trend. Progressive bosses are no more likely to be abusive than any other boss; if they are the target of more media stories on the subject, it is solely because of the tantalizing hypocrisy angle and/or other reasons the media targets progressives.
- Something about progressive labor ideology lends itself to being a bad boss on a personal level (e.g., concentrating on formal labor rules and agreements encourages the implicit underselling of the importance of "soft" standards of interpersonal conduct).
- Progressive bosses are more likely to be women and/or of color, and so are held to higher standards of conduct because of misogyny or racism (this seemed to be Jayapal's official response, and Klobuchar has echoed it too).
- Progressive bosses are more likely to be under-resourced or over-demanded, and these additional burdens get passed along to staffers creating a disproportionately unbearable work environment.
- Progressive employees are more likely to be sensitive to bad treatment and have a lower tolerance for it, and so are more likely to deem (and report) a given set of working conditions as bad or abusive (whether this is because they are overly sensitive and unrealistic about "the real world" or because they haven't had their internal sense of human worth beaten out of them yet is an exercise for the reader).
Sunday, September 12, 2021
Since I'm now an official Portland resident, I decided to write an op/ed for my local paper, The Oregonian: "Portland Police Should Not Be Exempt from Vaccine Mandates."
As some of you know, the city of Portland attempted to impose a vaccine mandate on the Portland Police Bureau, but backed off after union officials threatened a wave of vaccinations. In general, Oregon police have been viciously opposed to vaccine mandates in the state.
My op/ed's argument is simple. Put aside (though we shouldn't) the fact that COVID has been the most lethal killer of police officers over the last year. The same justifications which support a vaccine mandate for teachers or health workers support a mandate for police officers as well.
Even if we accept that some government employees need not be covered by vaccine rules, the police are the last agency that should be able to claim an exemption. The police are a public-facing agency that interacts with some of the most vulnerable Portlanders in unpredictable settings on a daily basis. Unlike, say, the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles agency, which can enforce a mask mandate or shunt unvaccinated customers into online services, the Portland police largely cannot control when and in what contexts they interact with members of the public. They can’t decline to investigate a crime until they’re certain the criminal is wearing a mask. They can’t refuse to interview a witness until they confirm she’s not immune-suppressed.
Moreover, we can't overlook the thuggish nature of the way in which the Police Bureau responded to the prospect of a vaccine mandate. Threats of mass resignation are characteristic of police departments which simply do not accept the fact that they are under civilian control and subject to civilian oversight. The claimed entitlement to flout local authorities is flatly toxic to principles of rule of law and democratic governance.
In terms of feedback I've gotten, it's about what you'd expect. Some praise, some "why do you hate cops" (I want fewer cops to die on the job from a deadly disease, what's your view on that?), some accusations of being a "bootlicker" for BigPharma because I'm not promoting Merck-manufactured ivermectin.
The most substantive response has been to note a provision in Oregon code which only allows vaccine mandates for certain public officials if pursuant to a state or federal order. The Portland mandate was initially justified under a state vaccine mandate issued for healthcare workers; the nominal cause of the city's retreat was clarifying guidance from the state saying the mandate "probably" didn't capture police officers. A few readers too-cutely suggested that the reason Portland police were in an uproar had nothing to do with resisting a vaccine mandate per se, but was solely because Portland was jumping ahead of the order of operations specified in state code.
This strikes me as, shall we say, implausible. Nonetheless, in my piece, I said if that provision was the only holdup, then the obvious solution is for Gov. Brown to clarify that police officers are included (or issue a separate rule to that effect). If the backlash has nothing to do with a claimed entitlement to resist lawful regulation, then the Police Bureau and Portland officers should have no problem with the Governor's office issuing such a rule. Indeed, they should welcome it since -- to reiterate -- COVID is the single deadliest threat police officers face today.
Of course, we're not naive and so we know the precise scope of Gov. Brown's orders as authorizing sources for Portland's vaccine mandate is not driving the action. Portland police don't like being told what to do -- that's the prime motivator here. But as public servants, they need to get used to it. Whether it stems initially from the city or the state, vaccine mandates for police is the right public policy, and law enforcement shouldn't be able to bully its way to an exemption.