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E-Pluribus | December 21, 2021
Where is journalism headed, the corruption of STEM, and trying to pin too much on "woke."
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Steven Greenhut: Why Are So Many Prominent Journalists Abandoning Journalism?
The advent of the internet was thought by some to herald the dawning of journalism’s Age of Aquarius, but the reality has been somewhat underwhelming. Steven Greenhut makes the case at Reason that instead we are returning to an Age of Yellow Journalism where sensationalism and selling papers rule the day.
Instead of entering a golden age of reasoned public policy, we are descending into a dark age of sensationalism and misinformation. Laugh at my naïveté, but I've finally learned that Americans prefer ad hominem attacks and conspiracy-mongering to reading municipal budgets and weighing arguments in amicus briefs. So much for the democratization of news.
Such trends have been obvious for years, but the situation may have reached its apogee in the past week. For instance, Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who hosts the nation's most-popular cable news show, praised right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones by calling him "one of the most popular journalists on the right."
"Yes, journalist," Carlson added. "Jones is often mocked for his flamboyance, but the truth is, he has been a far better guide to reality in recent years—in other words a far better journalist—than, say, NBC News national security correspondent Ken Dilanian or Margaret Brennan of CBS." Criticizing Jones for his flamboyance, by the way, is like chiding Hannibal Lecter for his unique culinary tastes.
The week's other big media scandal involved TV anchor Chris Cuomo, who finally was dumped by CNN after, as The New York Times reported, "testimony and text messages released by the New York attorney general revealed a more intimate and engaged role in his brother's political affairs than the network said it had previously known."
CNN did the right thing, but the Cuomo scandal distorts reality in a far different way than Carlson touting a conspiracy theorist. In this case, the public never heard the truth because of deep-seated bias—a "journalist" who was in the tank for the person he covered. Then again, Chris Cuomo's behind-the-scenes efforts arguably are less egregious than the shilling he did for his brother on the air.
Read it all here.
Anna Krylov and Jay Tanzman: Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM.
Anna Krylov, a professor at the University of Southern California, and co-author Jay Tanzman write at Quillette about Krylov’s experiences after publishing an open letter this summer, The Peril of Politicizing Science. Although the letter was met with some of the expected pushback, Krylov was pleasantly surprised by how much support she received (though some was tellingly anonymous) and by the level of concern shared by many in her field with the injection of political and social concerns into matters of science.
The extent of fear among American scientists is shocking. An old friend cautioned me: “Unfortunately 1984 doesn’t end well.” The analysis of the responses showed that self-censorship—the refusal to produce, distribute, circulate, or express something for fear of punishment—and compelled speech are experienced at all career stages, from graduate student to emeritus faculty. Dr. Lee Jussim characterizes it as an epidemic: 40 percent of Americans self-censor their speech, greatly exceeding levels observed during the McCarthy era. Alarmingly, the level of self-censorship is higher on college campuses and among the more educated.
This pervasive sense of fear is not unfounded, as expressing opinions (or research findings) that are out of line with the dominant ideology is a recipe for attracting a bullying campaign. The sharp rise of attacks on scholars targeted for their speech has prompted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to start a database of such incidents (as described in this Inside Higher Ed article).
Censorship and suppression of dissent is now typically imposed not from top-down authorities, but from the bottom (i.e., the mob) in the form of social-media-powered social ostracism and bullying. Substantive and scholarly discussion on complex issues requires discipline and effort. Twitter, where anyone can spontaneously hurl 280 characters into cyberspace, has no room for the required depth or nuance. As Seth Moskowitz has noted, meme activism corrupts our political conversations and endangers our democratic process because it encourages performative and fleeting action, silences dissent, and sanctions simplistic and naive political beliefs.
Read it all.
Robert Tracinski: If Everything Is “Woke,” Nothing Is
With a nod to that great political philosopher Syndrome in Pixar’s The Incredibles, Robert Tracinski at his Symposium Substack notes that “If everything is ‘woke’, nothing is.” Although heartened by the growing opposition to “wokeness,” Tracinski warns against casting the net too wide and diluting the impact of the opposition by defining “woke” as “anything I oppose.”
A leading indicator of the condition of wokeness is the sinking ship of “Latinx,” a word that emerged somewhere around 2014 from the fever swamps of the academic and online left as a gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” or “Latina”—but in a way that makes no sense in the Spanish language and is used nowhere else in the Spanish-speaking world. There’s been a growing drumbeat of evidence that even in America, it is not used by anyone but a tiny sliver of those with a Hispanic background.
“Latinx” is just a marker for a larger trend. This report also notes that Republicans have begun gaining Hispanic support by appealing to other culture war issues on which Hispanic voters are a good deal more conservative than left-wing activists.
This is a great example of one of the key characteristics of wokeness: representation without authorization. The woke present themselves as the spokesmen—excuse me: persons of spoke—for the preferences and agenda of various minority groups, without ever really asking those groups what they want or need. But this should be no surprise. It is just an extension to race and gender of the old Leninist idea of a “revolutionary vanguard,” a committee of coffee-house intellectuals who appoint themselves as the voice of the toiling masses.
Read the whole thing.
Perdue University president Mitch Daniels stands tall against campus illiberalism:
When is “reasonable” not? Via Wesley Yang:
Finally, via Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a short but clear-eyed and thought provoking 1944 speech from Judge Learned Hand: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”