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E-Pluribus | July 22, 2021
Biden nominates a culture warrior, NPR's self-own, and how to not deplatform someone.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Max Eden: Culture Warrior
Joe Biden recently nominated Catherine Lhamon for assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, a position she held in the Obama-Biden administration. In addition to her poor record on campus due process, Max Eden warns that Lhamon’s positions on school discipline and now critical race theory (CRT) are being overlooked as the Senate considers her confirmation and could have serious repercussions if she returns to the DOE.
To be sure, Lhamon’s track record on Title IX is worth scrutinizing. Under her leadership, OCR coerced colleges to adopt a new “preponderance of the evidence” standard for investigating allegations of sexual assault and abuse on campus—a standard that critics on both left and right say creates a presumption of guilt. When Donald Trump’s Education secretary Betsy DeVos issued a regulation with a stronger emphasis on due process, even the liberal Washington Post editorial board admitted that DeVos got quite a bit right.
Reasonable minds may differ on this fraught issue—but senators have good reason to doubt whether Lhamon possesses a reasonable mind. In contrast to the Post editorial board’s nuanced take, Lhamon tweeted that DeVos’s regulation takes “us back to the bad old days, that predate my birth, when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.” When Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asked about this statement, Lhamon stood by it, declaring that the DeVos “regulation permits students to rape and sexually harass with impunity.”
Lhamon has demonstrated a similar cavalier lack of regard for evidence and due process on another key issue: school discipline. Under her leadership, civil rights investigations became tools of harassment to coerce changes in school policies. These deeply invasive investigations would end only when school districts agreed to adopt lenient discipline policies, notwithstanding evidence that these policies were destabilizing classrooms and leading to increased school violence.
Read the whole thing.
Matt Taibbi: NPR's Brilliant Self-Own
For decades, National Public Radio has had a poor reputation among conservatives for its bias. But this week, Matt Taibbi, no conservative himself, discusses NPR’s attempted exposé of sorts on Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire which revealed to readers that the site tends to . . . cater to conservatives in its story choices. Taibbi explores the apparent lack of self awareness that drives such stories.
Yesterday’s NPR article, “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire,” is among the more unintentionally funny efforts at media criticism in recent times.
The piece is about Ben Shapiro, but one doesn’t have to have ever followed Shapiro, or even once read the Daily Wire, to get the joke. The essence of NPR’s complaint is that a conservative media figure not only “has more followers than The Washington Post” but outperforms mainstream outlets in the digital arena, a fact that, “experts worry,” may be “furthering polarization” in America. NPR refers to polarizing media as if they’re making an anthropological discovery of a new and alien phenomenon.
The piece goes on to note that “other conservative outlets such as The Blaze, Breitbart News and The Western Journal” that “publish aggregated and opinion content” have also “generally been more successful… than legacy news outlets over the past year, according to NPR's analysis.” In other words, they’re doing better than us.
Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don't normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump's orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”
The main complaint, instead, is that:
By only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as… polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues)… readers still come away from The Daily Wire's content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation's greatest threats.
Read it all.
Jesse Singal: Great Job Deplatforming Andy Ngo And Abigail Shrier, You Guys
In his recent Substack entry, Jesse Singal chides those on the left who have attempted to cancel Andy Ngo And Abigail Shrier for their transgressions against wokeness. Although cancel culture is real and sometimes effective, the old saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” appears to be vindicated in the cases of Shrier an Ngo. Singal argues for a return to engaging ideas on the merits rather than often futile attempts at bans.
We all know what happened in both cases: The impact of being delisted from Target.com, combined with the taint of the employee uprising, dropped Irreversible Damage to the bottom of the charts, where it has languished ever since. Similar deal with Unmasked: A bunch of theretofore neutral middle-American onlookers said “Whoa — if people are this mad about the book, I probably don’t want something like that in my household.” Ngo’s career, too, is now on life support.
I’m kidding, of course: Both Shrier and Ngo have sold a zillion copies of their books. Ngo’s hit the New York Times bestseller list and was #1 on all of Amazon at one point during the most feverish early days of the controversy, and when I recently checked Shrier’s on Amazon, it was in the top 100, which, for a book that came out more than a year ago, suggests eye-popping sales. This virtually guarantees both authors highly remunerative futures in book publishing, enhancing their ability to disseminate their ideas further.
One of the reasons I’m a bit fixated on this issue is it gets at one of my biggest frustrations with the general trajectory of the left: In a pluralistic society, you need tools to at least attempt to persuade people. On the left, it feels like those tools are rusting in some forgotten shed somewhere, replaced by a very tired, limited set of alternatives: You either shriek that a given book or article or whatever is ‘harmful’ or ‘violent,’ often obviously distorting its content in the process, or you attempt to make it much more difficult for the general public to access it.
If your goal is to reduce the influence of a book, these strategies are virtually guaranteed not only to fail, but to backfire. People have been declaring books so harmful they should not be disseminated forever. This tactic has a long, sad history, and that’s why we have things like Banned Books Week, and why many Americans are exposed, early on, to the general message that our default stance on attempts to yank books from the shelves should be skepticism. If you want to draw a huge amount of attention to a book from newcomers who are likely to give the book a long, fair look, try to get it banned somewhere, or describe it as ‘violent.’ (This is anecdotal, but a number of people have reached out to me to say things like, “I saw everyone piling on your Atlantic article, talking about how evil and harmful it was. That made me curious and I read it. I thought it was reasonable, so I checked out some of your other stuff, and now I’m a [subscriber/patron/regular listener/whatever].”)
Read the whole thing.
Via David French, Ben and Jerry’s recent decision about ending sales of its ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory” provoked a rather draconian (and likely unconstitutional) proposal from Oklahoma senator James Lankford:
A Glenn Greenwald thread on government’s penchant for using its power against groups deemed anti-establishment, whether right or left.
Via James Lindsay, "Socially Just Assessment and Grading” potentially coming to a school near you.