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E-Pluribus | November 2, 2021
Higher education's war on professors, Facebook's critics have their own misinformation problem, and journalism has lost its way.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Nicholas H. Wolfinger: The New Dirty War Against Faculty
For several years now, University of Utah professor Nicholas Wolfinger has been the subject of numerous investigations by that institution, threatening his employment and academic freedom. Though complaints from students may be the catalyst for these inquiries, Wolfinger finds fault with the administration for caving to pressure and staging what amounts to show trials for offending members of the faculty such as himself.
Administrative hearings have become one of the hallmarks of the dirty war against the faculty. They often stretch out for hours of torment and expatiation that evoke a budget production of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. They are costly, since any chance of a positive outcome requires high-priced counsel. Nominally intended to offer an accused faculty member due process, these hearings themselves are an element of coercion: Does a controversy over a tweet really merit a three and a half hour hearing? Yet that is indeed how long my hearing lasted. But it could have been worse: the University of Central Florida subjected a tenured faculty member, psychologist Charles Negy, to nine hours of hearings over a few tweets before eventually firing him.
The other repeated complaint—that I’d “chilled” student speech—is both risible and ominous in its implications. The student I’d purportedly threatened had publicly insinuated I was complicit in sexual discrimination and harassment with utter impunity. Meanwhile, I was subjected to a three-hour inquest, over $10,000 in attorney fees, and the threat of termination. This threat was bluntly acknowledged in the consolidated hearing committee’s report:
During the hearing, the complainants indicated that their goals were to change behavior and have Dr. Wolfinger take responsibility for his actions; however, their apparent unwillingness to negotiate toward informal resolution suggest that their true objective is to set the stage for termination rather than seek to change Dr. Wolfinger's behavior.
Exactly whose speech was being chilled here? Just to be on the safe side, I’ve now blocked virtually every Twitter account—student, faculty, staff, institutional—associated with the University of Utah. Better safe than sorry.
Read it all.
Liz Wolfe: If You Think Facebook Is Full of Dubious Outrage-Bait, Wait Til You See the Company's Critics
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen made a splash in the media in recent weeks with what are purported to be stunning revelations about the internal workings of Facebook. But Liz Wolfe at Reason writes that the media ought to take a good look in the mirror before coming down too hard on the social media giant.
Imagine a business model where people's outrage is exploited for clicks, where emotions like affection and anger are valuable to tease out, and where, if people seem uninterested, you know you've done your job poorly.
Of course, this describes both Facebook and the news media criticizing it. Journalists, foaming at the mouth from so-called whistleblower Frances Haugen's innocuous revelations, want you to believe that this model is unique to social media sites, gripped by the pursuit of the profit that accompanies expansion. The Washington Post, for example, published a report this week on how Facebook's algorithms classify "angry" react emojis as more valuable than regular old "likes." This pushes "more emotional and provocative content into users' news feeds"[.]
[…] Online publications have strong incentives to write headlines and promotional materials that compel readers to click on their piece in a crowded marketplace, to prompt readers to spend as many minutes as possible actively engaged with the content. These basic incentives are at play for Facebook engineers designing algorithms. But the Post and others have treated these revelations as somehow explosive, portraying Zuckerberg as Frankenstein and Facebook as his monster. This narrative—that Facebook deliberately sows division in such a profound way that it ought to be regulated by Congress—is one with plenty of staying power. The media realized that when choosing how to format coverage of Russian interference and the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in 2016–2018. (Ironically, covering Facebook in such a negative way might drive traffic for some of these news sites.)
Read the whole thing.
Batya Ungar-Sargon: How Journalism Abandoned the Working Class
Bari Weiss features Newsweek opinion writer Batya Ungar-Sargon at her Substack this week. Ungar-Sargon writes that while progressive activists may be driving the national conversation on racism, “whiteness,” and power, their reach and influence is heavily underwritten by journalists who have drifted ever closer towards an elite mentality that often misses the fundamental struggles and concerns of ordinary Americans, regardless of race.
For a long time, the notion that America is an unrepentant white-supremacist state—one that confers power and privilege to white people and systematically denies them to people of color—was the province of far-left activists and academics. But over the past decade, it’s found its way into the mainstream, largely through liberal media outlets like the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, the Washington Post, Vox, CNN, the New Republic, and the Atlantic.
What changed? Most obviously: white liberals. Their enthusiasm for wokeness created a feedback loop with the media outlets to which they are paying subscribers. And the impact has been monumental: Once distinct publications and news channels are now staggeringly uniform. A moral panic around race is everywhere: In television segments like Don Lemon’s, and articles like “Is the White Church Inherently Racist?” and “The Housewives of White Supremacy” and “When Black People Are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs” and “How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror,” which have become the bread and butter of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Where did this obsession come from? The election of Donald Trump is often given all the credit. Trump was so extreme in his disregard of liberal mores, so willing to offend with comments that were sometimes casually racist—comments that were amplified and justified throughout conservative and right-wing news outlets—that American liberals, including the liberal media, swung hard to the left. This is true: The mainstream media certainly molded itself around Trump, whose presidency was a major gift to MSNBC and CNN and the New York Times—outlets that were facing a bleak outlook are now thriving thanks to the ratings and clicks that the Trump stories generated.
But Trump is an insufficient answer. The moral panic mainstreamed by the liberal news media had actually been underway for at least five years before Trump appeared on the scene. It began around 2011, the year the New York Times erected its online paywall. It was then that articles mentioning “racism,” “people of color,” “slavery,” or “oppression” started to appear with exponential frequency at the Times, BuzzFeed, Vox, the Washington Post, and NPR.
Read it all here.
“Anti-racism” trainers and consultants continue to push extreme ideas about ostensible race-based traits and tendencies that further divide those they purport to instruct:
Wesley Yang comments on a Free Beacon story about a Yale Law diversity trainer (click through for complete thread):
Via Heterodox Academy, a few excerpts from an Andrew Hartz and Samantha Hedges article on race at Real Clear Education:
And finally, Colin Kaepernick isn’t just all about taking a knee anymore…