SACRAMENTO — One common defense of Sarah Jeong — the New York Times’ newly hired editorial board member, whose anti-white-person tweets have stirred controversy — is that she is basically a victim of Twitter. It’s not a surprising argument coming from the left, given how much that side likes to blame inanimate objects (guns, plastic bags) for problems. But it is hard to believe this highly qualified Harvard-educated technology writer was so easily ensnared by a technology that she famously covers.
OMG, she couldn’t help but laugh at “how much joy” she got “out of being cruel to old white men.” Lol. Lmao. She was just being ironic. (Insert smiley face.) As the Times put it in its defense of her, Jeong was only “imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.” I hope Jeong brings a lot to the table, given that the Times has effectively lost its credibility for anyone who doesn’t respond to PC dog whistles. That’s too bad, given how much the Trump administration needs constant watching.
In this line of thinking, the problem isn’t that Jeong had a hashtag about “canceling” white people. The problem is that this new technology captures what we say for posterity. Different writers told their personal stories of edgy things that they’ve done, but thank goodness those were in the days before social media allowed them to be “weaponized” by our political opponents. I’m increasingly stunned by the inability of smart people to make important distinctions.
After reading many of Jeong’s voluminous Twitter rants, I don’t buy that she was being ironic or that they were mostly taken out of context. There’s a gleeful cruelty that comes through — and a childish desire to shock and offend. It’s not like we’re discussing a handful of errant tweets. It was her shtick, and it’s no defense that her enemies are using it against her. What’s the old saying about not providing people you don’t like with too much ammunition?
“Much of the Jeong furor has been about actually racist alt-right trolls weaponizing old tweets in bad faith to get an Asian woman fired from an important job,” opined Ezra Klein, in Vox. Really? I despise the alt-right, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about unearthing the vile things that some on the right have posted on social media. Seems like fair game. Are we supposed to be annoyed at our president’s incendiary tweets — or excuse them because his foes are using them to discredit him?
Jeong’s tirades are similar in tone to the stuff one reads from right-wing trolls, who excuse themselves because they are standing up to political correctness. The more furious the Social Justice Warriors become, the more these folks thrive. But the left-wing bomb-throwers are their mirror image. They are victims in a society dominated by White Male Privilege, so they titillate their followers by laughing at white people. Some argue Jeong was just speaking the way “everyone” speaks on the left.
Sure, I agree with Kevin Williamson, the National Review writer who was bounced from the Atlantic after some old statements were unearthed, when he wrote that “The Times can hire and fire whomever it likes.” Well, no one is suggesting that the Times can’t hire and fire whomever it chooses. I don’t think they should fire her. But the Times can’t expect to be spared harsh criticism, especially in the light of our increasingly frayed national conversation.
If you think Jeong was OK because she was merely counter-trolling her critics, then you need to read some of the leftist defenses of her since the controversy. They love what she wrote and found statements such as “White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along,” to be funny “sass.” It wouldn’t be so funny if we substituted “white” for any other group. Career-ending, yes, but not funny.
New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan was insightful when he wrote that the view of the political left is “that Jeong definitionally cannot be racist, because she’s both a woman and a racial minority. … Yes, we all live on campus now. The neo-Marxist analysis of society, in which we are all mere appendages of various groups of oppressors and oppressed … is now the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media.” He spotlights the most depressing argument used to defend Jeong: that her gender and ethnicity exempt her from some common standards of civility.
When that form of tribal thinking takes hold, there no longer is any common ground, but only warring groups of citizens. We can’t condemn nasty behavior without attending a university seminar that puts each person’s worldview into the proper context of historical power relationships. Blech. I like the Times, and have even been published there. But now that it excuses Jeong’s tweets, it has lost the moral authority to stand up to a resurgent alt-right.