There is dissension in the ranks at Vox, the far-left opinion website, with co-founders Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein seemingly clashing over the former’s decision to sign the Harpers openletter against cancel culture.
Yglesias joined dozens of largely liberal-leaning writers, artists and academics in signing the letter, which criticizes a growing ” intolerance of opposing viewpoints” in the west. While couched in anti-Trump virtue signaling, the letter’s main target is cancel culture, which was recently condemned by President Trump in his Mt. Rushmore speech.
“It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought,” declare the signers, including J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Steven Pinker, Malcolm Gladwell, Gloria Steinem, and Salman Rushdie.
Matthew Yglesias co-founded Vox.com with Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell back in the spring of 2014. He's currently a senior correspondent focused on politics and economic policy, and co-hosts The.
The latest tweets from @mattyglesias. The Vox cofounder's new book, 'One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger,' is a somewhat 'off the wall' plea for America to think bigger.A lot bigger. Yglesias argues for massively. Vox is a general interest news site for the 21st century. Its mission is simple: Explain the news. Politics, public policy, world affairs, pop culture, science, business, food, sports,.The White House
The letter has already caused anger among the far-left, who are now condemning Noam Chomsky and other leftists who signed the letter for daring to defend free speech.
The presence of Matt Yglesias’ signature on the letter has also caused chaos at Vox.
In a letter to the company, part of which was posted to Twitter, transgender Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff declared that Yglesias’ decision to sign the letter “makes me feel less safe at Vox.”
I sent a version of this to the editors of Vox. (I have redacted some bits that are internal to Vox and shouldn’t be aired publicly.) pic.twitter.com/splNNSMivd
— Emily VanDerWerff 😎 (@emilyvdw) July 7, 2020
Shortly following VanDerWerff’s letter, there were signs that two of Vox’s founders, Klein and Yglesias, may be at odds.
“A lot of debates that sell themselves as being about free speech are actually about power,” said Klein. “And there’s *a lot* of power in being able to claim, and hold, the mantle of free speech defender.”
“Should I reply to this with a concrete example,” shot back Yglesias, “or stick to my commitments to you?”
Clearly, no signatory of The Letter has reason to fear losing their job if they speak their mind.
— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) July 8, 2020
Yglesias didn’t spell out what he had “committed” to his fellow founder, but now appears to have deleted his response to Klein.
However, in a tweet posted yesterday, Yglesias said he had committed to “not doing contentious stuff on Twitter anymore.”
I have committed to not doing contentious stuff on Twitter anymore, so I seriously can’t comment on this and would appreciate being taken out of the thread.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 8, 2020
After other Twitter users drew attention to the apparent silencing of Yglesias by his colleagues at Vox, both he and Klein issued statements saying the rumors are overblown.
The idea that I would try to get Matt, literally my co-founder and oldest friend in journalism, fired over this letter is risible.
I've asked Matt, and others at Vox, to not subtweet colleagues. My mistake here is this read like a subtweet of him, when it honestly wasn't. https://t.co/oEgNIzGxph
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 8, 2020
“The idea that I would try to get Matt, literally my co-founder and oldest friend in journalism, fired over this letter is risible,” said Klein.
“I’ve asked Matt, and others at Vox, to not subtweet colleagues. My mistake here is this read like a subtweet of him, when it honestly wasn’t.”
I would like to de-escalate this. Nobody is losing their job and I think I've spoken my mind very clearly on this subject. I am just trying to move on to other things instead of endless rounds of twitter wrangling.pic.twitter.com/rNRFwvdoYX
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 8, 2020
“Nobody is losing their job and I think I’ve spoken my mind very clearly on the subject,” said Yglesias, who just a day earlier had admitted to making a commitment to “not doing contentious stuff on Twitter.”
Are you an insider at Google, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or any other tech company who wants to confidentially reveal wrongdoing or political bias at your company? Reach out to Allum Bokhari at his secure email address [email protected]
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.© Provided by The Atlantic GETTY / THE ATLANTIC
The journalist Matthew Yglesias, a co-founder of Vox, announced today that he is leaving that publication for the paid-newsletter platform Substack, so that he can enjoy more editorial independence.
The move may prove a good fit for Yglesias, who began his career as a highly successful independent blogger before blogging at The Atlantic and then elsewhere. But his absence as a staffer (a Vox spokesperson noted that he will continue to host a podcast, The Weeds) will make the publication he co-founded less ideologically diverse at a moment when negative polarization makes that attribute important to the country.
Like Andrew Sullivan, who joined Substack after parting ways with New York magazine, and Glenn Greenwald, who joined Substack after resigning from The Intercept, which he co-founded, Yglesias felt that he could no longer speak his mind without riling his colleagues. His managers wanted him to maintain a “restrained, institutional, statesmanlike voice,” he told me in a phone interview, in part because he was a co-founder of Vox. But as a relative moderate at the publication, he felt at times that it was important to challenge what he called the “dominant sensibility” in the “young-college-graduate bubble” that now sets the tone at many digital-media organizations.© Getty / The Atlantic
[Conor Friedersdorf: The perils of ‘with us or against us’]
“There was an inherent tension between my status as a co-founder of the site and my desire to be a fiercely independent and at times contentious voice,” he wrote in his first post on Substack, adding on Twitter, “I’m looking forward to really telling everyone what’s on my mind to an even greater extent than I do now.”
In our interview, Yglesias explained why pushing back against the “dominant sensibility” in digital journalism is important to him. He said he believes that certain voguish positions are substantively wrong—for instance, abolishing or defunding police—and that such arguments, as well as rhetorical fights over terms like Latinx, alienate many people from progressive politics and the Democratic Party.
“There’s been endless talk since the election about House Democrats being mad at the ‘Squad,’ and others saying, ‘What do you want, for activists to just not exist? For there to be no left-wing members of Congress?’” Yglesias told me. “But there’s a dynamic where there’s media people who really elevated the profile of [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and a couple of other members way above their actual numerical standing.”
Many outlets, he argued, are missing something important. “The people making the media are young college graduates in big cities, and that kind of politics makes a lot of sense to them,” he said. “And we keep seeing that older people, and working-class people of all races and ethnicities, just don’t share that entire worldview. It’s important to me to be in a position to step outside that dynamic … That was challenging as someone who was a founder of a media outlet but not a manager of it.”
One trend that exacerbated that challenge: colleagues in media treating the expression of allegedly problematic ideas as if they were a human-resources issue. Earlier this year, for instance, after Yglesias signed a group letter published in Harper’s magazine objecting to cancel culture, one of his colleagues, Emily VanDerWerff, told Vox editors that his signature made her feel “less safe at Vox.”
Yglesias had been personally kind and supportive of her work, she wrote, but as a trans woman, she felt the letter should not have been signed by anyone at Vox, because she believed that it contained “many dog whistles toward anti-trans positions,” and that several of its signatories are anti-trans. The letter’s authors reject those characterizations.
I asked Yglesias if that matter in any way motivated his departure. “Something we’ve seen in a lot of organizations is increasing sensitivity about language and what people say,” he told me. “It’s a damaging trend in the media in particular because it is an industry that’s about ideas, and if you treat disagreement as a source of harm or personal safety, then it’s very challenging to do good work.”
The issue, Yglesias believes, is not limited to Vox. “We saw that in the way the New York Times people characterized their opposition to Tom Cotton’s op-ed,” he said, and “we saw it in what Emily VanDerWerff wrote about me––and Vox to its credit has not [been] managed in that way exactly, but it is definitely the mentality of a lot of people working in journalism today, and it makes me feel like it’s a good time to have an independent platform.’
[Read: A deeply provincial view of free speech]
The New York Times’ Opinion editor, James Bennet (a former editor in chief of The Atlantic), was forced out over the publication of the Cotton op-ed. The Times Opinion staffer Bari Weiss left the newspaper soon afterward, alleging in her resignation letter that “if a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome.” The two had been charged, in part, with offering Times readers a greater diversity of opinions. Whether the Opinion section will still carry out that mission remains uncertain.
Several years ago, I wrote about an experiment that the Harvard social scientist Cass Sunstein conducted in two different communities in Colorado: left-leaning Boulder and right-leaning Colorado Springs. Residents in each community were gathered into small groups to discuss their views on three controversial topics: climate change, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action. Afterward, participants were asked to report on the opinions of their discussion group as well as their own views on the subjects. In both communities, gathering into groups composed of mostly like-minded people to discuss controversial subjects made individuals more settled and extreme in their views.
“Liberals, in Boulder, became distinctly more liberal on all three issues. Conservatives, in Colorado Springs, become distinctly more conservative on all three issues,” Sunstein wrote of his experiment. “Deliberation much decreased diversity among liberals; it also much decreased diversity among conservatives. After deliberation, members of nearly all groups showed, in their post-deliberation statements, far more uniformity than they did before deliberation.”
Compelling evidence points to a big cost associated with ideological bubbles, I argued: They make us more confident that we know everything, more set and extreme in our views, more prone to groupthink, more vulnerable to fallacies, and less circumspect.
For that reason, ideological outliers within an organization are valuable, especially in journalism. Early in my career, I covered the trend toward epistemic closure in conservative media, including talk radio, warning that it would have dire consequences. Even so, I didn’t imagine the role that epistemic closure would play in fueling the ascent of a president like Donald Trump or the alarmingly widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories like QAnon.
[From the June 2020 issue: The prophecies of Q]
Yglesias Vox Activity
The New York Times, New York, The Intercept, Vox, Slate, The New Republic, and other outlets are today less ideologically diverse in their staff and less tolerant of contentious challenges to the dominant viewpoint of college-educated progressives than they have been in the recent past. I fear that in the short term, Americans will encounter less rigorous and more polarizing journalism. In the long term, a dearth of ideological diversity risks consequences we cannot fully anticipate.
Matthew Yglesias Vox
Substack seems poised to grow because it offers some writers independence and financial benefits. It will arguably function as a corrective against growing intolerance of heterodoxy, even as it accelerates a trend toward ideological outliers parting ways with traditional publications, and makes those publications more monolithic. Mainstream media organizations should work to maintain ideological diversity during this shift, even if that causes tensions among the staff members least tolerant of ideas they don’t share.