Several staffers at Vox erupted on Twitter after the site’s co-founder, Matthew Yglesias, signed a letter criticizing “cancel culture.”
The letter which was also signed by about 150 others including author J.K. Rowling, New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss and political activist Noam Chomsky applauded the debate about racism, police reform, and inequality by liberal activists but decried the intolerance of the left in trying to achieve their goals.
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.
“The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”
Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff tweeted a copy of a letter she wrote to Vox editors expressing her concerns of Yglesias’ signing the “cancel culture” letter.
“As a trans woman who very much values her position at Vox and the support the publication has given her through the emotional and physical turmoil of transition, I was deeply saddened to see Matt Yglesias’s signature on the Harper’s Weekly letter,” VanDerWerff began her letter to the editors. “Matt is, of course, entitled to his own opinion, and I know he is a more nuanced thinker than signing the letter would suggest. He has never been anything but kind to me and has often supported my work publicly, all of which I am extremely grateful for.”
“But the letter, signed as it is by several prominent anti-trans voices and containing as many dog whistles towards anti-trans positions as it does, ideally would not have been signed by anybody at Vox, much less one of the most prominent people at our publication.”
VanDerWeff said that seeing Yglesias’ signature on the letter “makes me feel less safe at Vox,” but doesn’t want him fired.
“I don’t want Matt to be reprimanded or fired or even asked to submit an apology. … But I do want to make clear that those beliefs cost him nothing,” she continued. “I am used to hearing them from people who believe my own lived experiences pale in comparison to their own momentary social media discomfort. I’m sorry to find Matt among those voices.”
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
Another Vox staffer, Aja Romano also tweeted her displeasure with the letter but didn’t call Yglesias out by name
“Today sucked. The Harper’s letter is a dehumanizing transphobic whisper network masquerading as reasoned intellectual debate. Everyone who signed it has contributed to the real harm that its legion of transphobic signatories have brought to real trans people, especially teens.”
Yesterday 3 trans Vox writers spoke against the Harper's list, and all of us have now been directly targeted (and harassed as a result) by one of the writers on it. Just us, no other critics of the list. I want to be very clear about who benefits & who doesn't from this "debate." https://t.co/WNqAMjwCqx
— Aja Romano (@ajaromano) July 8, 2020
Ezra Klein, Vox founder, and editor-at-large dismissed calls for firing Yglesias on Twitter.
“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,”
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
Yglesias also added to the conversation in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, saying that he has spoken his mind and was moving on to other things.
“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.”
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
The letter has been fairly widely reported, though not by CNN and MSNBC, and proves the point the signatories of the letter were trying to make about the intolerance of the left.