Noah Berlatsky is a herpes lesion on the lip of cultural criticism. This is someone who thinks Janis Joplin’s music is racist. He thinks the show “Altered Carbon” is racist. He can probably find racism in cloud formations and wood grain.
After several years of politicizing culture to within an inch of its life, he turned to politics. There, his attitude—that the world is divided into white supremacists, and people who agree with him—has guaranteed him an audience as a progressive journalist.
Berlatsky’s mendacity and sloppiness are known to a wide political swath. Jonah Mix, writing for Feminist Current, called him “the Platonic Ideal of cartoonishly worthless liberalism.” Jesse Singal’s 2017 article for New York Magazine, “There Have Been So Many Bad Lefty Free-Speech Takes Lately,” featured an excerpt from a Berlatsky essay, about which he said, “The level of wrongness contained in these two paragraphs is astounding.”
Berlatsky, then, is the man for the difficult job of carrying water for George Bridges, the disgraced (but for some reason, not yet fired) president of The Evergreen State College who stood by impotently while former professor Bret Weinstein was threatened with bodily harm for daring to contradict a social justice mob. We’re talking students carrying bats, searching cars, shutting down school, and holding university administrators prisoner after Weinstein merely expressed in a private email that he objected to a “Day of Absence” to exile white students from campus based solely on their race.
A ludicrous Evergreen analysis pinned blame for their campus mobs on Weinstein. In that analysis he is unnamed but easily recognizable as the “faculty member [who] took advantage of this situation to make a national news story out of it through high-profile interviews with national media, including the FOX News Network, that were used to make a political point, magnify the events’ significance, and ended up drawing to campus radical groups from the left and right, intent on causing further disruption and attracting more media attention to the Evergreen events.”
The “Independent External Review Panel” that authored the report consisted entirely of Bridges nominees.
That’s the background you need for Berlatsky’s recent missive for Pacific Standard, a hit job on Weinstein that does not recognize the slightest wrongdoing from social justice activists at Evergreen, nor the college’s spineless leadership. This, of course, is part of the larger project to rehabilitate the progressive brand, since progressivism has been the source of one frightful attack on free speech after another around the country.
Berlatsky has built a writing career out of redirecting accusations rightly directed at progressive targets back at the accusers. It’s basically “I know you are but what am I” for the college-educated. He is keen to present the Evergreen debacle as a conservative ploy to advance their agenda using free speech as a cover. Therefore he says they are the “real” threat to free speech.
“‘Free speech,’ wielded in bad faith by right-wing media, can turn into a gag to silence student protests and activism,” he says. Note the scare-quotes around “free speech.”
Days after Pacific Standard published his hit piece on Weinstein, NBC News posted a Father’s Day essay in which Berlatsky claimed that the crisis in masculinity is not the fault of feminism, but masculinity. This insipid table-turning is the utter extent of his analytical powers, and he does it over and over again.
His narrative about the “real” threat to free speech requires an attitude about the truth akin to a dog’s attitude about a fire hydrant, and Berlatsky delivers. A full account of the misstatements, lies of omission, and faulty reasoning would be longer than the article itself, but here are some highlights.
Berlatsky elides one of the most important parts of the saga: “Though Weinstein calls himself a progressive,” he writes, “he went on the rabidly right-wing, anti-immigrant Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News shortly after the protests.” On Twitter, Berlatsky refers to Carlson as “a white supremacist asshole spouting false conspiracy theories.” In his article, he leaves the appearance unexplained, as if there were no explanation except that Weinstein should perhaps stop referring to himself as a progressive.
Berlatsky continues, “Weinstein’s appearance on Carlson alerted the far right to the anti-racist protests at Evergreen, unleashing a flood of hate mail and a credible far-right terrorist threat that led to administrators evacuating the campus for three days in June.” This media appearance is central to Bridges’ complaint as well. It seems to be Bridges’ main objection, and Berlatsky’s, that had Weinstein not gone to Fox with his story, then the Right would not known of his situation, and its trolls would not have targeted Evergreen.
In an interview with Glenn Loury from last June, Weinstein explained that when Carlson invited him on the show, it was clear that he intended to run a segment on the state of free speech at Evergreen with or without Weinstein’s interview. Weinstein hoped his appearance would provide the report a “nuanced view, rather than have a caricature portrayed.” Besides, he noted, “the degree to which the nominally left-leaning press has still not dealt with this story is amazing to me.”
Weinstein went on to say that, rather than his interview baiting alt-right types, his inbox was flooded with emails from Fox News viewers expressing appreciation of his willingness to engage intelligently and how much they respected him despite their differences in politics. He added that if Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow had invited him appear on MSNBC at the time instead of Carlson, he would have preferred to do so.
People on the Right would have found out about this free-speech fiasco one way or another. While nothing excuses a harassment campaign, laying responsibility for one at Weinstein’s feet is absurd. We could just as easily pin culpability on MSNBC for ignoring the story instead of airing it with the journalistic probity of which it is allegedly capable.
If the Berlatsky-Bridges position is that Weinstein should not have gone on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” while no liberal-sympathetic news outlet was interested the story, the obvious conclusion is that they think that he should have remained silent about the impossible and dangerous situation that he, his wife, their children, and Evergreen students trying to defend him were in. If that doesn’t “turn into a gag,” as Berlatsky puts it, it’s hard to imagine what does.
Berlatsky tries to make hay out of Weinstein not contradicting Carlson’s statement that the protesters outside of his classroom were demanding that all whites leave campus. Carlson had conflated that protest with the demand from a separate social justice effort for whites to leave campus for the school’s upcoming, annually observed Day of Absence. In the video, you can see Weinstein trying to keep up, in the midst of a slight audio lag, with Carlson’s question about what Bridges was doing in the midst of the mayhem, which was a more important issue to address.
But in describing the video, Berlatsky writes, “Carlson claimed that white people had been forced off campus, which was not true.” That statement is itself not true. At no point in the video did Carlson report that white people had been forced off campus. For all the culpability Berlatsky has tried to pin on Weinstein for allowing Carlson misrepresent the protesters, it’s clear that Berlatsky has no problem with misrepresentation per se.
In Berlatsky’s tendentious retelling, “Evergreen became a crucible for the campus wars in March of 2017, when evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein spoke against anti-racist protests and activities on campus. As a result, Weinstein claims, he was targeted with physical and verbal harassment.” Later he drops this doozy:
Weinstein also tweeted several pictures of college students who he claimed were involved in violence. For example, he claimed that students with bats were roaming campus, and used as evidence a clearly staged photo, unlinked to the protests, with no evidence that the students pictured were involved in any violence.
You would think one might question how one’s student-led social justice movement is going when your school’s Residential and Dining Service director is obliged to advise you, “Community patrols can be a useful tool for helping people to feel safe, however the use of bats or similar instruments is not productive. Some members of this group have been observed carrying batons and/or bats. Carrying bats is causing many to feel unsafe and intimidated. The bats must be put away immediately in order to protect all involved.”
To recap, social justice types wielding bats appeared proudly in an Instagram photo and were filmed walking the campus, armed, as credible reports emerged that vigilante social justice posses had taken to patrols. This is after the school’s police chief at the time, whom Bridges had ordered to stand down, told Weinstein that she could no longer guarantee his safety, and had witnessed student patrols looking from car to car in the faculty parking lot for who knows what. At that point, Weinstein had already been shouted out of his classroom and obliged to teach in a park.
Berlatsky’s complaint here is, seriously, that Weinstein illustrated his tweet about credible reports of Evergreen protesters with bats with a picture of Evergreen protesters with bats—one that they had taken themselves and posted to social media. Again Berlatsky implicitly blames Weinstein for the online abuse of the students posing in the Bat Patrol photo. It’s as if Weinstein had violated some kind of standard of evidence, as if it would have never occurred to anyone else to pair the photo with the circulating stories of marauding SJWs, and as if nobody would have targeted the subjects of that already widely circulated image if not for Weinstein.
The students in the photo were possibly not the same who screamed at him, “You’re useless, get the f-ck out of here, f-ck you, you piece of sh-t” when he approached them for rational dialogue, but Weinstein never said they were. I repeat that nothing justifies harassment campaigns, but the case against them overlaps heavily with the case against pursuing social justice with blunt weapons and shoving around people who don’t take you seriously enough for your liking, as has happened with Evergreen protesters.
Quite a few people have noticed that Berlatsky’s account is so flattering to the Bridges administration that Evergreen’s public relations staff could have written it. This is an appropriate thing to wonder about.
Benjamin Boyce, a former Evergreen student who has been covering its mismanagement and intellectual breakdown, broke the news that a self-evaluation Bridges recently submitted to the college’s Board of Trustees listed among administrative accomplishments that “a team of four staff and five student writers wrote more than 50 online stories highlighting achievements by students, faculty, staff, and alumni.” This effort “inaugurated new partnerships with NPR member stations and alternative weekly newspapers throughout the West Coast and Alaska.”
Does this “partnership” with West Coast media include the Santa Barbara-based Pacific Standard? If not, it would be easy enough to say so. Instead, when Boyce proposed that possibility to Berlatsky, the latter protested too much. “F-ck off -sshole,” he replied, then blocked him.
But whether Berlatsky’s alliance with the Bridges administration is official or tacit, it’s clear that Evergreen has the sympathies of precipitously slanted journalists who are eager to obscure a sad reality: that the majority of the attacks on free speech, free thought, due process, and academic liberty are coming from progressivism.
That’s too bad for them, because Weinstein, a progressive even conservatives respect, is far more likely to advance progressive goals than a college student throwing a brainless tantrum at a professor. Berlatsky never considers, or perhaps cannot comprehend, that some efforts to fight prejudice and inequity are better than others.