Vox co-founder and writer Matthew Yglesias has been publicly shamed by a colleague for signing an open letter addressing the stain of cancel culture. Free speech advocates and fellow journalists are defending him, in a rare show of solidarity between both conservatives and some liberals.
More than 100 liberals, including activists, academicians, and writers, signed the open letter titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” The letter was published in Harper’s Magazine on July 7.
“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 letter begins.
In a nutshell, the letter warns that in an attempt to call out dissenting opinions, internet users are creating an “intolerant climate.”
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” explains the letter.
On the same day this letter was published, Vox writer Emily VanDerWerff wrote a letter of her own to editors and, despite saying she promises she doesn’t want Yglesias “reprimanded or fired,” she decided to air her grievances in public, sharing a copy with the world on Twitter.
Her issue was the fact that Yglesias signed a letter that was signed by authors such as JK Rowling. Rowling has recently expressed skepticism of hormone blockers being given to children and has accused activists of misogyny, suggesting they’re trying to erase the experience of biological women.
“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’ signature on the Harper’s Weekly letter,” her letter begins.
She then acknowledges Yglesias is a “nuanced thinker” and applauds him for publicly supporting her work. Yet, despite praising Yglesias, she still felt the need to publically call him out. It appears her only criticism of him is that he signed the letter.
“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.”
She continues to say that Yglesias’ signing the letter makes her feel “less safe” at Vox, but didn’t elaborate on what she feels unsafe from. She also claimed her work would become more challenging as readers will think she also holds the same opinion.
VanDerWerff’s letter was met with opposition, particularly from conservative media personalities, with many highlighting how people are getting attacked for signing a letter that highlights the problem with people getting attacked for their opinions.
“I can’t stress enough that these claims that differing opinions make them feel “unsafe” aren’t sincere. Don’t fall for it. These aren’t fragile snowflakes who are scared. They are ruthless people who know ‘you’re making me feel unsafe’ is an easy weapon with which to destroy you,” Jeremy Dunleavy of the Washington Examiner tweeted.
“How in the world has the Left gone so batty that I’m now defending Matthew Yglesias?” read a tweet by commentator, Ben Shapiro.
“It is absolutely crazy that someone feels comfortable writing and sending this. Why would any worthwhile publication want someone this intolerant working for them? I’m now having to defend Matt Yglesias for him expressing a reasonable and worthwhile opinion. 2020 is wild,” wrote AG Hamilton.
“I will never forgive the world for making me want to support Matt Yglesias,” said Jeff Blehar of the conservative newspaper National Review.
While there was much opposition online, VanDerWerff was also met with some support in her decision to call out Yglesias in public. Other Vox writers such as Aja Romano weighed in.
Fellow Vox co-founder Ezra Klein has yet to comment on the incident directly but did tweet a vague musing about free speech, doing little to quell the notion that supporting free speech at Vox will get you rebuked:
Another prominent liberal author and trans activist Jennifer Finney Boylan has also withdrawn from the letter and hinted at wanting to distance herself from a letter that was signed by JK Rowling.
“I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry,” tweeted Boylan.
It’s to the absurdity of the times we’re living in that those who signed a letter revoking cancel culture and in support of open ideas are backtracking because they don’t want to be associated with others who signed the letter.