It Wasn’t My Cancelation That Bothered Me. It Was the Cowardice of Those Who Let It Happen

It Wasn’t My Cancelation That Bothered Me. It Was the Cowardice of Those Who Let It Happen, by Margaret Wente, a former editor and columnist for a leading Canadian newspaper.

It doesn’t take much to get cancelled these days. Last month, my turn came around. The experience was unpleasant, but also completely ludicrous. And I learned a lot. I learned how easily an institution will cave to a mob. I learned how quickly the authorities will run for cover, notwithstanding the lip service they may pay to principles of free speech.

After all, they’re terrified. They’re afraid that if they don’t beg forgiveness and promise to do better, they’ll be next at the guillotine. …

I’m not ashamed to find myself in the company of the cancelled. Indeed, I’m proud to share this honour with some of the finest minds in the world.

One example is Steve Hsu, a brilliant scientist who, until late June, was vice-president of research and innovation at Michigan State University … Among his sins: He mentioned published research, from his own university, that found no racial bias in police shootings. He also once wrote approvingly of peer-reviewed, government-funded research on variations in brain architecture that is now casually labelled as “scientific racism.” In the latter case, Hsu was writing about a 2015 article in the journal Current Biology, and his comments were not immediately seen as particularly controversial. This was only five years ago. Yet the times have utterly changed during that period. The wrong kind of science is now seen as hate speech.

The same is true of any failure to place Black Lives Matter activists in the firmament of earthly angels. Even liking the wrong tweets can cost you your career. Mike McCulloch, a math lecturer at Plymouth University, was recently investigated by his employer for liking a tweet that read “All lives matter.” Here in Canada, Michael Korenberg, chair of the board of governors for the University of British Columbia, was forced to step down because he liked some tweets praising Donald Trump. Nobody is safe—not even the phenomenally popular author J.K. Rowling, who has been hounded and harassed for saying that, when it comes to trans women, biology is still a thing.

My own field, journalism, has become notoriously full of little inquisitors. In the most disturbing example, James Bennet, opinion editor of the most important paper in the world, the New York Times, lost his job in June for publishing an opinion piece that many of the younger staffers didn’t like. It was written by a Republican senator, Tom Cotton, who argued that Donald Trump would be justified in deploying military troops to cities if local police could not maintain order in the streets. Staffers claimed the piece was so toxic that it put some of their colleagues’ lives in danger. Like many others, Mr. Bennet departed with a grovelling apology.

If you think the radical mob is now editing your daily paper, you might well be right. Last month, Stan Wischnowski, top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, was forced to resign over a headline that read, “Buildings Matter, Too.” All of this is dolefully reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution, during which students denounced their elders and made them parade through the streets in dunce hats before they were packed off to the pig farms for re-education.

And there is no statute of limitations. Last week, Boeing. Co.’s communications chief, Niel Golightly, abruptly resigned after an anonymous employee filed an ethics complaint over an article he wrote in 1987, 33 years ago. In it, the former military pilot had expressed the opinion that women shouldn’t serve in combat (a mainstream position at the time). “My argument was embarrassingly wrong and offensive,” he said in another cringeworthy mea culpa. “The article is not reflective of who I am.” …

As a columnist, I had strong editors to back me up. And I wrote at a time when you could speak your mind. In the last few years, by contrast, the window for even mildly controversial opinions has shrunk dramatically. It has shrunk the most at places that have traditionally prided themselves as champions of free expression. As ideological correctness becomes the modern currency of spiritual virtue, rational dissent has been cast as heresy.