Several staffers at Vox have taken to Twitter after journalist Matthew Yglesias signed the open letter decrying “cancel culture.”
Yglesias was one of 150 signatories including other liberal writers, professors and activists who came together to defend civil debate in the face of social media callouts that have become ubiquitous in recent years.
However, Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff released a letter of her own that she had written to Vox editors voicing her concerns of Yglesias’ inclusion in the anti-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 told the editors that Yglesias’ signature on the letter “makes me feel less safe at Vox” and claimed that it makes her job “slightly more difficult” as since, as she suggests, readers will “equate my positions with his.”
“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.”
Another Vox staffer, Aja Romano, similarly condemned “everyone who signed” the letter though she did not name Yglesias by name.
“Today sucked. The Harper’s letter is a dehumanizing transphobic whisper network masquerading as reasoned intellectual debate,” Romano wrote. “Everyone who signed it has contributed to the real harm that its legion of transphobic signatories have brought to real trans people, especially teens.”
She followed on Wednesday, “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.'”
Vox senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams offered a more nuanced take of the incident.
“The Harper’s letter is revealing a deeper issue: Do we judge opinions/arguments on their merits or on who makes them? Does signing a letter mean you endorse the letter? Yes. Does it mean you also endorse the opinions of those who also choose to sign it? That’s the question here,” Williams tweeted.
Williams later explained, “I thought signing a statement defending the principle of liberalism would be uncontroversial, particularly for journalists. But based on the reactions, that is not the case, hence my attempt to articulate what seems to be the core of the debate.”
Ezra Klein Vox founder and editor-at-large appeared to allude to the open letter, saying “A lot of debates that sell themselves as being about free speech are actually about power. And there’s *a lot* of power in being able to claim, and hold, the mantle of free speech defender.”
That sparked a response from Yglesias, who asked Klein, “Should I reply to this with a concrete example or stick to my commitments to you?”
Yglesias has since deleted his own tweet.
Klein dismissed critics who suggested he would reprimand his colleague, “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,” Klein clarified.
Yglesias also attempted to “de-escalate” the exchange.
“Nobody is losing their job and I think I’ve spoken my mind very clearly on this subject,” Yglesias wrote. “I am just trying to move on to other things instead of endless rounds of twitter wrangling.”
Vox senior vice president and editor-in-chief Lauren Williams offered a forceful response to the tensions that have played out publicly.
“Proof that Twitter is not real life: In real life, I’m the EIC of Vox and the f—ing boss,” Williams stated. “I don’t tweet, so folks who don’t know or work with me seem to think a variety of other people wield that power.”
Vox Media did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment. Yglesias previously declined to comment.
Yglesias, along with “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, New York Times op-ed staff editor Bari Weiss, political activist Noam Chomsky, New York Times columnists David Brooks and Michelle Goldberg, CNN host Fareed Zakaria and The Atlantic writer David Frum, were attached to the piece titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” that was published Tuesday in Harper’s Magazine.
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial,” the letter begins. “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,” it continued.
While the letter calls President Trump a “real threat to democracy,” it also warns that the resistance should not “harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion,” insisting that an “intolerant climate” has plagued both sides of the aisle.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter explains. “While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”
Amid a reckoning in media over accusations of racism or sexism, the letter states a need to “preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”
The letter has prompted a backlash in media and activist circles on Twitter.