A Twitter feud broke out between Vox employees after one of its editors signed an open letter condemning ‘cancel culture’.
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias was among 150 journalists, academics and celebrated authors including JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Noam Chomsky who added their names to the letter calling to defend free speech amid rampant ‘cancel culture’ that’s seen public figures vilified for sharing stances outside the mainstream.
The letter, published in Harper’s Weekly on Tuesday, sparked fierce debate online as critics called the signatories ‘thin-skinned’ and pointed out that many of them are wealthy, white or otherwise privileged.
Yglesias’ signing of the letter drew the ire of staffers in his own newsroom who accused him of being insensitive and antagonizing transgender people.
A Twitter feud broke out between Vox employees after its editor and columnist Matthew Yglesias (pictured) signed an open letter condemning ‘cancel culture’
Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff was one of the first staffers to speak out against Yglesias publicly by releasing a statement she wrote to Vox editors voicing her concerns about his involvement in the letter.
VanDerWerff, who is a transgender woman, said she was ‘deeply saddened’ to see that Yglesias signed the letter given its ‘many dogwhistles towards anti-trans positions’.
Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff (pictured) was one of the first staffers to speak out against Yglesias publicly by releasing a statement she wrote to Vox editors voicing her concerns about his involvement in the 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 wrote.
‘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.
‘On a more practical level, the presence of Matt’s tweets and his signature to a letter like this do make my job slightly more difficult, as would-be readers and sources too often equate my positions with his.’
VanDerWerff’s abridged letter to Vox editors is shown in full above
VanDerWerff went on to say that she doesn’t want Yglesias to be reprimanded, fired or asked to apologize for the letter because do so ‘would only solidify, in his own mind, the idea that he is being martyred for his beliefs’.
‘But,’ she continued, ‘I do want to make clear that those beliefs cost him nothing. They are not particularly risky. They are not particularly sound, even.
‘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.’
VanDerWerff noted that she redacted some parts of the statement she sent to editors from the version shared publicly because they were internal to Vox.
Vox culture writer Aja Romano, who is also transgender, weighed in on Tuesday, albeit without directly naming Yglesias.
‘Today sucked. The Harper’s letter is a dehumanizing transphobic whisper network masquerading as reasoned intellectual debate,’ Romano tweeted.
‘Everyone who signed it has contributed to the real harm that its legion of transphobic signatories have brought to real trans people, especially teens.’
Romano followed up on Wednesday after receiving an onslaught of criticism from people defending Yglesias and the letter.
‘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.”‘
It’s unclear which writer Romano was referencing, but some Twitter users immediately assumed she meant Yglesias.
Vox culture writer Aja Romano, who is also transgender, weighed in on Tuesday, albeit without directly naming Yglesias
Romano followed up on Wednesday after receiving an onslaught of criticism from people defending Yglesias and the letter
The claims of ‘anti-trans dogwhistles’ arose because several of the people who signed it have been accused of, and ‘canceled’ for, transphobic comments in the past.
Drawing the most attention was the signature from JK Rowling, who has faced backlash in recent weeks after being accused of transphobia following her comments on biological sex.
In a Twitter thread under her statement to Vox editors, VanDerWerff explained: ‘I absolutely see why that does not read as particularly anti-trans to a cis person! It just seems like vague support of free speech and a vigorous exchange of ideas, right?
The claims of ‘anti-trans dogwhistles’ in the letter arose because several of the people who signed it have been accused of, and ‘canceled’ for, transphobic comments – including JK Rowling (pictured)
‘But the many signatories to the letter include people who treat trans identities as an intellectual parlor game at best and as a dark and terrible cloud about to descend over modern society at worst.
‘Within that context, the “s**t, they’re talking about me” feeling I got reading the letter became an ambulance siren once I read the list of people who signed it.’
VanDerWerff emphasized that not all of the signatories are anti-trans, noting that some are trans people and others are outspoken trans allies, including Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood.
Vox senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams appeared to defend Yglesias by asking her followers to focus on the direct contents rather than the controversies surrounding some of the people who signed it, such as Rowling.
‘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.
She later elaborated: ‘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.’
Vox senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams appeared to defend Yglesias by asking her followers to focus on the direct contents rather than controversies surrounding some of signatories
Vox founder and editor-at-large Ezra Klein waded into the fray when he appeared to allude to the open letter by tweeting: ‘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.’
Yglesias apparently recognized Klein’s comment as a criticism of the letter and fired back.
‘Should I reply to this with a concrete example or stick to my commitments to you?’ he replied to Klein’s tweet.
Yglesias later deleted the reply as Klein came out to dispel rumors that he would take action against his editor.
‘The idea that I would try to get Matt, literally my co-founder and oldest friend in journalism, fired over this letter is risible,’ Klein tweeted.
‘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.’
Vox founder and editor-at-large Ezra Klein waded into the fray when he appeared to allude to the open letter in a tweet and Yglesias fired back
Klein later came out to dispel rumors that he would take action against his editor
Yglesias then sought to clear the air over his initial exchange with Klein while defending his decision to sign the letter.
‘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 editor in chief Lauren Williams broke her silence on the issue on Wednesday night with a tweet stamping out overblown reports of turmoil within the outlet.
‘Proof that Twitter is not real life: In real life, I’m the EIC of Vox and the f**king boss,’ Williams wrote.
‘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.’
Several Twitter users responded to Williams’ tweet by condemning her silence on the debate that sparked the back-and-forth between staffers.
Yglesias sought to clear the air over his initial exchange with Klein while defending the letter
Vox editor in chief Lauren Williams broke her silence on the issue on Wednesday night with a tweet stamping out overblown reports of turmoil within the outlet
Yglesias was joined by several other journalists in signing the letter, including CNN host Fareed Zakaria, The Atlantic writer David Frum, and New York Times op-ed staff editor Bari Weiss and columnists David Brooks and Michelle Goldberg.
Famous authors included Rowling, Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Malcolm Gladwell and Martin Amis, as well as activists Noam Chomsky and Gloria Steinem.
‘Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial,’ the piece, titled ‘A Letter on Justice and Open Debate’, states.
‘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.’
It goes on to warn that ‘the free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted’ and demands that they want to ‘uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter speech from all quarters.’
In a reference to ‘cancel culture’ it states: ‘It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.’
The letter prompted a backlash online as many critics pointed out that it was calling for tolerance even when a persons views are perceived by many as intolerant of others.