On Monday, Tara Henley wrote that at one time she was the furthest left of any of her colleagues at the Canadian Broadcasting Company where she worked as a TV and radio producer since 2013, "occasionally causing strain in story meetings with my views on issues like the housing crisis. I am now easily the most conservative, frequently sparking tension by questioning identity politics. This happened in the span of about 18 months. My own politics did not change. To work at the CBC in the current climate is to embrace cognitive dissonance and to abandon journalistic integrity." So she quit.
The CBC is supported by taxpayers and she had been getting complaints from listeners and viewers who wanted to know why "non-binary Filipinos concerned about a lack of LGBT terms in Tagalog is an editorial priority for the CBC, when local issues of broad concern go unreported. Or why our pop culture radio show’s coverage of the Dave Chappelle Netflix special failed to include any of the legions of fans, or comics, that did not find it offensive. Or why, exactly, taxpayers should be funding articles that scold Canadians for using words such as 'brainstorm' and 'lame.'... In a short period of time, the CBC went from being a trusted source of news to churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press. Those of us on the inside know just how swiftly-- and how dramatically-- the politics of the public broadcaster have shifted."
Her point is that the CBC is captive to a "radical political agenda that originated on Ivy League campuses in the United States and spread through American social media platforms that monetize outrage and stoke societal divisions. It is to pretend that the 'woke' worldview is near universal-- even if it is far from popular with those you know, and speak to, and interview, and read. To work at the CBC now is to accept the idea that race is the most significant thing about a person, and that some races are more relevant to the public conversation than others. It is, in my newsroom, to fill out racial profile forms for every guest you book; to actively book more people of some races and less of others. To work at the CBC is to submit to job interviews that are not about qualifications or experience-- but instead demand the parroting of orthodoxies, the demonstration of fealty to dogma. It is to become less adversarial to government and corporations and more hostile to ordinary people with ideas that Twitter doesn’t like... It is to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful. That the big issues of our time are all already settled. It is to capitulate to certainty, to shut down critical thinking, to stamp out curiosity. To keep one’s mouth shut, to not ask questions, to not rock the boat. This, while the world burns."
How could good journalism possibly be done under such conditions? How could any of this possibly be healthy for society?
All of this raises larger questions about the direction that North America is headed. Questions about this new moment we are living through-- and its impact on the body politic. On class divisions, and economic inequality. On education. On mental health. On literature, and comedy. On science. On liberalism, and democracy.
...I have been a journalist for 20 years, covering everything from hip-hop to news, food to current affairs. The through line has always been books, which I’ve engaged with at every stage of my career and at every outlet I’ve worked for. In 2020, I published my own book, Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life, which was an instant bestseller in Canada.
Books have always opened new worlds for me, introduced me to new perspectives, and helped me to make sense of humanity. I need books now more than ever.
During lockdown, when I wasn’t covering COVID-19, I spent a lot of time interviewing authors for a new book I’m working on. Their boldness and insight and humour saved me from despair. These writers gave me ideas on how to move forward, and how to maintain hope. Most of all, they gave me the courage to stand up-- and to speak out.
I asked a couple of radio hosts who I work with and whose opinions I respect. Nicole Sandler told me that when she "started in radio, news was news, and views were views, and there was a thick line between the two. The line has been erased, to the detriment of us all. Along with that line, the commitment to reporting the truth also seems to have disappeared."
Brad Friedman wasn't very sympathetic to Henley's complaints. "With the world burning down and American democracy virtually in hospice care, I find it difficult to muster much sympathy for those whose problem is the inconvenience of trying to correct for decades-- and, indeed centuries-- of injustice to various minorities. I'm sure there are missteps and over-aggressive actions taken from time to time by both corporations and private individuals alike in the effort to make things right after so many years of things being very wrong for so many people along these lines. But I find the whining and complaining about 'wokeness' to be a) largely the product of the Right, who would like to continue their racism and related injustices, thank you very much, and/or b) journalists and others who are too embarrassed to admit to their GOP-sympathetic outlook, so they call themselves libertarians or 'liberals' who, gosh darn it, the Party has left behind in its 'lurch' to the 'far left.' Boo-hoo. Life is tough. But it's much tougher for those oppressed groups facing decades and centuries of oppression that decent people would like to figure out how to end. In other words, it all feels like just more bullshit from the Contrarian Industrial Complex at a time when-- have I mentioned it?-- the planet is burning and American democracy is on life support. That seems somewhat more important to me and probably to others who can see beyond their Substack accounts."
Like Henley, I'm also a book reader-- or used to be. It was my greatest pleasure. I scoffed at the idea of watching TV when I could be reading history books or novels by great authors like Dostoevsky, Orwell, Dickens, a Brontë, Huxley, Genet, Capote, Joyce, Tolstoy, Roth, Twain, Baldwin, Rushdie, Rechy, Chabon... Lately, though, I rarely seem to have time. Instead, I find myself I'm online, fuming about Trump, Bannon, Marjorie Traitor Greene, Kevin McCarthy and Joe Manchin.
This morning, Judd Legum published a piece worth reading, The War On Library Books. "In the coming months," he began, "you will hear a lot from right-wing politicians about the need to 'empower parents' to have more influence over their children's education. As a general concept, this makes sense. Parents should be involved in all aspects of their child's life. Aligning yourself with parents is also savvy politics. Everyone has parents and millions of people are parents themselves. Parents, for the most part, love their kids. What kind of monster is against parent empowerment? But what does this mean in practice? While empowering parents sounds nice, politicians who have adopted the mantra are pushing to curtail academic freedom and ban books. It's less about parent involvement in their child's education and more about imposing cultural conservatism on every aspect of public education."
And it sure worked in reliably blue Virginia! And Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon... everywhere. I mean, let's get real... Republican politicians would rather see parents concerned about banning great authors like Baldwin, Genet and Rechy than... be concerned about this:
A progressive Member of Congress-- one of the ones who thinks about things like this seriously-- read this today and responded with an e-mail that you will, no doubt, find interesting:
We have discussed before that much of weaponized identity politics is selective and in bad faith.
What I agreed with in her piece was her description of the smug, scolding quality of much of the discussion about the various forms of prejudice, while huge societal shifts of who has money and power and how they get it and use it are ignored. I grew up in a biracial society in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. I don’t need someone who took a sociology course on race to explain white privilege to me, and I find the lectures grating and unhelpful. That does not mean that I have achieved personal perfection, but I’ll work on it myself, thank you.
Everyone in America is affected by preconceptions about race, which ideally we should take out and examine. But calling touch fouls over “micro-aggressions” when there are white supremacist militia members embedded in police departments around the country and people storming the Capitol wearing sweatshirts that say the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were not enough is not helpful.
And I agree with David Sirota’s premise in his recent podcast on the financial crisis that the failure of Democrats to take on the concentration and abuse of power largely gave us Trump.
I had the same experience as the author of the piece of finding little concern for the foreclosure crisis, which devastated the Black middle class, by people who now bask in their own superiority over their awareness of race. That may be why I was drawn to the piece. Where the fuck were those people when the African American middle class was falling back into poverty because they lost their homes and their life’s savings? Really, I needed more allies.
I don’t think the problem with our economy is that we don’t have enough diversity among private equity managers or on corporate boards. Does it really help to have one or two non-binary members of Exxon’s board if they are okay with torturing and murdering dissidents in developing nations in which the company drills for oil.
We have a long history of distracting from economic justice issues, which can cross racial lines, with racial division. Read C. Vann Woodward.
I am aware that gender is much more complicated than I understood when I was growing up. But my concerns are the same. Sanctimonious scolding of people for insufficiently enlightened views does not get us where we need to go.