Once upon a time, Andrew Sullivan was an openly gay man living with being HIV positive and was an outspoken Reagan conservative. Some of my strongest reactions to the political debate came from watching and reading the exchanges between Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens.
Sullivan was one of the first into the space of “political blogging” — basically a freewheeling website of his own creation and largely consisting of his own thinking. Over time he wrote less and less for his own blog, brought in others to provide content, and linked to more outside pieces. It simply got to the point where it took too much time from him when he was more committed to advancing causes he had championed for a long time, and which came into reality during the Obama Administration with the legalization of gay marriage. In June 2015, Sullivan closed his blog, The Daily Dish, with a “mission accomplished” message.
I fell out of like with Sullivan when he — in my view and in most objective observations — abandoned conservatism due to his man-crush on Barack Obama. There is no question that Barack Obama was a talented politician — but that’s pretty much all he was, a politician. Sullivan fell for the rhetoric, thinking there was a real substance of thought behind it.
After some time away from the arena of political combat, Sullivan returned with a regular column in both the print and online versions of New York Magazine. That publication is a venerable institution, first established to be a competitor to The New Yorker. In 2004, with the rise of the digital media age, New York magazine re-launched itself with a new design and format that was immensely popular. But by 2018 it had to resort to a paywall to boost revenue with ad rates falling, and in September 2019, Vox Media announced it had acquired the parent company of New York Magazine.
Vox Media has an interesting pedigree of its own, and the founders are all well know. Markos Moulitsas founded Daily Kos in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore Presidential dispute. Jerome Armstrong coined the term “netroots” on his left-wing blog MyDD, also founded after Bush-Gore. Tyler Bleszinski, a friend of Moulitsas who had founded a sports blog focused on the Oakland Athletics that later expanded into a network of similar blogs now called SB Nation. The fourth founder was Ezra Klein, left-wing journalist, blogger, and former WaPo columnist.
Today, Sullivan published his farewell letter to the readers of New York Magazine, acknowledging that a “critical mass” of staff and management of New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with him in the “virtual space” of those organizations. He says in the story he’s only been in the offices of those enterprises a handful of times in four years. But because he does not wholly share and endorse the views dominant within the organizations, he writes:
They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media.
Sullivan denies he is a victim of the “cancel culture”, a phrase he dislikes because it lacks a standardized definition, but the fact is that is exactly what has happened to him. Critics among his co-workers want him out of his job because he does not think like they think, and he will not voice support for their causes the way they think he should voice support for their causes.
Two years ago, I wrote that we all live on campus now. That is an understatement. In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the woke program — and those few left are being purged. The latest study of Harvard University faculty, for example, finds that only 1.46 percent call themselves conservative. But that’s probably higher than the proportion of journalists who call themselves conservative at the New York Times or CNN or New York Magazine.
What Sullivan is going to do is reopen the Daily Dish, and return to vigorously debating the substance issues. I might even become a fan again while certainly understanding we will agree on less than we once did. And I think among Sullivan’s early targets will be the cancel culture that just sent him packing.
Since I closed down the Dish … after 15 years of daily blogging, I have not missed the insane work hours…. But here’s what I do truly and deeply miss: writing freely without being in a defensive crouch; airing tough, smart dissent and engaging with readers in a substantive way that avoids Twitter madness; a truly free intellectual space where anything, yes anything, can be debated without personal abuse or questioning of motives; and where readers can force me to change my mind (or not) by sheer logic or personal testimony.
I miss a readership that truly was eclectic — left, liberal, centrist, right, reactionary — and that loved to be challenged by me and by each other. I miss just the sheer fun that used to be a part of being a hack before all these dreadfully earnest, humor-free puritans took over the press: jokes, window views, silly videos, contests, puns, rickrolls, and so on.
If the mainstream media will not host a diversity of opinion, or puts the “moral clarity” of some self-appointed saints before the goal of objectivity in reporting, if it treats writers as mere avatars for their race and gender or gender identity, rather than as unique individuals whose identity is largely irrelevant, then the nonmainstream needs to pick up the slack.
What I hope to do at the Weekly Dish is to champion those younger writers who are increasingly shut out of the Establishment, to promote their blogs, articles, and podcasts, to link to them, and encourage them. I want to show them that they have a future in the American discourse. Instead of merely diagnosing the problem of illiberalism, I want to try to be part of the solution.
That sounds like a veiled declaration of war to me.
I’m hopeful about seeing this version of Andrew Sullivan back. I was a reader of the Daily Dish, and although his views shifted dramatically away from mine, I found his involvement in that format worth the time to read.
Here is a link to where his new site will appear.