Saul Bellow memorably described his experience of reading the literary magazines of the Sixties, after their takeover by the universities. He recorded feeling “first uncomfortable, then queasy, then indignant, contemptuous and finally bleak, flattened out by the bad writing.” Such a remark is depressingly relevant: it could easily apply to some of our shabbier newspapers, not to mention the national broadcaster. Bellow’s emotional response, especially the queasiness part, ought to be immediately familiar to any reader dipping into Fairfax’s Daily Life, for example, where the misandrist windbaggery of Clementine Ford continues to fill pages and pages.
Bellow noted the harmful influence of the academy, and this has echoes now, too. After all, students who imbibe the compulsory left-wing politics of the campus have to go somewhere after graduation, and newsrooms seem happy to put out the welcome mats for Gender Studies majors and the votaries of the cult of identity politics.
The results are grim: in some quarters, the goal of objective news reporting seems to have been replaced by a kind of advocacy journalism, where the social justice issues du jour receive uncritical reverence. Take, for example, last week’s report in the Sydney Morning Herald by Jenny Noyes. She drew attention to the upcoming #FEMINIST speaking tour, where feminist heavyweight Roxane Gay will debate the decidedly more moderate Christina Hoff Sommers.
From the first few sentences, it is rather obvious that Noyes doesn’t have the soundest of journalistic motivations:
In the contemporary culture war over whether racists and other bigots should be given airtime, American author and academic Roxane Gay has planted her feet firmly in the no-platforming camp.
No-platforming, I shall remind the reader, refers to the trendy and occasionally violent practice of cancelling lectures and events featuring anyone whose views depart from the latest left-wing orthodoxy.
In other words, if I may edit Ms Noyes’ lede, Roxane Gay has a strong distrust of free expression and the open exchange of competing views. While Noyes’ admiration for Gay’s agenda drips from the page, she is obviously much less sympathetic to Sommers, who is described as “relatively low-profile”. The word relatively seems to be doing quite a bit of work there, wouldn’t you say? Noyes failed to inform her readers that Sommers is a philosopher, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and an author whose books and work have been widely celebrated and discussed. Sommers is many things, but low-profile she is not.
That said, an even less credible source on Sommers’ views and reputation is Roxane Gay. In an interview with Noyes, Gay asserted, without evidence, that her future debating interlocutor was a “white supremacist.” That’s a rather heavy accusation, which Gay and her co-thinkers toss around much too lightly nowadays. But Gay wears her ignorance quite confidently. In the same breath, she also admitted that she had never even heard of Sommers before the event’s announcement. Noyes let all this nonsense slide a little too easily, in my view.
Since I’m feeling charitable, I’ll describe Gay’s assertion here as merely unhinged. A passing glance at Sommers’ life and work would be enough to rebut the risible charges of racism and bigotry. She is a classical, or equity, feminist, which simply means that she believes men and women have the right to equality of opportunity, and that such a right is universal. She has tirelessly pointed out the moral and intellectual degradation of the radical feminist critique, which sees the fashionable hatred of men as a demonstration of virtue. She has also rejected the view that American universities are hotbeds of sexual violence, comparable to the Congo or downtown Mogadishu. Such campuses have often proven dangerous for Sommers, however; since 2015 her public lectures have required security guards, given the threat of left-wing reprisals.
None of this matters to Gay, however. After banging on for a bit about rape culture and how terrific no-platforming is, Gay admitted that the upcoming debate at Sydney’s Town Hall is hardly worth her time, anyway. Noyes reports:
The million-dollar question is whether such a debate presents a genuine opportunity to debunk bigotry or if the platform inevitably legitimises those ideas.
Gay is circumspect about facing off with Hoff Sommers: “It does legitimise her viewpoint, which is really unfortunate,” she says. “But I think I am up to the challenge of pushing back.”
It’s hard to avoid the implication here: Noyes seems to agree entirely with her interviewee on the still unproven and rather unmannerly charge of bigotry. A subsequent tweet by Noyes provides confirmation, as well as an explanation of her shabby and dishonest treatment of Sommers. After her article received some pushback on social media, she fatuously remarked:
Reminder: it’s not a journalist’s job to give equal time to people who say it’s raining when it isn’t.
Such cheap thinking can justify the abandonment of any journalistic standards or integrity, and Noyes’ article exemplifies the grubby results. I doubt there will be any professional setbacks, however. Such a style may even lead to terrific career opportunities. Take, for example, Noyes’ colleague at Daily Life, the beastly Clementine Ford, to whom I alluded earlier. During her career, Ford has rarely demonstrated evidence of a wide vocabulary; her yammering basically consists of variations on toxic masculinity, rape culture, and some creative profanity. Despite this obvious shortcoming, Ford is getting ready to inflict her second book on the reading public, and I’m sure it will be quite a hit.
Good grief. That’s a dispiriting note on which to end. What was that Saul Bellow line about discomfort and indignation? As I contemplate a feminist future of Gays, Noyses, and Fords, if anything, Bellow’s thoughts seem much too cheery.
Timothy Cootes contributes to Quadrant Online, Quillette, and the Spectator Australia.