Story at a glance
- Hundreds of prominent writers and scholars, many in academia, signed an open letter “on justice and open debate.”
- The letter has been criticized on social media by other writers, including journalists.
- In response, more than 150 others have signed “A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate.”
Editor’s note: Three employees of The Hill are signatories of “A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published on The Objective.
From its title, there’s no question what an open letter signed by more than 150 journalists, writers and scholars is about. “A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” is a clear response to an open letter published just days earlier, titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.”
True to its name, the response letter is more specific than the original, naming people and publications directly and taking a point-by-point approach to its rebuttal.
BREAKING NEWS ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER
If you haven’t followed the back-and-forth, the original letter was published online on Tuesday and intended to run in Harper’s Magazine’s October issue. It condemns a general culture of intolerance, public shaming and ostracism of an unnamed community, which is assumed to be those on the left of the political spectrum, in response to “opposing views.”
Much of the body of the response letter is used to specifically address six examples cited in the original letter to portray an atmosphere of censure and restricted speech.
"What the signatories are describing are things that have happened to journalists, academics, and authors marginalized by their respective industries for years — just not in the ways the signatories want to highlight. The problem they are describing is for the most part a rare one for privileged writers, but it is constant for the voices that have been most often shut out of the room. When Black and brown writers are hired by prominent media institutes, NDAs and social media policies are used to prevent them from talking about toxic workplace experiences," the response letter said. "The letter talks about none of this.”
One of the more prominent signatories of the original letter was J.K. Rowling, who has recently been criticized for her statements criticizing medical treatments for transgender people. The response criticizes her and other signatories, including Jesse Singal, who have made transphobic comments, even calling some of them out for hypocrisy.
"In fact, a number of the signatories have made a point of punishing people who have spoken out against them," said the letter, calling out Bari Weiss, Katha Pollitt, Emily Yoffe, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Cary Nelson. "What gives them the right to use their platforms to harass others into silence, especially writers with smaller platforms and less institutional support, while preaching that silencing writers is a problem?"
Unlike the original letter, not all of its signatories are named however, which the letter acknowledged.
"Many signatories on our list noted their institutional affiliation but not their name, fearful of professional retaliation. It is a sad fact, and in part why we wrote the letter," said the letter, which is credited to a group effort spearheaded by journalists of color.
The response also notes that “contributions were seen by all the collaborators and accepted through consensus.” One of its criticisms of the original letter was that signatories were not told who other signatories were — a fact that led one author to withdraw their support after its publication.
Since its publication, Roy Tsao, a professor and teacher at the Pratt Institute, has accused the organizers of the original letter of being dishonest with its intent.
I'm afraid to say it seems some well-meaning people got played on this one (including the person who contacted me in this email last month)— Roy Tsao (@RoyTsaoNYC) July 8, 2020
fwiw, reason I didn't sign on was that I couldn't figure out what it was about, & more focused on BLM protests that day pic.twitter.com/Ch2j1dxVsV
Another, Lucia Martinez Valdivia, said in a Medium post that she was selectively shown the names of signatories of color and not others.
Thomas Chatterton Williams, the editor who led the original effort, has since defended the letter, continuing a conversation on “cancel culture” that shows few signs of abating.
Nobody mislead anyone. Why/how would send the list around to everyone on it? It’s constantly evolving? Are you supposed to write back and bother, say, Salman Rushdie every time you score another signature? Would that not be annoying? Rowling was one of the last people we added. https://t.co/PID4nmXAaD— Thomas Chatterton Williams (@thomaschattwill) July 10, 2020
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