Their cases could not be more different. But it's getting increasingly difficult to defend the New York Times for hiring a writer with a history of racist and anti-Trump tweets, while Facebook, Apple and other tech giants are perfectly comfortable banning Alex Jones.
The debate around Sarah Jeong, the Times' newest editorial writer, initially focused on her Twitter postings denigrating and mocking white men. But critics have found equally troubling tweets since then.
First there was the discovery of "F--- the police" and "cops are a--holes." How does a major American newspaper defend that?
The Times, and Jeong herself, initially said she regrets the white men-are-"bull----"-and-"dogs" tweets, but was imitating the online hate she was drawing as an Asian-American woman.
I didn't buy the explanation, but felt a bit of sympathy for Jeong as the latest victim of a social media mob demanding her firing. As is all too common in these matters, conservatives have led the charge against Jeong, just as liberals have spearheaded the online opposition against such conservative writers as Kevin Williamson (hired and then quickly unhired by the Atlantic over his past comments such as equating abortion and murder).
But the latest Jeong tweets, noted by The Washington Times, are as beyond the pale as attacks on white men and police officers.
Jeong has tweeted that "Trump is Hitler," "Trump=Hitler," "trump is basically hitler," and "Was Hitler as rapey as Donald Trump?"
How is it even remotely acceptable to compare the president of the United States to a Nazi who was one of history's greatest mass murderers? The Times would never hire a writer who hurled charges like that against a Democrat. So there is a reeking double standard here.
The paper, which declined comment yesterday, has said, among other things, "we had candid conversations with Sarah as part of our thorough vetting process, which included a review of her social media history." The view at the Times is that there's an orchestrated campaign against Jeong by people with an agenda and the company doesn't want to fan the flames. That's understandable, but the toxic nature of the tweets has ensured that this is not a one-day story.
One contrast: When the editorial board recently hired and unhired writer Quinn Norton, it was over tweets that were hostile to gays, not white people in general. So there is a line for the Times—it's just that, somehow, Jeong didn't cross it.
In the aforementioned Atlantic, National Review's Reihan Salam tries to explain the Jeong world view:
"Many of the white-bashers of my acquaintance have been highly-educated and affluent Asian American professionals. So why do they do it?"
He says it’s often glorified trolling, "the most transgressive thing you can get away with saying without actually getting called out for it. In this sense, it's a way of establishing solidarity: All of us in this space get it, and we have nothing but disdain for those who do not. And some may well be intended as a defiant retort to bigotry."
Salam argues that especially for Asian-Americans, "embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for."
That still seems to me like an intellectual way of justifying not a "defiant retort to bigotry," but plain old bigotry.
Andrew Sullivan says that "#cancelblackpeople probably wouldn't fly at the New York Times, would it? Or imagine someone tweeting that Jews were only 'fit to live underground like groveling goblins' or that she enjoyed 'being cruel to old Latina women,' and then being welcomed and celebrated by a liberal newsroom. Not exactly in the cards.”
As a member of a minority group, Sullivan says, Jeong is deemed "incapable of racism," and that's why she "hasn't apologized to the white people she denigrated or conceded that her tweets were racist. Nor has she taken responsibility for them."
As for Alex Jones, I'm getting a lot of pushback from conservatives who say it's an assault on the First Amendment for Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify to ban him from their hugely popular platforms. But it has nothing to do with the First Amendment, as these are private companies who are deciding what content they will allow.
There is a free speech question, of course, and Facebook and Twitter have in the past discriminated against conservatives, and they acknowledge they have a problem. But the case against Jones isn't based on his political views; it’s aimed mainly at his propagation of conspiracy theories, such as that the horrific Newtown school massacre never happened.
Jones still has an online show; his speech hasn’t been suppressed, though it's been curtailed by these Big Tech giants. But it would be a mistake to cast the Infowars founder, who blames a "yellow journalism campaign," as being punished for just being on the right.
And yet it's not hard to understand why conservative critics can't believe that Sarah Jeong emerged unscathed.