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Georgetown Prof. Thomas Zimmer: After “Punching Down” at Student Newspaper, Feeding the “Moral Panic” Over Mike Pence Being “Cancelled” at UVA, the WaPo Should – But Won’t – Examine “what they got wrong, why they got it so wrong”

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See below for a great thread by Georgetown University Visiting Professor Thomas Zimmer on the controversy around former VP Mike Pence’s speech to UVA’s chapter of the (hard-right) Young America’s Foundation this past week. If you want to watch the speech – which was, as usual with Pence, smarmy, oily, vapid, filled with lies and distortions, fear-mongering, bigoted, and right wingnut in general – check it out on CSPAN. But yeah, it really really sucked. As for the controversy around Pence giving the speech – and the Washington Post’s role in stoking that controversy – Thomas Zimmer really nails it. For instance, as he writes:

  • “Remember when the Washington Post Editorial Board issued an urgent warning two weeks ago that an insidious campaign to ‘cancel’ Mike Pence was underway at UVA?   Well, this week, Pence finally gave his speech – and absolutely no ‘cancelling’ happened.”
  • “It’s a really interesting way to phrase this, because it was actually the WaPo editorial board that contributed significantly to making this a national debate by warning us about dangerous efforts to ‘silence and cancel’ Mike Pence at UVA.”
  • “The WaPo editorial received considerably less attention than the New York Times editorial board’s assertion that ‘America Has a Free Speech Problem’ from mid-March – but it wasn’t any less problematic, crystallizing many of the ‘cancel culture’ discourse’s pathologies.”
  • “The first thing that is striking is the enormous power imbalance that is on display here: The editorial board of one of the country’s most important media institutions punching down at a student newspaper. That should probably ring some alarm bells.”
  • “It’s clear the Cavalier Daily didn’t like the fact that Pence had been invited to speak on campus. But they don’t issue a call to boycott, and no one else was trying to ‘silence’ Pence either: no one was taking any steps to actually prevent him from speaking.”
  • “In order to justify making this a national story about insidious forces of cancel culture, the WaPo presents a superficial caricature of the student editorial.”
  • “All the general fallacies and pathologies of the “cancel culture” discourse are present in the short WaPo editorial as well, of course. The efforts to ‘silence and cancel’ Pence have been ‘bipartisan,’ we’re being told. From both sides. What’s the evidence? From the Right, as the editorial board acknowledges, people attack Pence as a ‘traitor’ and wanted to hang him for failing to steal the 2020 election. On the Left? A student newspaper refuses to condone platforming him. According to the WaPo, those things are the same. We’re being treated to the same story over and over again: radical leftwing forces, particularly on campus, are engaging in cancel culture – a sign of creeping authoritarianism, a national emergency, a veritable free speech crisis, a threat to American freedom.”
  • The WaPo editorial board should look at this and come out with a self-critical assessment of what they got wrong, why they got it so wrong, and how that will shape their perspective on and coverage of the reactionary ‘cancel culture’ panic going forward. That will, of course, never happen. The ‘cancel culture’ discourse is utterly uninterested in carefully weighing the available empirical evidence. It’s a moral panic in service of a reactionary political project. And as such, it has been, unfortunately, extremely effective.”

 

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