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Peter Robinson: You're a young journalist. You have a plum job at The New York Times of all places for which every other young journalist in the country would give a eye tooth. Then you quit in anger and go off to reinvent journalism itself. To explain what she could possibly have been thinking. Bari Weiss, Uncommon Knowledge, now. Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Bari Weiss grew up in Pittsburgh, studied at Columbia University and then became a journalist. First, she served for four years as an oped and book review editor at the Wall Street Journal, which is where we got to know each other. Then for three years, as a columnist and editor at The New York Times. I should say, in case the tone of my voice, doesn't convey it adequately. The revered New York Times for a kid journalist. In 2020, Bari Weiss left The New York Times writing in a resignation letter that quote, "Twitter is not on the masthead. But Twitter has become the ultimate editor. This newspaper has become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences." Close quote. Since then, Bari Weiss has founded a site on Substack, Common Sense, and a weekly podcast, Honestly. Bari, welcome.
Bari Weiss: Thank you so much for having me.
Peter Robinson: Okay. We'll come to The New York Times in a moment, but first, a question so big that if I don't put it first, we might forget about it all together. I'm gonna quote you writing last September, "The changes in my own life, your life, over the past year reflected a country transforming at a velocity so fast it's difficult to capture. It will be up to historians to give it a proper name, but I think of it as a great unraveling." Close quote. What happened? What unraveled and why now?
Bari Weiss: Oh, it's hard to give that a short answer, but I'll try. What has unraveled is the holiday from history, that I think maybe all Americans were on in the postwar years.
Peter Robinson: Post-Cold War years?
Bari Weiss: I would say Post-World War II, really.
Peter Robinson: Oh, really? All right.
Bari Weiss: And the consensus that sort of developed about America, about our role in the world, about our fundamental goodness. About whether or not American power was fundamentally a source for good or ill in the world. About America as a place of expanding opportunity and expanding freedom. You yourself have had a hand in writing some of the lines that I'm thinking of,
Peter Robinson: I know you're starting to sound like...
Bari Weiss: as I say this.
Peter Robinson: Right, we could have used you in the speech writing shop 40 years ago. Had you been born.
Bari Weiss: That whole worldview, I think, is under siege and maybe has even collapsed. And the question about when that began to collapse is not one that I can answer because I think we're, as I said there, we're in the midst of the unraveling. What I will say is that the elite that sort of controls the sense making institutions in this country, you know, from which lots of things sort of trickle down. I'm talking about our newspapers, our Hollywood studios, our publishing houses, our universities. They no longer uphold that broad view of the world. Instead, they have a very, very different view of the world. That's one aspect of the unraveling, which sort of is the story of an elite turning against America.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: The second part of it is the internet and the absolutely transformational nature of this technology that on the one hand is, you know, incredible. It allows for Haagen-Dazs to be delivered to us in 30 minutes from now, if we went on DoorDash or caviar or whatever. Startup some Stanford kid has developing right now that gets it here in 20 minutes.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: But also, ice cream is delivered in 30 minutes. And the sort of addiction to that comfort, the way that we've sort of traded in, perhaps even unthinkingly, our freedoms, our privacy, maybe even our humanity for the sake of that comfort, I think is some, is a story that's just beginning to be told.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: So I think that technology is a big part of it.
Peter Robinson: What about COVID? Here's what I'm hoping you say, oh, right, right, right. COVID had something to do with it because it's cause and effect difficult to unravel to unravel that piece of the unraveling. But if COVID had something to do with it, then as the lockdowns end and people go back to schools and we take our masks off, somehow or other, we'll get back to normal politically and no you're shaking your head.
Bari Weiss: No. Not, happening.
Peter Robinson: Come on, give me a little something.
Bari Weiss: No, COVID exposed and catalyzed. What was already there. The gap between the Amazon coalition, the Zoom class that you and I are a part of and those that actually deliver the products. The fact that you and I can go into a restaurant, you know, do the sort of security theater of showing our vaccine card. Wearing a mask, only until we sit down at the table and then enjoy a four-hour meal, while the people that serve us are sometimes even in gloves, but certainly in masks. That is what COVID has revealed. And I think that we are just beginning to see the unbelievable backlash to that. To the chasm that's opened between the center and the periphery what Martin Gory calls the center and the periphery or between, you know, the elite and the public as Christopher Lash described it.
Peter Robinson: Okay, elite and public I get. Center and periphery, how does that work? Who's in the...
Bari Weiss: The center are the legacy institutions.
Peter Robinson: I see, right.
Bari Weiss: That used to have a monopoly on what we knew. And one of the things that the internet has done is exposed other ways of telling stories or other parts of stories that get left out. So I can read in The New York Times that the truckers in Canada are fascists, but then I can go on Twitter and I can see videos of Sikhs in turbans,
Peter Robinson: These are not fascists.
Bari Weiss: and Black Canadians
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: and people of every stripe waving the maple leaf and saying, you know, and singing, you know, "We are the World". And it's that disconnect that I think has been brought into unbelievably sharp relief over the past few decades. And, especially, over the past two years. It's the gap between the rule that say in California of lockdowns and mask mandates and Nancy Pelosi go and get her hair done. Or Gavin Newsom going to the French laundry or the mayor of Los Angeles posing for a photograph with an NBA player saying, he held his breath. I mean, so that's what I think is also one of the things that's collapsing. And it's really scary, I think.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Because it means that there's no longer a monopoly on information and a monopoly on truth. On the other hand, it's opening up incredible new opportunities.
Peter Robinson: Anybody gets to talk back including Bari Weiss.
Bari Weiss: Sure.
Peter Robinson: We'll come to that. Well, but before we leave this question of this wokeness. This moment, as you well know, there's been ideological, I'm don't wanna call it firm it, a kind of ideological corrosion underway at universities for a long, long time. And here are the arguments that I, a year or two older than you have heard over the years.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: And honestly, I have to say that at various points I swallowed both of them. Argument number one, don't worry. The trouble arises from the faculty, that's the sixties generation. They too, time and chance will happen to them too. They'll retire. Things will right themselves as there's, as their replacements, that didn't happen. It didn't happen. Here's the other argument. The other argument is don't worry. All right, we've lost the universities, but the kids only go through the universities for four years at a time. And then they move out and they get jobs and they start paying taxes and they want to have families and they take out mort, reality hits them and that will reground them and marginalize all the ideological woke nonsense that they learned in universities. And that didn't happen either. Both of those arguments, honestly, they still strike me as completely plausible. Why were they just all wrong?
Bari Weiss: Well, they weren't all wrong. I think, if you go to a doctor or you drive over a bridge, you're gonna wanna make sure that the person that is diagnosing you with, or without cancer, or the bridge that you drive over, hoping it doesn't collapse. That can't be built on an ideology that literally runs headlong into reality, which is wokeness. Two plus two still equals four,
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Despite what anyone says. And so I do think that there is going to be a sort of confrontation between the actual reality of the world and the magical thinking that imbues this ideology. The reason that the sort of theory that conservatives and liberals believed. I forget if this is argument one or argument too, that, essentially, the excesses of campus are gonna be left behind, has to do with what Yuval Levin explains as institutions sort of being transformed into platforms. It's no longer that you're a Times man, right? You go there for 50 years and that's your identity. And you sort of subsume your identity to the brand. Now you are the brand. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. And you take that brand with you when you go and you use these institutions sort of as platforms. The reasons for that are because of the technological chains, of course. But so as a result, it's, you know, that's one aspect of this. The other thing I would say, so in other words, let me say it again. Rather than the institutions forming 22, 23, 24 year olds, it's that those people have formed the institutions.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: And the reason that's happened, and I think this is a really critical thing to emphasize, is because the people at the top of those institutions are willing to sort of bend the knee to the mid-level people inside the corporation who hold the people at the top of the institution or the company hostage. And they hold them hostage with, with a very powerful weapon, which is moral condemnation and smearing of their character. And that I have learned is far more powerful than lots of other things, including money.
Peter Robinson: Okay, this brings us to The New York Times, but first, you and I got to know each other when you were at the Wall Street Journal. Let's go a kind of fast trip through your own story.
Bari Weiss: Sure.
Peter Robinson: You leave The Journal for The New York Times, for what reason?
Bari Weiss: Donald Trump. Running away from him.
Peter Robinson: Right? Running away from him,
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: because The Journal decided it was going to play Donald Trump a certain way.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: They weren't going to... The journal was not gonna permit the editorial page to become an anti-Trump page, correct?
Bari Weiss: That's right. And in retrospect, maybe that was wise at the time, I felt like The Journal had a, was sort of missing an opportunity to come down harder against him. I mean, the brief way of putting it is that the sort of civil war that played out inside the conservative movement and inside the Republican Party, played out almost exactly like that inside the Wall Street Journal.
Peter Robinson: But in kind of fast forward, because decisions had to be made very quickly, once you win the presidency,
Bari Weiss: That's right.
Peter Robinson: is that correct?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, and so following his win, there was a lot of shuffling around. Some of which got attention, others of which did not. And the players, you know, about are me and Brett Stevens. Going to The New York Times.
Peter Robinson: Yes, right.
Bari Weiss: The New York Times went through a very brief, important moment of soul searching, where anyone will remember the night of the election. The infamous needle, had Hillary Clinton winning by 99%. Why, did my mother,
Peter Robinson: I was transfixed by that needle. I couldn't leave the...
Bari Weiss: Yes. But I was gonna say that, you know, this is a newspaper that's claiming the paper of record. That's claiming to hold up a mirror to the world as it actually is, to represent the country. And how did it miss something that my mom told me was gonna happen. She for her job has to drive outside of Pittsburgh. So like two hours in Trump country. And she would call me and say, "I just drove past this barn. I mean, it must can these people a week to paint his name on it. It was so enormous."
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: You can't imagine the amount of support for him. How did she see what they missed, right?
Peter Robinson: Because she was driving around Western Pennsylvania.
Bari Weiss: Right, but that's what The New York Times is supposed to do, right? And so I was brought in, frankly, as an intellectual diversity hire. You know, I'm, in the context of The New York Times, that editorial page to the right. But it's in the context of The New York Times editorial page. In the Wall Street Journal, I was, you know, considered very much to the left in a total squish. I'm somewhere in the center. But my job was to write the kind of pieces that wouldn't necessarily appear in the paper and commission other people to write opeds too.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
Bari Weiss: Dream job.
Peter Robinson: So let's talk then about two different Sulzbergers, Punch Sulzberger, when I was a speech writer in the Reagan White House, the grandfather of your Sulzberger to whom were going to come. Punch Sulzberger knew people in the White House, including my boss, Tony Dolan, the Chief Speech Writer. And they talk not infrequently, at least once a week, couple times a week. Your coverage of the speech of the president just gave was terrible and Punch Sulzberger would take it and push back and ask what's happened. It was an open channel of communication and the feeling I always had, Bill Safire, it was the great columnist for The New York Times.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: And as best I could tell, Safire had great affection for Punch Sulzberger. And the feeling I always had was that somehow or other The New York Times, right through the eighties, although it would slam Reagan, you knew what their politics were. You didn't expect Punch Sulzberger to say, you know what, I think I'll vote for Reagan this time.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: Okay, but somehow or other, there was a sense of we're all in this together. This is a shared enterprise and the enterprise is the country and everybody meant it. Everybody felt it. Now we come to his grandson, who was your boss, was publishing. I don't know that, that was his title, but was the boss of The New York Times.
Bari Weiss: Yeah, that's right.
Peter Robinson: And you write to him, I mentioned, Twitter's not on the masthead, but it's become the ultimate editor. My own forays, this is Bari Weiss writing to a Sulzberger, "My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and racist." This is true? People employed by
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: The New York Times called you a Nazi and a racist? "Some coworkers insist
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: I need to be rooted out if this company is to be truly an inclusive one." I do not understand you say to A.G. Sulzberger, your Sulzberger. "I do not understand how you have allowed this kind of behavior to go on inside your company in full view of the paper's entire staff and the public." Close quote. All right, there're all kinds of questions to ask about that letter. But one is to establish, somehow or other, a divide had opened up and you were on one side and A.G. Sulzberger was on another, is that correct?
Bari Weiss: It's more complicated than that.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Bari Weiss: But what I'll say is this is what happens when the personal becomes political. If everything is politicized, right? And the nature of this ideology is that it is all encompassing. So everything needs to be put to a political litmus test inside of it, music, art, friendships, relationships, marriages. So, it's very important to understand how, I don't know what other words to use, totalizing this ideology is.
Peter Robinson: Well you avoiding the word totalitarian very nicely.
Bari Weiss: I am because...
Peter Robinson: It's probably wise to do so.
Bari Weiss: But that really is what it's about. And so even someone like me, okay? Married to a woman, Jewish, lifelong liberal. Because I didn't adhere to every single aspect of this ideology, I was viewed as suspect. I was viewed as like a heretic inside a church. And this is not a story that's at all unique to me, the story of, I don't even wanna call it a conservative view, but a view that doesn't adhere to this sort of a liberal leftism. It's almost as if by holding that view, you yourself are an HR violation, by your very existence. And you are treated that way. And everything you do is scrutinized. So, you know, we ran a story in my newsletter, "Common sense" by the Levi's brand president.
Peter Robinson: Yes, I saw that, go ahead.
Bari Weiss: Had a career as an elite gymnast, very heroically wrote a book about the degradation of children in gymnastics, forced eating disorders and so on. Hailed as a hero, voted for Eliza supported, I don't know if she voted for, supported Elizabeth Warren probably did vote for her. Mother happens to be of two black children from her first marriage. Lifelong progressive, and yet, after more than 20 years at this company, she resigned. Why did she resign? Well, because, essentially, she was pushed out and she was pushed out because she had a view that didn't adhere to the leftist orthodoxy about school shutdowns. She thought from her position as an advocate for children's rights, that this was a horrible idea. And I think history is very quickly proving,
Peter Robinson: Correct.
Bari Weiss: that she is 100% right. And, you know, she basically, was told by the company, you can keep your job. You just have to pipe down. And she said, "But I don't understand. This is a company where I've been able to speak my mind about the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. This is a company where I've been able to speak out about, you know, gun control about gay rights, about all of these other things. And in the meantime, as I'm tweeting about COVID, all of my colleagues are tweeting about Trump. They're not getting in trouble, they're getting praised. So why is that?" It's the absolute and total double standard.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Right? And so that's really what I was trying to bring out is, in an ideology that is so sensitive to the smallest of microaggressions, how was it that I was called a racist and a Nazi or in a Slack channel with thousands of employees, including the masthead, little emojis of like knives were put next to my name. You know, someone asked about me, "Oh, she writing about the Jews again." Imagine that happening to any other group, right? And you have to ask yourself why. And this is the reason why. The reason why is because if you don't adhere to this, if you said, if you adhere to this set of ideas, almost everything is granted.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: If you don't, nothing is.
Peter Robinson: So, let's go back to this line. I do not understand this is you to A. G. Salzberger. "I do not understand how you've allowed this behavior to go on inside your company." Okay. Here, you have just been eloquent on the question of the ideology, but here, if I may, I wanna...
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Little cause and effect here. And that's the technology and the business implications. He's allowing this to go on inside his company, because I don't want to impute this to him, but it's plausible that he's responding to market pressures. In the old days of the old journalism business model, where a newspaper made money from classifieds, you know, the picture. And all the incentives there were to reach to the biggest audience you could and that meant you had to hold onto the center. It's gone, the internet has destroyed it. Advertising is out. Advertising is on Google. It's not on The New York Times website, except in a relatively minor way. Subscriptions are now the name of the game. It's the name of your new game, but it's the name of the game of The New York Times. And what that means is, you have to choose an audience and make them feel,
Bari Weiss: That's right,
Peter Robinson: such an affinity for your outlet, that they're willing to pay out of their own pocket, not right on advertisers, out of their own pocket. And that means The New York Times and the Washington Post and all kinds of other mainstream or legacy media operations have made decisions. They tend by and large to be decisions to go to the left. Service a very narrow audience, you have by contrast Fox News, there are other talk radio, Rush Limbaugh.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: But now we're a nation of media niches, and that's a component.
Bari Weiss: Huge component.
Peter Robinson: A huge, all right.
Bari Weiss: Huge component. What I would say is, the problem you're laying out really perfectly, which is a problem that has been termed audience capture, is true for me as an individual, as a small family business, individual proprietor on Substack, but it's equally true for, you know, it was true for Roger Ailes. I don't know who took over for Roger Ailes. It's true of A. G. Sulzberger. It's true of everyone running a media company now. Because exactly, as you said, it's not the advertisers you have to fear or please, it's your readers. The question is, is there a market? And I believe there is, a huge one, for an audience that wants to be told the truth, even when it's inconvenient to them. That's my bet, right? I see and feel myself when I read the things that I like to read that yeah, of course, there's an appetite for political heroine, which is what you're describing. We know what that looks like from Fox. We know what that looks like on MSNBC. But is there also an appetite for actually understanding the world as it actually is because that's how you make actual decisions about where to move, how to raise your family, what kids, where your kids should go to school, what to invest in. I mean, understanding reality is an enormously valuable thing. And that's sort of my long term bet.
Peter Robinson: By the way, you're gonna let me stick up for Fox? And no, I think I,
Bari Weiss: Do you have a contributorship?
Peter Robinson: No, I don't. But I feel the distinction they draw between their opinion and their news is valid. Their news it strikes me as pretty solid news organization. You gonna let me say that?
Bari Weiss: Oh, sure.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
Bari Weiss: But I'll say this. I think people at Fox equally The New York Times are kidding themselves about the audiences. I think audiences are extremely sophisticated, but I also think things are unclearly marked. There was a huge debate at the Times about, do we do opinion in a different font, bold. Because when you're reading, you just think they don't, you know, most people who aren't journalists, they're not paying attention to bylines. They're thinking I read it in The New York Times. It's endorsed by The New York Times. They're not thinking, oh, it's in Sunday review, which makes it different than in the foreign section.
Peter Robinson: I see, all right. Shift gears now, a little bit. Although so far, we're talking about, we're talking about doom and gloom and the,
Bari Weiss: No, I feel optimistic
Peter Robinson: in the republic. I know we'll come to the optimism, but first, a little more,
Bari Weiss: More doom?
Peter Robinson: More difficulty, more storm. Your 2019 book, "How to fight antisemitism". Again, you use this phrase. I want you to explain it a little bit more, as it applies to you personally. "I had spent much of my life on a holiday from history."
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: How did that apply to you?
Bari Weiss: Well, I wrote this book in the aftermath of the most lethal attack on Jews in American history. Which happened in 2018 October at the synagogue, Tree of Life, where I'd become a bat mitzvah.
Peter Robinson: Oh, really? Oh, I didn't realize, okay. Yes, I should have done that. That's correct.
Bari Weiss: So that attack, which on its surface, putting the weapon of choice aside looked like something that could have happened in 19th century Poland. Jews at worship getting killed by a neo-Nazi.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: It was really shocking that it had happened in America, which has been the best for experience for the Jews in history. But it was, especially, shocking that it happened in Squirrel Hill, which is where I was raised, which was literally Mr. Rogers neighborhood. He lived down the street from the synagogue. In other words, I was raised in a Jewish community that was unbelievably secure, unbelievably safe, unbelievably tolerant by surrounding communities. And I was raised equally, I would say it's like of faith almost as strong as my Judaism on Americanism.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: On the notion that, you know, someone who believed that, you know, Jews are a nefarious force or Jews are subhuman, and therefore I need to go and murder 11 of them. That, that was sort of a vestige of uglier times and places. And from the old world, not this one. And so it's not to say that, you know, antisemitic things didn't happen to me, it's just that when they did, you know, I remember waiting for the school bus to take me and my sister to Jewish day school. And this Catholic school bus drove by and they called us kikes. And I had to ask my dad what that was, you know? And there was a really strong sense in my family, but in the broader community that like, that didn't threaten my place here.
Peter Robinson: That was the anomaly rather than the norm?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, and it was an embarrassing thing for the people.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Bari Weiss: Not for me, I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was fully American in my Jewish self.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: And I think the thing that began to change with Pittsburgh was a sense of, you know, is that true anymore? If the guardrails that sort of keep bigotry at bay are dismantled. You know, who's to say that, that doesn't become more normative.
Peter Robinson: Your essay of last September, quote, "It is not by chance that the ideas and institutions of the old order," I'm excuse me, of the old order, I'm inserting this here, which you've already discussed based on individual liberty. The old notion of America. "...nurtured me in millions of other American Jews. As the scholar Dara Horn has noted," Now you're quoting Dara horn quote, "Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived. Jews have represented the prospect of freedom." "As long as Jews existed, there was evidence that it wasn't necessary to believe what everyone else believed." Just...
Bari Weiss: I get chills every time I hear that.
Peter Robinson: Explain that the connection between the Jewish experience and freedom.
Bari Weiss: Well, it's the reason that you there's...
Peter Robinson: There's a necessary, there's a necessity of the... Sorry, go ahead.
Bari Weiss: There is, because Jews by our very existence are proof that difference is not only possible, but can be an incredibly positive thing, not just for us, but for the surrounding civilization and, you know, the late great rabbi... Lord, he has a million titles. Jonathan Sachs,
Peter Robinson: John Sachs.
Bari Weiss: talked a lot about the dignity of difference. And I think that it's not, yeah exactly, she says, it's not by chance that Jews have thrived in a country where difference was not seen as a threat, you know, and you can hear that in a right wing way. You know, the idea of pure and impure Americans or White and non-White America. Or you could hear it from the illiberal leftist way of, you know, that difference is somehow threatening because it means that there'll be disparity of outcome, right? So it's...
Peter Robinson: If there's a connection between the Jewish experience and freedom, is there a connection, is it a necessary connection between the new wokeness and antisemitism?
Bari Weiss: Yes, for 100 different reasons that I could get into. One of the ways, there's a few things I could say.
Peter Robinson: Choose any two.
Bari Weiss: Well, one of the strange things about what's happening right now, right? And this is one of the things that's confusing to people about antisemitism, because it can function as racism, right? As you're not allowed in this neighborhood, you're quote as in the Ivy league. You're not allowed in this country club, but it also can function in the very same moment as you think you're better than us. It punches up and it punches down and it punches to the side. In other words, antisemitism functions as a conspiracy theory, right? It says that, you know, it basically, points to the Jew as the scapegoat for whatever's wrong in a given society. That's how, and then I'll get to the wokeness. That's how under communism, right? We're the arch capitalist, because that's the worst thing.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Under communism, but how under Nazism we're the race contaminators. How does that function right now in America?
Peter Robinson: Hold on, I just wanna make sure I've got that. So, I'm thinking of the old, I'm thinking of Hitler, I'm sorry to say, because I'd like to think of him as little as possible. But the notion that the Jews are beneath contempt, they're subhuman. And at the same time, they're running a whole...
Bari Weiss: Exactly.
Peter Robinson: At the same time, they're running every bank.
Bari Weiss: Exactly.
Peter Robinson: It makes no sense. Nothing about antisemitism does make sense, but that's what you mean by punching down and punching up.
Bari Weiss: Exactly. All right, you said it better than me.
Peter Robinson: No.
Bari Weiss: And so, when you understand that this conspiracy, which targets the Jews, but, actually, kills, and this is really important for people to understand, whatever society where it's allowed to thrive.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Any society where anti-Semitism thrives, is a society that's dead or dying. So, Jews are the proximate victim, but they are not the ultimate victim. The ultimate victim is everyone. So what do you have right now in America? You have a far right that's says, you know, you are sort of fake White people. You look like you're White, because most American Jews are of Ashkenazi descent. Unlike in Israel, where the majority of our Mizrahi North African, Middle Eastern descent, you pass as White, but in fact, you're loyal to the people we think are selling real American, Black people, Brown people, Muslims. The reason that Robert Bowers, that neo-Nazi chose Tree of Life as his synagogue, as the target was because the previous week, the previous Sabbath, it had participated in refugee Shabbat. Holding up the idea that because Jews were strangers in the land of Egypt, we can never oppress a stranger.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: At the very same time what the far left is saying about us is, hold on, you say you're a minority, but look at the amount of power you've accrued. Look at the amount of success that you've had. You benefit from White supremacy because you're adjacent to it. And because in a way you are upholding it. And so, we become guilty of the gravest sin of the left, which is racism or White supremacy. And then they say, you're also guilty of another sin, which is that you're loyal to what they view. Totally ahistorically and wrongly, as the last standing bastion of White colonialism in the Middle East, which is Israel.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: So we are like being turned into neo-Nazis, just as we are being targeted by neo-Nazis, if that makes sense.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: And because, I'll say one last thing.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Bari Weiss: Because wokeness flattens everything and, basically, divides us all up into oppressed or oppressor, White and Black, you know, basically, constrains us to the lane of our birth in any number of ways. Jews do not fit into those contemporary boxes. We are not, we are an ethnicity, but we're not an ethnicity. We are a race, but we're not a race. We've had incredible success in this country. But in the 20th century, we've also lived through not just the 20th century, 2000 years, of being a group that has suffered unspeakable oppressions and horrors. So what are we? Where do we fit? We don't fit into the boxes that this ideology is forcing upon all of us because we predate those categories themselves. And I think that's another way that it is sort of dangerous for Jews because it white washes our history, it white washes our identity. It forces us to sort of check parts of ourself at the door to be admitted to the sort of community of the righteous.
Peter Robinson: Let's take a moment to look at a 90 second nothing,
Bari Weiss: Okay.
Peter Robinson: that got turned into a something.
Whoopi Goldberg: Then let's be truthful about it because the Holocaust isn't about race.
Joy Behar: No.
Whoopi Goldberg: No, it's not about race.
Ana Navarro: But it's about White supremacy.
Whoopi Goldberg: But these are two White groups of people. But you're missing the point. You're missing the point. The minute you turn it into race, it goes down this alley. Let's talk about it for what it is. It's how people treat each other.
Peter Robinson: So that's Whoopi Goldberg on The View, January 31st. The host discussed a Tennessee school board decision to drop a graphic novel, "The Holocaust Mouse" citing objectionable language. And then we have this discussion. Lots of objections. This 90 seconds, lots of objections. Here's one, Jonathan Greenblat of the Anti-Defamation league quote, "The Holocaust was about the Nazi systematic annihilation of the Jewish people, whom they deemed to be an inferior race." Race, it was about race. And then Whoopi Goldberg in a matter of hours, issues an apology. "I said the Holocaust is not about race, but about man's humanity to man, I should have said it is about both. The Jewish people have always had my support and that will never waver. I'm sorry for the hurt that I caused." Closed quote. Not withstanding her apology, ABC suspense her for two weeks.
Bari Weiss: She also went on Colbert that night and dug in.
Peter Robinson: Oh, she did. Oh, that I didn't, I wasn't aware of.
Bari Weiss: She did.
Peter Robinson: That I wasn't aware. Oh, so you were paying attention to this?
Bari Weiss: Closely, yes.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so....
Bari Weiss: Because I'm always been a huge fan of Whoopi Goldberg, I love Sister Act.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
Bari Weiss: And I think she's great.
Peter Robinson: I'll tell you what I think.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: The way it struck me was, whoa, the reaction is out of proportion. She got carried away. She said it wasn't about race, that was wrong. And also, it's also always wrong to indicate or to suggest in any way that the Holocaust is not singular. Nothing like it has happened in all of human history. But, if they judged her antisemitic, you don't dismiss somebody for two weeks. And if they accepted her apology, she shouldn't have been dismissed. Nothing, none of the reaction seemed to me out of proportion. I may have been, I'm happy to be schooled by you.
Bari Weiss: No.
Peter Robinson: So what did you make of it all? It was a nothing, but it seemed to say something. One of the things that I thought this did indicate.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: You are the expert, I am the layman.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: Really and truly.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Is the mercilessness of the progressive woke world. Jews have Yom Kippur, Catholics have confession.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: But if you make a woke, if you commit a woke a sin against wokeness, you have nowhere to go. There's no way to say...
Bari Weiss: You can't redeem yourself.
Peter Robinson: You can't redeem yourself. There's no one to go to be for... It did strike me that there's something raw and ruthless and merciless about it all.
Bari Weiss: Okay, I think there's a few things to be said.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Bari Weiss: The first is that, what will be Goldberg said, which was, essentially, that the Holocaust was White on White crime. It was White people fighting each other. That's just totally ahistorical. It really...
Peter Robinson: She just didn't know what she was talking about.
Bari Weiss: But it really connects to what I was saying before, about this ideology that we're calling woke. We could call it a million things, that flattens people. That puts the, it makes the Jews into White people.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: That makes the Jews into White colonialists, that don't have an indigenous connection to the land of Israel. That makes us into sort of part of the category of the oppressed.
Peter Robinson: Slightly exotic Episcopalian, essentially.
Bari Weiss: Right, now does Whoopi Goldberg have that in mind is she's saying it? Does she, you know, hey, Jews and... No, of course not, but it's an important instance I think of the way that this ideology is getting expressed in the world, right? I heard a crazy anecdote the other day from someone who was in an elite liberal arts school. Who was in a class about the Holocaust and someone, seriously, described Elie Wiesel as having privilege because he was a cisgendered man in the Holocaust in Auschwitz. So, again, it's about taking these really newfangled, contemporary ideas and plugging them into history in a way that absolutely makes no sense at all.
Peter Robinson: Makes sense.
Bari Weiss: And makes you sound, makes you sound ignorant.
Peter Robinson: Ignorant.
Bari Weiss: As for the mercilessness. I mean, this is something I've been thinking about tremendous amount. It's what I'm very passionate about it and very moved by it because I think one of the things that's foundational to liberalism, broadly defined, is the idea that we can make amends. The idea that we can reinvent ourselves. The idea that we're not held hostage by the worst mistake we've ever said or did.
Bari Weiss: This is a country of second acts. That's really part of what, of the old fashioned classical liberal outlook.
Bari Weiss: And I really believe that. Now, what do you do with that outlook, when all of a sudden you are living not even with, more and more inside a technology in which everything you've ever uttered, is captured forever. I'll tell you what happens. You start to hear seventh and sixth and fifth graders who sound sort of like the stazi snitching on their friends. And you also hear of kids, literally, as I'm talking seriously. Like I hear from these kids who talk to me about self-censoring, even from the age of middle school. Middle school. Because they see that someone's song that they sang along to in a 5-second TikTok video gets them stripped of their college admissions. And by the way,
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: it doesn't even necessarily need to be you who did the bad thing. You could just be in proximity to the person that did the bad thing and get punished or ruined forever. In a picture with someone who said something bad once. We do not yet have the tools to sort of figure out how to adapt the ideas that have made this country sort of the most civilized tolerant, liberal, that I think the world has ever known with a technology that is sort of maybe undermining what it means to be human. We don't have, we haven't updated our software, let's say, politically. We haven't updated our software socially or culturally. That's one of the things that I think I'm trying to like write into and think into.
Peter Robinson: All right, optimistic ground. Institutions.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Although even as we go through this optimistic ground, one of the underlying questions I have here, is the extent to which Bari says, this institution can be reformed and recaptured, or it can't, and we have to build our own new institutions.
Bari Weiss: And the second thing.
Peter Robinson: Oh, you're just gonna make that as a blanket statement.
Bari Weiss: I mean, I wanna give you interesting, conversational, not blanket, but often, yes. Increasingly so.
Peter Robinson: Is Common Sense a new newspaper? What are you inventing?
Bari Weiss: I think I'm inventing...
Peter Robinson: For sure it works. How old is it?
Bari Weiss: A year.
Peter Robinson: Is it a full year? I was gonna a say it's still months.
Bari Weiss: A year.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so let's...
Bari Weiss: The podcast is like less than a year.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so congratulations.
Bari Weiss: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: On a year of Common Sense. And what do you have there?
Bari Weiss: I think, I have...
Peter Robinson: First of all, could I just be crass?
Bari Weiss: Sure.
Peter Robinson: Does this make money?
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: It does.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Okay. So you and I know...
Bari Weiss: We're hiring people like crazy.
Peter Robinson: But you're still making your father slave for you for free, I understand. He does a lot of edit. Okay, so you have...
Bari Weiss: He likes writing headlines. He's a great headline writer actually.
Peter Robinson: Oh, you he really is working.
Bari Weiss: He's a great headline writer.
Peter Robinson: Okay. So what is this? This is a new business model.
Bari Weiss: I think its what a modern newspaper looks like. I think it's what a modern media company looks like. And as for what I'm trying to build, it's not a newsletter or podcast, it's a media company based on the idea and the bet that actually most people don't wanna have a choice between what they're seeing on Fox late at night and what they're seeing on MSNBC. Most people are the sort of what I think of as the exhausted self-silencing majority. Who don't see themselves reflected in either political extreme. Who think that the old categories of Republican and Democrat and what those platforms are, don't really represent them. Who want to know about the world. Who are curious. Who wanna better life for them and their kids and who don't want politics to subsume their whole life.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so let's keep going.
Bari Weiss: That's my audience.
Peter Robinson: Let's keep going on journalism for a minute or two. The revenue source is subscriptions overwhelmingly, correct? You don't have advertising.
Bari Weiss: I have ads on the podcast at least now.
Peter Robinson: On the podcast. Okay, so podcasts separate. If you don't mind, I actually wanna treat that as separate.
Bari Weiss: Sure.
Peter Robinson: Because in my mind it's a separate set of questions. So it's subscriptions. Do you, I think of, and when I, when I go to it, this is what I read and it is for sure what I see going viral on Twitter and so forth and that's essays as I won't even say opinion really because it's essay, there's a lot of stuff in which people are talking about writing about their own experience. It's not oped in the way, Brett Stevens or you... Brett Stevens does it today, or you did it yourself at The New York Times. It's kind of experience. But it's not investigative, it's not reporting. Are you planning to do that?
Bari Weiss: There actually...
Peter Robinson: Do you do some of it now?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, I mean, I would say...
Peter Robinson: Because that is expensive, isn't it? Investigative work?
Bari Weiss: I mean, if you look at our huge piece of about Hollywood that interviewed probably 30 writers, producers, directors, top Hollywood people, I think it was called "Hollywood's New Rules".
Peter Robinson: Your dad probably wrote the headline.
Bari Weiss: No, I wrote that one.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
Bari Weiss: If you look at our series on this sort of ideological takeover of medicine by Katie Herzog.
Peter Robinson: I did see that, yeah sorry.
Bari Weiss: That's serious investigative journalism that, you know, The New York Times and others were forced to follow. If you look at Abigail Schreyer's story about that it was about two trans doctors, themselves transgender women, blowing the whistle on trans care for children. That was a story that The Economist had to follow our reporting. We're reporting constantly. Now, it doesn't look like a newspaper in the sense of, I mean, my sister's recent story about the revenge of the COVID moms. The people that I believe are gonna sway the 2022 election. We have a huge story coming up about what's happening in the realm of the law. I mean, there's tons of reporting we do. It just doesn't look like a newspaper where one section is news and the next section's opinion. And by the way, those categories are collapsing themselves, even inside the old institutions. So the question about, you know, can I set up a news... Can I set up an old-fashioned newspaper, in which I have foreign bureaus all over the world? The security to support them, the legal staff to make sure we don't get sued out the nose, of course not. I can't do that right away. Can I do that over time? Maybe.
Peter Robinson: Do you want to?
Bari Weiss: Well, what I wanna build is, I at the very...
Peter Robinson: You just described a boring old legacy thing.
Bari Weiss: No, but I think it's, it won't look like it used to look, but what I'm thinking of is this. You know, ask yourself, why does Joe Rogan get 10 or 11 million downloads an episode? And CNN gets about you'll tell me, half a million viewers in a good night? Why is that? And the reason is, that inside the old institutions, the band of what you were allowed to be curious about has shrunk to just about that. That leaves the entire rest of the world. And those are the kind of stories that I'm beginning by pursuing. and that's something that I have found an audience that is unbelievably hungry for it.
Peter Robinson: Fantastic. Okay, so listen, you raised Joe Rogan, and this brings me to podcasts. Your podcast is called Honestly, it's weekly. What itch does the podcast scratch that Common Sense doesn't?
Bari Weiss: You think it's, well, I don't know. You've listened probably and viewed both. I'm curious how you see it as different.
Peter Robinson: I know that they're two different things.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: And I look at my children to see the way they use them.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: They're very heavily into the podcast. Very heavy on hearing things. When they're in the car. When they're working out.
Bari Weiss: Yeah, it's younger.
Peter Robinson: Yes. It's generational this of course. Now, we're on territory that I'd really just like to avoid if possible. If you could be very polite and gentle as you discuss this generational stuff
Bari Weiss: I think it's two things. I think, you know, Common Sense is really trying to be on the news cycle and drive the news. I think the podcast sometimes does that. I love when it does that. And I think there are a few episodes that come to mind, where I think we did that tremendously well, But they're meant to be. And I think the form suits this, deeper kind of more searching conversations.
Peter Robinson: It's conversational.
Bari Weiss: It's conversational.
Peter Robinson: It's relaxed, we're talking.
Bari Weiss: Yeah, I think the other aspect of it is younger. Younger people like those when I meet podcast listeners in the street.
Peter Robinson: You keep going on in this vein and this whole sentence is gonna get edited right out.
Bari Weiss: Chop all of it.
Peter Robinson: No, no, but go ahead finish.
Bari Weiss: Conversational, younger, and I think, you know, that just makes sense for who's listening to podcasts.
Peter Robinson: University of Austin. This brings us right up, hard up against, this question of...
Bari Weiss: New things.
Peter Robinson: New things, as opposed to reforming the old ones. I had a con... Speaking of generational, this is a conversation that I had once with Bill Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr. And he had just come from a dinner at which he had seated, found himself seated next to George H. W. Bush. And Bill Buckley had raised some issues about Yale. And George Bush had said, I'm sorry, Bill. I'm just sort of Yaled out. And Bill was astounded by this, because by Bill's understanding of the rules of American citizenship, giving up on Yale was forbidden. You didn't do that. And so, if those rules applied to you, you wouldn't be monkeying around with Joe Lonsdale's thing down in Austin. You'd be trying to reform Columbia. You'd be trying to save this great institution up in Morningside Heights with McKim meet art, that is not going to be matched by anything Joe does in anybody's lifetime.
Bari Weiss: I don't believe that.
Peter Robinson: All right, why not?
Bari Weiss: Well, first of all, all of those places that you named began as scrappy startups, by people that were angry about the status quo. That's one thing that I think people don't remember is the things that we take for granted as being institutions or publications that have been around forever. You're kidding me. This country's unbelievably young. All those things are relatively new.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: Everything great gets built by people that are dissatisfied with the options that they see around them. Go find a parent, who is center left even, and sees what's going on in these schools that have these magnificent endowments in the buildings you just mentioned and incredible faculty and ask them, do you want your kid to go there? Ask them that. Ask them if they're panicked and they are begging and hoping that their child gets into the University of Chicago, because they see it as sort of like the last great hope. That's not a good state of affairs. Despite the fact that we have something like 4,000 colleges and universities in country.
Peter Robinson: Yes, we have a lot.
Bari Weiss: We have a lot. So, what would it look like for us to offer something, A, that actually fulfilled those soaring mottos that the other schools have, but do not still live up to by any stretch of the imagination? I could go into all of the numbers, but you already know them. And what would it look like to offer kids an incredible education that, A, wouldn't put them in the kind of debt that these schools do? And B, would actually a offer them a pathway to real, exciting work in companies that are transforming the country. To me, that seems like a really, really thing that seems like something really worth trying.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so can you, now I can't remember. It's the University of Austin.
Bari Weiss: Austin.
Peter Robinson: University of Austin, right? Okay, as opposed to at the University of Texas, at Austin. This is the University of Austin. Sorry, but can you just...
Bari Weiss: I wanted to just call it old school, for what it's worth. Isn't that a great name?
Peter Robinson: I think that actually is a great name. I think that actually is a great name. Did you get that from your dad?
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: You did?
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: It is great.
Bari Weiss: He had a list of a million ideas, but I liked old school the best.
Peter Robinson: Okay. When this is done, could you just bring him in?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, totally.
Peter Robinson: I'll do an hour with him.
Bari Weiss: He's way more interesting than me.
Peter Robinson: So, where do things stand? What is the promise of the University of Austin right now?
Bari Weiss: It's pretty unbelievable.
Peter Robinson: Announced about four year, four months ago, five months ago?
Bari Weiss: Three months ago,.
Peter Robinson: Three months ago, okay.
Bari Weiss: Three months ago.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Bari Weiss: With an essay that Pano Kanelos.
Peter Robinson: People who are hearing about it for the first time, give us a brief.
Bari Weiss: Hey guys, there's a new university. It's gonna exist in Austin, which is increasingly a hub for technologists and the country's great doers.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: And it's going to combine, you know, the skills and expertise and connections of those people with some of the country's most incredible teachers. Some of whom are pedigreed in the typical way. Like Neil Ferguson, some of whom are not. Like Dave Mamet, who's gonna be teaching a writing course this summer.
Peter Robinson: This university is up and running as early as this coming summer?
Bari Weiss: There's going to be a summer school this summer for a few weeks, which I...
Peter Robinson: He may be Dave to you, but David Mamet. Sorry, David Mamet one of the greatest...
Bari Weiss: He's Dave to me.
Peter Robinson: I think on anybody's shortlist of the half dozen greatest living playwrights
Bari Weiss: He's incredible.
Peter Robinson: in the English language, all right.
Bari Weiss: He's incredible.
Peter Robinson: Mr. Mamet to me, but go ahead.
Bari Weiss: Yeah, so where are we? We've far exceeded our fundraising goals. I think school has raised, I don't wanna be wrong about the number, but north of $80 million already in under three months. And remember, this is a school with no alumni.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bari Weiss: We've had applications from more than 3,500. I know I'm really underselling that number. Academics who are saying, save me. I hate where I am or I'm dissatisfied with where I am.
Peter Robinson: I hadn't thought about that. Of course, that's right.
Bari Weiss: Some of the people that are gonna be teaching this summer are people who in a normal universe would be remain as star teachers and professors at their schools. People like Peter Boghossian, pushed out of Portland State University. People like Kathleen Stock, pushed out of the University of Sussex, lesbian professor for suggesting that there are such things as differences between men and women. That there are such things as men and women. I could go on and on and on. Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be teaching, incredible people. Exactly the kind of people that you would want your a young person, a young, curious young person in your life to be surrounded by. So, you know, what are we, we're a school that wants to build actual human beings. Not zombies, not people that are political, you know, robots, but people that think for themselves.
Peter Robinson: All right, moving toward the last questions here. Let me name one institution that's old, that's a legacy institution, but that I'm not at all sure I'm just not sure what you wanna do with it. And that is the Constitution of the United States.
Bari Weiss: What do I wanna do with it?
Peter Robinson: Ye well, no, but so, so The New York Times, I'll start Common Sense. Radio, I'll start Honestly. Columbia university who needs it? University of Austin. What about the election midterm election in 2022? What about presidential politics? Is this of no interest to you? Do you wish it would all just go away? Do you wanna found your own new political part? We have this legacy.
Bari Weiss: I think I'm pretty stretched thin between the new media company, supporting the new university. We left out the new ACLU, which is FAIR. The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism that I helped co-found that I'm enormously involved in. I mean, I'm trying my best. Other people have gotta pick up the slack in other places, I'm gonna leave it to Andrew Yang to like start the new third party. You know, I've never been...
Peter Robinson: But you are totally disenchanted with both parties. Is that true?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, I would say so, but that's been true for a while and I think that's true of most people.
Peter Robinson: All right, here's the last question. I just got my, because we're you and I both live in California. So it takes a while to get hard copies of magazines,
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: that are published back in New York. So I just got my copy of the most recent issue of Commentary.
Bari Weiss: Yes.
Peter Robinson: And Abe Greenwald has a cover story. And the headline is, "Yes, There Is a Counter-Revolution". The woke takeover has achieved a great deal, but it is being challenged to great effect. I haven't read it yet either, but I got as far as the cover.
Bari Weiss: Okay.
Peter Robinson: Just arrived, and so I thought, oh, well, this is interesting because all my friends at Commentary have been nashing their teeth, like all of us, and Abe Greenwald says, wait a minute, wait a minute. There are shots of the counter revolution being fired. There's optimism. How, what about it? What about it?
Bari Weiss: The woke revolution has very, very, very far yet to go.
Peter Robinson: This is not a spent force?
Bari Weiss: Not at all, but Abe is totally right. And this is where my optimism lies, which is, you know, this America is really possible to build new things here. My ancestors came here and built lives from nothing. So did yours, I'm sure, at whatever date. And that is the story of America, is building a new. And, you know, I view that as deeply in tune. I mean, think of you've mentioned the Constitution, think about the founders themselves. I mean, that is what this country is all about. Rebuilding and reinvention. I think that if the woke counter revolution is simply anti-woke and simply exists in opposition to whatever this forces that we keep calling wokeness it might be remembered as something deeper than that. That will be sad. And that will be limited. But if the counter revolution is, actually, about like revisiting sort of the first principles that we got to earlier in this conversation and asking ourselves, what is a good democracy? What does it mean to live a good life? What does it mean to have a newspaper you can trust? What does that look like? What does it mean to have a university, where you'd be proud to send your children? You know, what does it mean to live a good life? Like things that actually go back to those first principles and answer those questions in a satisfying way, if the woke counter revolution could do that, that's incredible. And that's something I wanna be a part of.
Peter Robinson: Bari Weiss of the Substack journal, Common Sense, and the podcast, Honestly, and of the University of Austin and of FAR.
Bari Weiss: FAIR, you're gonna love it.
Peter Robinson: Stands for...
Bari Weiss: The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Check it out.
Peter Robinson: Bari Weiss of incandescent and admirable ambition. Thank you. For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.
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