On Friday, former Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens wrote his first column for the New York Times. And boy, did it cause a fuss.
The column, headlined “Climate of Complete Certainty,” politely pushed back on the idea that the narrative of climate change is settled science. Stephens, referencing an article penned by Times writer Andrew Revkin, noted that while the science of climate change is generally sound and scrupulous, those who claim its authority often are not.
Stephens argued that a prudent skepticism of apocalyptic global warming was in the spirit of traditional scientific inquiry.
“Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.
None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism.”
This was too much for some, and I’m not talking about the flood of readers who canceled their subscriptions because the Times offered a nonbeliever a platform for heresy.
Staff writers for respected media organizations took to Twitter to excoriate Stephens and the Times for blasphemy.
Libby Watson, a staff writer at Gizmodo, responded to Stephens' tweet that “After 20 months of being harangued by bullying Trump supporters, I'm reminded that the nasty left is no different. Perhaps worse.”
Here is how Watson responded:
“bret if you think that tweet was ‘nasty’ i have some news for you: you're a shithead. a crybaby lil fuckin weenie. a massive twat too”
Her tweet was liked 2,659 times and retweeted 185 times as of Monday afternoon.
One of those who retweeted Watson was Eve Peyser, a staff writer at Vice who covers politics. She also responded to the Times’ introduction of Stephens with two words: “f*ck off.”
By Monday, many people apparently were calling on Gizmodo and Vice to fire Watson and Peyser. Several journalists questioned the venomous reactions.
Peyser seemed genuinely confused that people, particularly other media, couldn’t grasp the fact that Stephens was “a giant racist.”
We’ve noted before that social justice seems to have mutated into a new form of religious fundamentalism. Advocates of this new religious school seem to have little tolerance for nonbelievers, which has resulted in a breakdown of civil discourse on college campuses.
But Peyser and Watson are no longer on a college campus. They are in the adult world representing major media companies, and this type of behavior … well, it doesn’t look good.
Both writers demonstrated poor judgment and atrocious manners. Their lack of professionalism is astounding, a fact to which they seem utterly and honestly clueless.
We live in a divisive society, but that is not an excuse to abandon civility. Quite the contrary, it demands a greater emphasis on, and attention to, respectful discourse.
What can be done?
I would not like to see two young writers fired over a few careless tweets, but Gizmodo and Vice should demand more from their writers. Watson in particular should be asked to apologize to Stephens (and if she refuses, then I believe she should be fired).
If media companies tolerate this type of hateful rhetoric from their own staff writers, they are complicit in the devolution of civility that results from it.
A sign of education and maturity is to be able to discuss ideas, even controversial ones, in a calm and respectful manner. That's a lesson I'm afraid students today are not receiving. If this is true, our academic institutions are failing them.