Bari Weiss teaches CNN's Brian Stelter a lesson to remember: The world has gone mad, and it's largely the fault of outlets like CNN.


When Bari Weiss describes the kind of madness that we have all witnessed, Brian Stelter pretends as if he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Such gaslighting is of course a big part of the problem.

BRIAN STELTER: You write, "There are tens of millions of Americans who aren't on the hard left or the hard right, who feel the world has gone mad." So, in what ways has the world gone mad?

BARI WEISS, AUTHOR AND FOUNDER, COMMON SENSE: Well, you know, when you have the chief reporter on the beat of COVID for "The New York Times" talking about how questioning or pursuing the question of the lab leak is racist, the world has gone mad.

When you're not able to say out loud and in public that there are differences between men and women, the world has gone mad.

When we're not allowed to acknowledge that rioting is rioting, and it is bad, and that silence is not violence, but violence is violence, the world has gone mad.

When we're not able to say that Hunter Biden's laptop is a story worth pursuing, the world has gone mad. When in the name of progress, young school children, as young as kindergarten, are being separated in public schools because of their race, and that is called progress rather than segregation, the world has gone mad.

There are dozens of examples that I could share with you and within your --

STELTER: And you often say "we're not allowed -- we're not able," who's the people stopping the conversation? Who are they?

WEISS: People that work at networks, frankly, like the one I'm speaking on right now who try and claim that you know, it was -- it was racist to investigate the lab leak theory. It was, I mean, let's just pick an example.

STELTER: But who said that on CNN? But I'm just saying though when you say allowed, I just think it's a provocative thing you say -- you say -- you say we're not allowed to talk about these things. But they're all over the internet --

I can Google them and I can find them everywhere. I've heard about every story you mentioned. So, I'm just suggesting, of course, people are allowed to cover whatever they want to cover.

WEISS: But you and I both know, and it would be delusional to claim otherwise that touching your finger to an increasing number of subjects that have been deemed the third rail by the mainstream institutions, and increasingly by some of the tech companies will lead to reputational damage, perhaps you losing your job, your children, sometimes being demonized as well. And so, what happens is a kind of internal self-censorship.

This is something that I saw over and over again when I was at the New York Times. People saying to themselves, you know what, why should I die on that hill? Why should I take the three or four weeks that it takes to smuggle through an op-ed that doesn't suit the conventional narrative?

I might, as well, commission the 5,000th op-ed saying that Donald Trump is a moral monster. What's going on is the transformation of these sense-making institutions of American life. It's the news media, it's the publishing house, it is the Hollywood studios, it's our universities, and they are narrowing in a radical way, what's acceptable to say, and what isn't.

And you and I both know, there doesn't need to be an edict from the C suite in order for people to feel that. All they need is to watch an example. Let me give you one example.

Dorian Abbott is a geophysicist at the University of Chicago. He is absolutely brilliant. And he was slated to give the Carlson lecture at MIT, it's an incredibly prestigious public lecture. But he was canceled from that lecture because of a Twitter mob.

And what was his sin? Well, he argued that people should be hired on the basis of their merit, and their individual, you know, in their individuality not based on their identity as a group. That was his thought-crime. And for that, MIT, one of the most important research universities in the world caved in a matter of eight days.

Now, you can say to me, oh, that's cherry-picking, oh, that's a one- off. What are the downstream effects of an example like that?

Every other scientist, every other academic who's watching that is saying, wait, hold on, if he's been canceled for that, what does that mean for me? I might as well shut up. I might as well practice doublethink in the freest society in the history of the world.

That is one of the great stories of our time, and that is the story that's been uncovered largely, not because of disinformation or not because they're lying about it, simply because they're ignoring it. It's disinformation by omission. That's what's happening in too much of the mainstream.

STELTER: So, people know not to touch the stove? Do you think people are learning not to touch the stove -- and thus, the narrowing of the worldview is happening. So look, this is why I'm a subscriber to "Common Sense." I think that these subjects are really, really important and we need to talk about them openly on TV and address what's happened.

The idea that cancel culture is, you know, is happening but as minor. Has been a narrative out there in recent weeks?

I'm sure you've read some of these stories saying, yes, OK, yes there are a few examples of people being so-called canceled, but it is not a emergency -- not a massive situation. You are making the argument that because of self-censorship, cancel-culture is pervasive. Is that a fair assessment?

WEISS: Yes, I would say it's extraordinarily pervasive. And what I'm saying, and what I find so interesting is that you don't need a strong man, and you don't need an edict from the top in order for this to be felt in a very, very, very pervasive way.

All you need is a few of these very potent examples. And then what you need is cowardice at the top of a lot of these organizations. You need people who are unwilling to say no, to the small minority of ideological zealots who believe in this, who want to negotiate with it, for whatever reason.

And as we have learned from the Trump administration, institutions are just people -- institutions are just people.

And so, if an institution, whose job it is to uphold, let's say, liberalism, broadly defined, decides not to do that anymore, why should it be a surprise then that that institution becomes illiberal? We've just watched what happens in that sense. So yes, I mean, that's what I would say about that.

STELTER: Your point about the leadership is really vital here. When there is a crowd on Twitter or some other social media site, complaining, you know, saying, you've offended me, you've hurt me, you've been racist, you've been sexist, you've been whatever it is, and then that Twitter mob can sound really loud and really powerful. It's actually still a small number of people -- but we do see companies sometimes -- cave to what sounds like a huge crowd, that's actually pretty small. And that is a story that's happened over and over again, and it sounds like you're trying to push back against that.

WEISS: I'm definitely trying to push back against that. And one of my ways of pushing back against that is simply starting another party. I mean, meaning, you can stay in the room and try and you know, scream as loud as you -- as is this possible every single time it happens, or you could say, you know what, I'm going to be my own boss, I'm not going to worry about, you know, angering a tiny group of people on Twitter and then being subject to, you know, a masthead or a boss that doesn't have the spine to stand up to it.

STELTER: So, we need institutional reform. Meantime, we have this alternative media that's flourishing your publication and others.

I've seen it reported that you're making a lot more money than he ever did in "New York Times," but the -- you're reinvesting that money into paying writers to read articles and news reports and opinion pieces.

So, that -- is that the business model, you're going to create a new opinion section or a new newspaper, through subscriptions via Substack?

WEISS: Yes. So, I mean, I've made a lot more money than I ever thought was possible in journalism, but I'm making less because I've hired now for about to be five people. So, I'm reinvesting all of it because I really, really, really believe in this model.

And it's, you know, it's proving itself -- it's proving itself because of the fact that 100,000 people have signed up for this newsletter, and there's no paywall, yet, it's all totally free content.

But the point is, is that, oftentimes, I'm just saying the thing that a lot of people believe and are curious about. That's the business model.

The business model is, let's note the fact that there is a chasm right now between what people are willing to say in their kitchen tables, in the comfort and the trust of their most loved ones, their family, and then what they're willing to say on Twitter.

Oftentimes, it's literally two different personas, or at least that's what I found. I'm trying to say, no, let's have those private conversations in public.

The only way that the culture changes is if we have the courage and the bravery to do that and to show people that you can do it and you can survive and not just survive, you can thrive.

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