Bret Stephens in the toaster

March 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

For a while, NYT columnist Bret Stephens has had, as the saying goes, “One foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave.” The banana peel is his columns, which are not only semi-conservative in politics, but also against the policies of the paper itself. (For example, Stephens wrote a column criticizing Dean Baquet’s views on the n-word, with Baquet arguing that uttering the word in any circumstance was a grave journalistic misstep, and “intent didn’t matter”.  Stephens’s column got spiked and then was published in The New York Post.) At the time I wrote that Stephens was “bucking for a pink slip” from his newspaper. The pink slip (or a resignation) is the grave.

That pink slip is closer to arrival now that Stephens has published another contrarian column in his paper.  In this case he will anger his editors in three ways:

a. Stephens calls out the ideological bias of casting the Atlanta spa murders as Asian “hate crimes,” saying that there’s no evidence for that. While that’s true, and while federal prosecutors have so far seen no evidence for a “hate” charge, this doesn’t matter. All the protestors seem to already know the motive. It’s a sign of the times that saying we need more evidence for such a motivation, especially when there is none, is regarded as a racist view.

b. Stephens goes against the way his own paper, as well as others, have reported on the crime, emphasizing over and over again its roots in hatred of Asians. While this is likely true for other attacks on Asians, it may well not be true for the mass shooting in Atlanta. As Andrew Sullivan wrote of the NYT last Friday,

Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny.

I believe the count is now closer to a dozen. Stephens, of course, won’t mention this, as they’d either spike the column or make him leave that out.

c. Stephens notes that many (I estimate at least half, though the media tends to hide this fact) of the recent assaults on Asians were done by people of color, mostly African-Americans (see some data below). This goes against the Critical Race Theory view that now dominates the New York Times.

How long will Stephens be allowed to stay on? (I suspect he’s already a pariah in the newsroom.) And will he move to Substack, the refuge for journalists expelled by the Woke? We shall see. It would be odd of the paper didn’t have any  conservative columnists, though!

Click on the screenshot to read the piece; it’s not long.

And here’s what he says about a) and c), though he doesn’t go after his paper explicitly:

The ideological bias:

And the motive, while still requiring scrutiny, is confessed: The killer claims to have been struggling with a sex addiction at odds with his evangelical beliefs. According to The Associated Press, “All three businesses where people were fatally shot Tuesday have detailed recent reviews on an online site that leads users to places that provide sexual services.”

So how do we get headlines like “The Atlanta Spa Shootings and the Year of Hatred Against Asian Americans” on a news story from U.S. News & World Report? And why has reporting of the incident by so many news outlets emphasized the race of six of the victims when there is, as yet, only one rumored bit of evidence (in a South Korean newspaper) that the victims were attacked on account of their race?

The reason is that we have two things that, separately, are important and true, but that are being dubiously conjoined for reasons of ideological convenience.

The two things are:

1.) Hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, at least in 16 U.S. cities, and have risen by 149% in 2020 over previous years, while hate crimes in general have decreased 7%. This clearly shows (given that the sample size isn’t terribly small) that there’s a significantly disproportionate increase in hate crimes against Asians during the pandemic.

2.) Donald Trump “stoked anti-immgrant hatreds that very likely contributed to the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 2019 massacre at a Walmart in El Paso.” And don’t forget his incessant references to the “China virus” and the “Kung Flu.”

And Stephen’s lesson, which will irritate his editors most:

But if the news media should have learned one thing over the past 20 years, it’s to be exceptionally wary of trying to map one truth onto another for the sake of a compelling narrative.

. . . Now we have a rising rate of anti-Asian hate crimes, and a horrific crime in which the perpetrator is white and most of his victims were of Asian descent (although two were white). The powerful ideological temptation is to treat this as yet another shooting in the vein of Pittsburgh and El Paso — or, as one CNN headline put it, “White Supremacy and Hate Are Haunting Asian-Americans.”

Tempting — but mostly baseless. The same study that found last year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes also notes that the overall incidence of these crimes is relatively small, both in absolute numbers (122 incidents in 2020, out of a total of 1,717 hate crimes), and compared with other victimized groups. It should go without saying that one hate crime is one too many, but even though reports of these incidents may be a small fraction of the overall crimes, proportions matter.

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

Well, had I been Stephens, I would have left out the argument that the overall incidence of crimes is small, as it looks like an attempt to minimize something that angers a lot of people. Yes, it’s true that hate crimes occur less often than most people think, but that’s not all that relevant here. What is relevant is that more blacks than whites committed hate crimes against Asians, and that the proportion of blacks who commit hate crimes on Asians is twice their proportion in the population. This definitely contradicts the white supremacy trope wielded by CRT, and explains, I think, why it’s hard to find from news reports the ethnicity of those committing hate crimes on Asians.

As I wrote a few days ago:

Here’s some data from 2018 on the proportion of different groups who were subject to violent crime, and the ethnicities of the criminal. These were tweeted by Wilfred Reilly. Now the data are three years old, and don’t reflect the uptick in crimes on Asians that’s said to have occurred. At least back then, Asians were not predominantly assaulted by Whites, but Whites, Blacks, and other Asians assaulted Asians with roughly equal frequency.

In 2019, the total population percentage of these groups from Census statistics were:

White: 76.3%
Black: 13.4%
Hispanic: 18.5%
Asian:  5.9%

Stephens does refer to hate crimes from 2020, but only in New York City:

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

What can one conclude from this limited data? Not a lot, except that the idea that white supremacy is what haunts Asian-Americans rests on empirically thin ice. Like so much else in public discourse today, it’s another capital-T ideological Truth in search of lower-case-t factual truths to validate its predetermined, overstretched hypotheses. That it has the laudable goal of “raising awareness” and “combating hate” does not relieve journalists of the responsibility to report facts scrupulously, not play to fears in the service of a higher good.

His indictment of journalism is, of course, an indictment of the New York Times as well, as is his last sentence, which he adds after saying that people also want to know how the perp was able to buy his gun on the day of the killing, how religious fanaticism can lead to such a killing, and why local authorities overlook the sex trade that goes on in spas.

All of this would be journalism in which the public could have confidence. Instead we have morality plays.

The toast is burning. . .

Here: we’ll have a poll.

Is Bret Stephens going to be fired or resign from the NYT this year?

View Results

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h/t: Carl

42 thoughts on “Bret Stephens in the toaster

  1. I made comments similar to yours on a Reddit thread and was branded a racist. Glad to see I’m in good company.

    I pointed out that two of the victims were white, and also a wounded person was Hispanic, but that hardly mattered. One person even went so far as to claim that he only shot the Asian people to which I replied 1) this is contradicted by the list of the ethnicities of its victims and 2) that I have nowhere seen that he passed on shooting anybody in the shops he entered based on their being the wrong race. In other words, he left no non-victims to my knowledge. My viewpoints were racist and so am I I’m told.

  2. I expect his departure will not be his choice. I saw a great meme the other day, which I wish I could find again. It showed several people trying to shove a mattress into a VW Bug. The people were the media, the mattress was the latest news, and the VW was Critical Race Theory.

  3. I’d guess that Bret Stephens value to the NYT is that the NYT can claim they are ‘balanced’ and not totally enamoured with the Critical Race Sports Team – he is their Conservative mascot. It’s all smoke and mirrors because Bret Stephens will leave or be removed once he upsets too many ‘right-thinking people’.

    1. This was my thinking also. They will retain him as their token conservative. I can hear NYT management saying, “Sure, he’s conservative, but he’s one of the better ones.”

    2. They have already forced out too many people for a combination of entirely inadequate and bad reasons. If they do not retain him I will stop my (decades of) subscribing. I do not like ideological reporting, but I can tolerate it provided they also allow well expressed dissent against that bias from within their ranks.

  4. My guess is, he’s throwing down a gauntlet to the NYT and basically daring them to fire him. His ultimate goal is clearly not to save his job—right now, he’s definitely a strong asset to any media source outside the Church of Woke, so he definitely doesn’t need to worry about going hungry—but to take the fight to the Woke capitol, which arguably includes the Times and a few other major sources. If they fire him, it’s going to blow whatever residual credibility the Times has left as a source of judgment on social issues (though that may not be much, at this point, outside the devotees of that church), and he knows it—and I think he’s trying to force them to make a choice.

    1. I have come to a similar conclusion based on several of his recent articles. I think he’s calculated that he can afford the cost of martyrdom. Either that, or he’s just tired of it all and no longer gives a damn.

      1. If I had to bet, I’d put my money on the calculated self-immolation motive. Stephens may well be worn out from having to work in what, for a for a free-thinker, must be the by now crushingly oppressive atmosphere of the New Woke Times, but I suspect that he sees this as a chance to strike a blow against the CRT orthodoxy that is suffocating the place, and realizes just how high impact his firing at the Times would be in the media sphere.

  5. Sex-addiction, schmex-addiction. The little twerp probably had the normal sexual obsessions of a 21-year-old male, but no healthy outlet for them within the constraints of his repressed evangelical religious beliefs.

    Then again, I’m not sure I trust him to be a reliable narrator of his own life’s story.

    1. I think you’re probably right…no healthy outlet for these repressed urges, combined with a society awash in guns, and you are going to have these incidents.

    2. As Stephens writes, “They ought to learn more about the religious mania that allegedly fueled his toxic anxieties.” If I were an editor (bona fide declaration: I was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper), I would assign someone to follow this lead. I would rejoice to see some serious reporting on the deleterious effects of a demonstrably false belief system that is anti-natural and thereby anti-sexual. I’m afraid we won’t see such reporting from the NYT, for, to borrow the wonderful phraseology of our host, they like to osculate the rump of religion regularly. Witness a recent column by Nick Kristoff and the current one by David Brooks, the subject of our host’s next post on WEIT.

      1. The NY Times did, somewhat late in the day, publish an article that finally acknowledged the role of a deity based prohibition on non-marital sex generating cognitive dissonance and scapegoating of the victims motive. But before preceding with that the article began with a paragraph reiterating the centrality of an anti-Asian racial and anti-women misogyny motive. There could be more than motive, but they mistakenly denied the possibility that the religious belief motive alone was sufficient and therefore potentially the only motive given the currently available evidence.

        1. Thanks, Mathew. I read this article, good matter-of-fact reporting. I’m still hoping for a deeper dive into the issue.

      2. Ditto. This should have been the angle highlighted. Why not? Would that upset their readers more? No idea as I am not American

  6. I am not particularly familiar with Bret Stephens, though I know enough about his career to know he is a conservative. But going only by these recent articles by him I would not necessarily have pegged him as a conservative. Since when has a preference for accurate and worthwhile reporting by the press been a particularly conservative trait? I’ve always thought of it as a key liberal trait, though not necessarily exclusive only to liberals, of course.

    I know, facts are not particularly important in woke ideology, except as obstacles to overcome. I get it.

    1. Yes, Darrelle, this is one of the problems with the woke. Anyone who strays, however slightly, from the party line is branded conservative. I’ve been called a “right-winger” frequently, even though I’m with Bernie, left of Democrat on most policy issues, and have never voted Repub for a national office in my life. But I’m a “right-winger” (and they really believe this) because I demurred from this or that strategy of the woke. The good news: While the woke are busy branding every dissenter as “right-wing,” they may be taken down from their flank by an increasingly vocal group of true liberals (who value, e.g., free speech and less racialization in our judgments of others, contra the woke values of stifling dissent and increased racialization of all judgments).

      1. It seems that the definitions have become:

        “Left wing”: “anything that I like”.
        “Right wing”: “anything that I dislike”.
        “Alt-right” or “far right”: “anything that I really dislike a lot”.

        1. Good point, Mark. I have the same concern. I also have hope, though, because I have a twenty-something daughter and much contact with university students, and I find that although they talk the talk of the illiberal woke, they are inclined to walk the walk of more open-minded true liberals (excluding the most vocal fringe). Most of their hearts are in the right place, if a littel misguided at present. We can hope.

      2. Liberal has long been a dirty one for those on the right and now it is also a dirty word for those on the left. The left / right spectrum has never been particularly accurate, to simplistic, but it has now become ludicrous. And all terms have evolved to have new meanings often completely divorced from the original. Socialism, fascism, liberal, conservative, etc. These days so many, even people that self identify as those things, don’t seem to know what they are. Linguistically I’m not a prescriptivist, but damn, changing the meaning of words in service to propaganda could be the downfall of us all.

  7. “Stephens notes that many (I estimate at least half, though the media tends to hide this fact) of the recent assaults on Asians were done by people of color, mostly African-Americans (see some data below). ”

    It’s hard to deny now that left-leaning media like the NYT systematically underreport or outright ignore acts of violence when the perps are non-white. We have all heard now of Robert Aaron Long and the Spa murders.

    But did you know of this? Two teens broke into the apartment of a 53 year old man and set him on fire; he later died. The teens are black, the victim is white, and he was allegedly disabled to boot.

    If two white teens broke into the apartment of an older disabled black man and set him on fire, ultimately killing him, don’t you think that this would be covered a bit more prominently?

    Clearly, acts of violence must comport to the CRT narrative to deserve coverage.

    1. Police killings of a black person get nine times the media coverage of a police killing of a white person.

      (Source: Zach Goldberg who is doing a PhD thesis on woke stuff.)

    2. Throughout the fall of 2019 there were many horrendous attacks in Brooklyn on Ultra Orthodox Jews. There was alot of clear video of many attacks.

      NYTimes did all it could to ignore it and minimize them. The New York Post reported them (google them). And it was clear from the videos that the attackers were rarely, actually never from what I saw, were white.

      There is far more…go to the local media in Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis and see what goes one. The Chicago Sun Times is better at reporting these things than the more prestigious Chicago Tribune.

  8. It would be odd of [sic] the paper didn’t have any conservative columnists …

    You’re overlooking Ross Douthat. Can’t blame you, though; I do my best to ignore him, too.

    1. Yes counsellor, I was also just thinking of Catholic Ayatollah Ross Dotard/Douthat – he’s a conservative of the worst kind – a Jesus freak, fetus saver and “family values” madman. He’s the WORST.

      Bret is a conservative I could sit down with and disagree about a lot of things with, but a sane one – as we see here. And he won’t last there.

  9. I have to admit, the whole social discussion about whether it’s a hate crime or not seems to me a tempest in a teapot.

    Which is to say, lots of people will have opinions, and publish them, and argue with people who disagree with them, but ultimately it’s a matter of law and the question will be decided by the interaction between prosecutors, defense, court, and jury.

    Of course this won’t stop me or anyone from declaiming the courts got it wrong, if they disagree with my personal opinion. 🙂 But just as my yelling at the TV doesn’t make the quarterback pass instead of run, and my yelling that OJ did it doesn’t put him behind bars, the vast vast majority of bystanders are going to have squat of an effect on the court no matter how loudly they yell “hate crime” or “no hate crime.”

  10. The NYT knew what they were getting when they hired Mr. Stephens. They will not fire him for writing opinions of the sort they must have known he held. I wonder if those assuming his firing is imminent will think better of the NYT when it doesn’t happen?

  11. Substack is allowing famous columnists to speak their mind. Bari Weiss said she had 40,000 subscribers and the normal cost is $5/month. If she gets one of those dollars, she is earning $480,000 a year.

    Stephens is in a no lose situation. If he gets fired, he will get a burst of popularity and start a Substack column. If not, he is a NYT columnist with all the accolades that entails. I am not questioning his integrity but I think he is in a good financial spot regardless of the NYT.

  12. “Yes, it’s true that hate crimes occur less often than most people think, but that’s not all that relevant here.”

    I’m not completely sure I agree with this. Since one of the goals of journalism*, particularly about crime, should (ideally) be to help the public to prioritize as well as they can the personal and political energy they put into issues so that problems achieve attention appropriate to the degree of their severity, if “hate crimes” really are a modest proportion of overall violent crime, then by giving disproportionate attention to them, we are diverting attention–which is surely a finite resource–from problems of even greater consequence.

    It’s somewhat analogous to the attention given to mass-shootings relative to the overall occurrence of gun related deaths…and while we’re at it, the dearth of attention paid to the fact that almost two thirds of gun related deaths are suicides, indicating that suicide is a VERY big problem in this county (one of my coworkers witnessed such an impulsive suicide by her mentally ill but undertreated brother, right in front of her, just a few weeks ago).

    This does not imply that the prevalence of guns overall and gun violence and mass shootings are NOT problems; they are, as is bias-related, so-called hate crime. But if resources (including political capital) are finite, which they are, then giving undue focus to a comparatively less dire problem means that worse or larger or more consequential problems go unaddressed. It’s somewhat analogous to the attention given to airline disasters when those fatalities don’t even make a noticeable little uptick on a chart if compared to motor vehicle related deaths.

    *Of course, the real goal of any news source is to sell itself, obviously, and as they say, “‘Dog Bites Man’ is not news, ‘Man Bites Dog is’.” But that’s sometimes too disheartening to face.

    Apologies for the long comment.

  13. The NYT and other wokie insistence on the unproven “hate crime” motivation of the Atlanta shooter is a form of displacement activity: it covers for their willful avoidance of actual data on the proportions of different groups among the perpetrators of actual assaults, shown in the 2018 information our host posted. Paying attention to actual data (like, for one example, the biology of sex determination) is likewise dismissed as being “rightwing”. Overall, the new wokie Leftism classifies some facts for acceptance and many others for disregard and dismissal as “rightwing”.

    This kind of dishonesty has been widely tolerated and even indulged by bien pensant Liberals in academia for decades now. It strikes me that their behavior is exactly like that of the “respectable” Conservatives who indulged the blatant fakery of their recent president Trump. Earlier examples of this delusion include the indulgence of Stalinist agitprop by “Progressive” apologists in the West, and the way Conservatives like Franz von Papen thought they could control a 1933 government led by a crazed demagogue named Hitler. Such behaviors have not, in general, worked out well.

  14. I only know the ideas of CRT in outline but my guess is that any proponent would say that when blacks specifically target asians it still counts as white-supremacy and whites are ultimately guilty of the crime since they have created a culture where ‘non-whites’ are targeted.

      1. Ok, well I haven’t read Kendi or DiAngelo, but I watch MSNBC pretty much back to back in the evening and think its only a matter of time before one of the guests suggests something similar.

  15. Eric says,
    “I have to admit, the whole social discussion about whether it’s a hate crime or not seems to me a tempest in a teapot.”
    So imagine that one receives, oh, 10 years in prison for, say, breaking into a house and robbing the resident at gunpoint. But look! The resident was of a different ethnicity than the robber, who was one of the despised descendants of Europeans! A HATE CRIME! Slap five years onto that sentence!
    I can see where the rise of Thoughtcrime, the notion that a certain Elect can increase sentencing on the basis of a THOUGHT assigned a posteriori to a convicted person, is (as is so frequently said nowadays) problematic. I mean, what if the Elect simply states that some, uhm, unpopular columnist feels “hate” toward a protected someone or something? To the cells!
    It’s illegal to murder people, period. Pretending to telepathy to increase sentencing seems to me, well, illiberal at best. And once we permit such faux telepathy, we are doomed.

  16. Bret Stephens should have been fired for attempting to get a professor in trouble for making a very mild insulting joke comparing Stephens to termites on Twitter. Look up the hashtag bretbug if you’re not familiar with the little kerfuffle.

    If he’s fired for this, that would be ridiculous.

    1. Jews are rather sensitive to being compared to parasitic insects (Karpf called him a bedbug, not a termite.) Stephens’ response, warranted or not, is understandable given that historically such comparisons have invited ideas of exterminating jews as if they were parasites.

  17. Always good to read comments by readers of the Times…here is one which is third most liked:

    “Good luck with it, Bret.
    I’ve been a print subscriber of the NYTimes since 1989. It was once a great paper. Now it’s a tabloid; it’s just a cut above the other tabloids that make up the US press.
    In particular, it’s given itself over completely to issues of race and gender; or rather its own ideological take on those ‘issues’. Anything is grist for that mill.

    Try an experiment. Compare a few of today’s NYTimes copies with those 30, 20, even 10 years ago. You’ll be appalled; at least those who care for objective news will be….”

    And the most liked:

    “An astounding number of people either fail to see that multiple problematic issues (racism, misogyny, religious extremism, gun control, class inequality) can converge in one terrible event… or they see it, but deem racism against Asian-Americans as less or not worthy of discussion. Either way, DO BETTER.

    As an Asian-American woman, I read about the suspect’s reported admission of sexual addiction and immediately put 2 and 2 together. He says race wasn’t a motivator – sure, maybe not consciously. But show me someone who has grown up in American society, who has NOT been exposed to the idea of Asian women as being hypersexual, submissive, exotic lotus blossoms. Why would the suspect drive long distances, skipping plenty of non-Asian-run strip joints, and purposely seek out Asian-run massage businesses? If you think it’s only because those businesses (allegedly) provide sexual services – I suggest you educate yourself on the US’s long history of anti-Asian racism and how “massage parlors” came to be.

    When you talk about how Asian-Americans make up a fraction of hate crime incidents, please also acknowledge that we’re only about 5-6% of the US population. I suggest you also read up on why, for various reasons, incidents of anti-Asian-American racism are particularly underreported. Regardless, you seem to imply that, given the “relatively small” numbers you cited, we don’t deserve to be talked about “compared with other victimized groups”. So… when will we matter enough?”

  18. He won’t be fired. He’s really not that controversial. I suspect he is well within the range of helpful opinions that NY Times readers need and like.

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