Dozens of academics, journalists blast 'cancel culture' critics

More than 150 academics, writers and journalists rebuke ‘cancel culture’ critics JK Rowling and Noam Chomsky who signed Harper’s open letter against ‘threat to free speech’

  • Hundreds of prominent writers and scholars have signed an open letter ‘on justice and open debate’ 
  • A letter published earlier this week by Harper’s Magazine warned that the free exchange of information and ideas was in jeopardy
  • Letter was criticized on social media by other writers, including journalists
  • They claimed, ‘The Harper’s letter signers fail to address systemic silencing of minority voices and some contribute to it’ 
  • Many Harper’s signatories are ‘white, wealthy, endowed with massive platforms’ 
  • In response, more than 150 others have now signed ‘A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate’  

A group of academics and professionals from the world of journalism are speaking out to denounce a letter that was published earlier this week in Harper’s Magazine in which its signatories spoke out to decry as they saw as a slow stifling of free speech.

Dozens of artists, writers and academics signed the open letter decrying the weakening of public debate and warning that the free exchange of information and ideas was in jeopardy amid a rise in what they call ‘illiberalism.’

J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood were among dozens of writers, artists and academics to argue against ideological conformity.

Hundreds of prominent writers and scholars have signed an open letter ‘on justice and open debate’

Friday’s letter came in response to one published earlier in the week by Harper’s Magazine warning that the free exchange of information and ideas was in jeopardy

The letter comes amid a debate over so-called cancel culture – where prominent people face attack for sharing controversial opinions.

The response, published in The Objective, took with issue with the signatories of the Harpers letter and refuted the statements point-by-point. 

‘The signatories, many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so-called cancel culture is out of control, and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas, even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country,’ the response read.

Some of those who signed refused to give their names publicly for fear of reprisal. 



Washington Post op-ed editor Karen Attiah, left, Intercept reporter Akela Lacy, center and historian Kerri Greenidge have all signed Friday’s rebuttal



So too have Slate writer Ashley Feinberg, left, BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac, center and Cedar Rapids Gazette writer Lyz Lenz, right

‘While the Harper’s letter is couched in the events of the last few weeks, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is actively informed by the actions of its writers, many of whom have championed the free market of ideas, but actively ensured that it is free only for them,’ Friday’s response letter read. 

‘It’s ironic that the letter gives highly sought-out space to some of the most well-paid and visible people in media, academia, and publishing. These are the same people who possess the money and prestige to have their ideas shared in just about any elite publication, outlet, or journal. There will always be a place for them to have their voices heard.’

The letter suggests that the Harper’s signatories are beneficiaries to a type of free speech that they advocated but a blindness to the reality that minorities in journalism face.   


Other signatories to Tuesday’s letter include philosopher Noam Chomsky and prominent liberal feminist Gloria Steinem

A number of employees working for the New York Times were unhappy at an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas that asked for military intervention during the Black Lives Matter protests. It led to the resignation of the editorial page editor, James Bennet. 

J.K. Rowling has attracted criticism recently over her views on transgender issues, which have angered many activists

J.K. Rowling for example, has attracted criticism over her views on transgender issues, which have angered many activists. In a series of tweets, Rowling said she supported transgender rights but did not believe in ‘erasing’ the concept of biological sex.

The comments prompted Daniel Radcliffe and other cast members of the Potter films to publicly disagree with her. Rowling was unmoved, but was attacked for weeks online.

The letter she signed criticized the state of public debate and the ‘swift and severe retribution’ dealt out to any perceived wrongs. It decried an ‘intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.’

‘The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,’ the letter said. ‘We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.

‘The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy,’ Tuesday’s letter said. ‘But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion-which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.’ 

Other signatories included philosopher Noam Chomsky, prominent liberal feminist Gloria Steinem and Malcolm Gladwell.

Friday’s response deepened tension within the left wrote Fox News which suggested ‘some have argued that prevailing ideas about free speech privilege certain voices over others.’ 

‘We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes,’ the letter reads. 

Those who signed Friday’s response included former Vox video journalist Carlos Maza, Washington Post op-ed editor Karen Attiah, Intercept reporter Akela Lacy, Slate writer Ashley Feinberg, writer Lyz Lenz and BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac; historian Kerri Greenidge and other unnamed individuals from the New York Times, NPR and NBC News who said they had NDAs. 

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