After retracting public comments three times in a little over a month, New York Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss defended her columns and tweets Friday, claiming a social media “mob” is smearing anyone who departs from far-left political orthodoxy.
“Saying ‘I am offended’ is a way of making someone radioactive; a way of smearing their reputation,” Weiss told HBO’s Bill Maher, two days after the Times corrected her essay criticizing college protest movements because she had quoted a hoax site.
After weeks of criticism for that and other errors, Weiss found a sympathetic listener in Maher, who said he, too, had been unfairly attacked by “this fringe on the left.”
But Maher didn’t press Weiss much over the incidents that have actually got her into trouble — which arguably have more to do with sloppiness than politics.
The Times hired Weiss last year as part of what an editor described as the paper’s effort to expand its opinion writing into “many shades of conservatism and many shades of liberalism.”
A former Wall Street Journal staffer, she portrays herself as a liberal uncomfortable with the excesses of left-wing culture. She supports the #MeToo movement, for example, but wrote in January that a woman who accused Aziz Ansari of forcing himself on her during a date had merely experienced “bad sex.”
Many other writers have also defended Ansari.
But a month later, Weiss caused a furor with a tweet about something as innocuous as the Winter Olympics.
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu had just become the first American woman to land a triple axel.
In praise, Weiss tweeted: “Immigrants: They get the job done.”
“She was born in California,” someone replied a moment later.
“Yes, yes, I realize,” Weiss wrote. “Felt the poetic license was kosher.”
Weiss has since deleted the original tweet, and told The Washington Post that she regrets it “left any room for interpretation. If anyone was hurt by it, I am sorry.”
But at the time, she lashed out.
“For this tweet I am being told I am a racist, a ghoul and that I deserve to die,” she wrote. “So I deleted the tweet. That’s where we are.”
Some indeed had called her a racist and ghoul, but the bulk of the criticism focused on her apparent conflation of an Asian American and an immigrant.
“No one is ashamed of the word immigrant, but it’s tiring being treated as foreigners all the time,” model Chrissy Teigen wrote to Weiss. “You made a mistake. It’s okay.”
“She seemed genuinely confused about the substantive difference,” wrote GQ.
Weiss didn’t address that line of argument on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on Friday. She just argued, convincingly, if a bit off-point, that she did not hate immigrants.
“I despise xenophobia, anyone who reads my work knows that I love immigrants,” Weiss said. “The idea that I would in any way contribute to a culture of hostility toward minorities and immigrants is horrible to me.”
Maher grunted in agreement. He has also had his share of public floggings. As Fox News wrote, the HBO host apologized last year after joking “I’m a house [n-word]” in response to a guest’s comments about farming.
He once also made an incest joke about President Trump and his daughter.
“Why is there this fringe on the left that attacks people like you and me who they must know are not racist?” Maher asked Weiss on Friday. “Is it just lazy? Is it just too hard to attack the real villains?”
Toward the end of the segment, Weiss said she worried that the left’s haste to take offense would hinder free speech for everyone.
“If you’re someone who wants to get into the public square and wants to say something provocative, you are not going to do that, you’re going to hesitate if there’s a mob awaiting you.”
Weiss did not mention that in February, a few days before she tweeted about the figure skater, she had asked another writer to publicly apologize for a tweet that contained the word “f—.”
After freelance writer Erin Biba cursed on Twitter, Weiss wrote to several magazines that had published Biba’s articles: “What kind of social media etiquette do @BBCScienceNews, @Newsweek, @sciam expect from their freelancers?”
Weiss expressed regret after people accused her of trying to get Biba fired for swearing. She also deleted her original tweet, as she would delete her tweet about immigrants a few days later.
Weiss issued another mea culpa this month, after she wrote a column for the Times about left-wing student groups’ “concerted attempt to significantly redraw the bounds of acceptable thought and speech.”
She gave several examples of unorthodox speakers being vilified or blocked from visiting campuses. But she pulled one of these examples from @OfficialAntifa, a well-known hoax site that masquerades as a left-wing protest group to undermine the movement.
So Weiss’s column was corrected and, once again, she issued regrets for the mistake.
Then two days later, she went on Maher’s show to defend her record. Not that he really asked about it.
An earlier version of this story said Weiss apologized for her tweet about Biba. Weiss told The Washington Post that she has apologized, though Biba denies it. Weiss has at least expressed “regret” for the tweet.