CNN’s boss displays a deeply ideological belief in his own superior objectivity that is pervasive among America’s elites – and makes him a willing henchman of a reactionary political project
Other than Thomas' articles warning of the dangers of the authoritarian right, this is rather a smear piece. I can't understand his obsession with "reactionary centrists", he should rather focus his ire on the real enemy from the ultra-right.
In this lengthy article there is not a single argument against claims of the scolded "objectivists" (of course Thomas has to use "objectivity" in quotes as a true intersectional standpoint theorist), rather he paints them as powerful white male reactionaries in disguise who want to keep their unearned privileges.
Has it occurred to Thomas that some of them actually might have legitimate concerns about today's left tendencies to fetishize group identity and group equity (as opposed to individual equity as the old day's left), to found criticism of the opponent not conceptionally but positionally (pointing out the whiteness/maleness in every claim as Thomas does) and about the censoriousness with which core dogmas are enforced (as well-documented by FIRE, the NYT and others)?
What Thomas absolutely lacks is a charitable interpretation of his opponent's speech. That is even true in some of his articles pointed against the right, which I otherwise support. He should accept that not all of them are driven by sinister or subconscious self-interests (though some are), but that sometimes people just have different points of view.
Fantastic piece, thanks.
Now Chris has some time on his hands, I'd like to see him and Matthew Goodwin team up for a podcast - working title The Center Cannot Fold - where they bring their diverse, righteous and uniquely objective opinions and tell the simple truth, underpinned by facts that just, you know, feel right, white man to white man.
It would he helpful to learn about the steps between (an elite white male) "asking questions" and the questioner trending toward the RW "anti-woke" trope. I see the effect, and I have a guess as to the cause, but it's one of the points Prof. Zimmer leaves in outline here, probably in the interest of readability.
Also, I appreciate reading here and would like to see more attention paid elsewhere to the RW hacking of postmodernist academic criticism. Without using that outmoded academic language here, Prof. Zimmer makes the point that Licht represents the authoritative perspective that describes itself as "objective" (formerly proponents called these views "modern and scientific," encompassing such insights as determining intelligence from the shapes and sizes of skulls, and Charles Murray's Bell Curve ). Like merit, objectivity thereby degrades into whatever the observer / speaker is comfortable with.
I connect this with the programming community's tendency to do stupid stuff like train facial recognition software on pasty-white, twentysomething males and not anticipate any problem because their faces are the norm, the standard, the Platonic ideal of which all other faces are mere shadows. Except, by not even thinking that, they are the residents of Plato's Cave rather than Plato himself. Licht and so many of our political and financial elites are stuck in their cave of objectivity, unaware they are the ones watching the shadows.
Great points. Maybe a fundamental argument is that people in power don't want to understand the power dynamics they are a part of. If you're in power, you're responsible for things that happen, but if you can find another more powerful group to blame, you can absolve yourself.
My favorite lines:
I always thought I was pretty liberal, but I must say I’m feeling uncomfortable about these calls for equality and respect, especially when they question my superior judgment and societal status.” To be fair, from an elite perspective – and that of a white male elite, in particular – this kind of status-quo fundamentalism is indeed rational and it makes sense to regard the “Left” as the bigger immediate status threat. It is true that an agenda seeking to move America from being a restricted, white men’s democracy that left existing hierarchies largely intact to a functioning multiracial, pluralistic, social democracy is a losing proposition for people who have traditionally been at the top. So, while I don’t think Chris Licht is a MAGA Republican, his perspective on American politics is shaped by an underlying ideology that makes it just much more plausible to see the Right as not that big of a threat – and the Left as radical, unreasonable, and acutely dangerous. We could have a much more fruitful political discussion if Licht and others like him could just acknowledge that – and spare us all the grandiose nonsense about “saving journalism” and defending “the truth” itself.
The fight for equality and equity has gone on in this country since its beginning. Thank you for clarifying the fight. Those who want to maintain white supremacy vs those that want “a functioning multiracial, pluralistic social democracy”. There is no middle of the road. Everyone needs to pick the outcome they want and work towards it.
This is a terrific thought piece, and a welcome departure from the status quo. Thank you.
You articulated how the mentality of people like Licht help authoritarian takeovers. Thank you.
I don't care what he is; I care what he does, which is EVIL.
Prior to CNN, Licht produced Colbert, which was unabashedly anti-Trump. I wonder what Stephen thinks of his transition to the MAGA useful idiot at CNN
Right on - another fine essay. Thank you!
The comment about three people who graduated from Harvard is a poorly thought out attempt to get at something real, I think. Some people go to Harvard on full scholarship, while others get there with the help of family money and connections. It's silly to lump them all together as privileged elites. But it does seem to me there is a tendency among some on the left to focus entirely on race and forget about class, or, because there's a lot of overlap, to conflate the two. "We should support student debt relief because it helps Black people" -- I can get pretty boring about that, but I try not to nitpick the left too much since the right is so much scarier.
Tim Alberta's profile of Licht is contextually better understood -- motives, method, meaning -- after I read your analysis.
Thank you, Prof Zimmer.
Thank you for putting Licht into a perspective I can more easily understand, because I just couldn't understand how he justifies his actions at CNN. Now if you could just deconstruct Anderson Cooper's rationale defending the Town Hall ("Don't you feel better seeing what will be coming at you if the former President "wins" the 2024 election?" As if we didn't know.). Other than trying to keep his job (which is understandable), why has he destroyed his reputation as a straight shooter in defense of Licht. Anderson Cooper addressed a graduating class at American University I attended, and he was intelligent, emotionally open, and seemingly honest about his life and his work. Consequently, his defense of Licht caused me to lose all hope that people can be strong and ethical in the face of dark power. I'm sure there were many Germans who also couldn't believe what was happening in front of their eyes, but felt helpless to do anything outside the laws and norms of their time.
Excellent commentary. I haven’t watched one minute of CNN since Licht took the reins. It’s obvious that they plan to “both sides” us into full blown fascism, then pretend they have no idea how it happened.