Democratic Journalism and Its Discontents


If I were properly programmed by the message of this article, I would not quote for it. But I’m doing it anyway. It’s just too good.

Unctuous free-speech advocates, who decry left-wing readers as snowflakes, react to both subtlety and stridency with perfect consistency — they steamroller over the former and are triggered by the latter. Their more honest comrades on the slightly farther right have made entire careers of misreading. But no matter the source of the outcry, writers often end up defending the piece once it’s published — explainer journalism turned inward, against oneself. After filing a column in the New York Times on involuntary celibates and the potential for sex robots to fulfill their libidinal needs, Ross Douthat faced heavy criticism on Twitter for seeming to validate the incels’ claim of a right to sex. Douthat, who has spent his career hoping to roll back the Protestant Reformation, tweeted in response, “When so many descriptions of an argument are unrecognizable to its author, that usually suggests the author failed in some important way. Still, I think hostile readers should consider re-reading the piece and I’ll try to have some further thoughts a bit later.” The next day, he rewrote the main points of “The Redistribution of Sex” in a series of tweets (“All right, let’s see if I can write a short thread restating the argument of yesterday’s column in ways that are less amenable to misinterpretation. Here we go”). But which version is the real Douthat — the column that reads like a series of Freudian slips, or the tweet thread that reads like a rhetorical bunker?