September 17, 2021 - 3:15pm

Fighting — or even participating in — a culture war is a dangerous business. It is especially so when that war is being fought behind enemy lines. So when Bari Weiss was hired by The New York Times as an opinion editor after Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, it was a risky move.

A self-described classical liberal, Weiss was hired to bring more conservative and centrist voices to the paper, but she quickly found herself at odds with its hyper-progressive staff. Tensions reached a breaking point when NYT writers complained about Senator Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for the troops to be sent in during the BLM protests — something Weiss had helped to commission and edit.

Weiss subsequently left the paper to launch her own Substack, but her experience at one of liberal America’s most hallowed institutions exposed her to the inner workings of the paper and its gilded readership. In a conversation with Freddie Sayers, Weiss suggests that the chasm between the “haves and have-nots” in America has only got worse, as highlighted by this week’s MET Gala event:

Watching the spectacle of the standard bearer of Left politics, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, showing up at an event that costs $35,000 a seat and wearing a white tight dress that says ‘tax the rich’ on the back, while all of the staffers there are having to wear masks. There’s no way that you can watch that spectacle and not think this is insane. These are the same people who are trying to tell parents that their two, three, four and five year old children that they need to spend all day at preschool masked. And yet here they are, at this ridiculous opulent spectacle and, and flaunting the very rules that they want for the rest of us. 
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd

On why she’s optimistic about the future:

I feel deeply optimistic. But the thing that makes me optimistic, and this is a genuine divide, among people who are dissatisfied is the question ‘ is it better to spend our time reforming old institutions that have betrayed their missions or better to spend what little time we have on this planet, building new things?’. The more I’ve thrown myself into the latter, and the more I have seen all of the other people who feel the same way trying to build things like new schools, new universities, new magazines, and new publications, the more optimistic I feel.
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd

On “comical” Covid restrictions:

It’s become almost comical in how irrational it is. The idea that I need to wear a mask when I walk into a restaurant, wear a mask, as I sit down at my seat, I am told by the restaurant, that I should only remove it when I’m eating and drinking, but then I’m removing it and sitting in a packed restaurant and lots of other people eating and drinking… At some point down the line, I feel like we’ve lost sight of the science here, and it’s become a lot more about signalling what political tribe you’re a part of. 
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd

On her experience at the New York Times:

When I was at the New York Times I felt so pessimistic and isolated. But the further away that I’ve gotten from that publication and that claustrophobic, blinkered view of the world — which still believes that the old divisions are the relevant ones today — the better I have felt.
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd

On ‘extreme’ politicians:

That’s a huge development that isn’t yet reflected. I don’t think people still believe that the future of the Democratic Party looks like Chuck Schumer’s worldview. It just doesn’t anymore. Here’s another way to put it. The political energy in this country right now is not in the centre anymore. The political energy in this country is… On the Right with the J.D. Vances and the Josh Hawleys. And on the Left, it’s with the AOCs and Ilhan Omar. That is an enormous transformation from where we were politically in this country a decade ago.
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd

Why liberalism is good:

I think liberalism is a really, really good thing. Liberalism in the classical sense of what that means. I think a culture that decides, “hey, you know, what, it’s better to judge people based on their character, and based on their deeds, and not based on the amount of melanin in their skin, or the place they were born, or their station in life or the sins of their parents”. 
- Bari Weiss, UnHerd