Update: Scarlett Johansson just dropped out of the project. I’m tempted to say she needs to grow a pair.
Business Insider, an online publication that deals loosely with international business issues, is probably not on your daily must-read list.
It’s not on mine either.
Yet a controversy erupted there this week that we all should know about. Sadly, it’s part of an ominous trend in the media.
A perfectly reasonable opinion piece penned by columnist Daniella Greenbaum was quickly scrapped by Business Insider because it triggered social justice warriors at BI and on social media.
In a nutshell, Ms. Greenbaum who wrote (past tense, she resigned yesterday) on politics and culture for BI, defended the casting of actress Scarlett Johansson as a trans man in an upcoming film entitled “Rub and Tug” about a transgendered massage parlor owner.
Actors act, what’s the big deal? Greenbaum asked.
No sooner was the “commonsensical” piece posted than it drew fire from some Business Insider staffers. After a short time, the column was taken off the website because it didn’t meet the online publication's “editorial standards.”
Here’s an excerpt, in case that link also vanishes:
"Stealing narratives — or, more charitably, playing parts — is precisely what actors are hired to do,” Greenbaum wrote in defense of Johansson. “But that reality seems to have been forgotten. CNN wrote a story about the issue entitled, ‘These trans actors could have been cast instead of Scarlett Johansson in her new movie.’
“It's hard to imagine people having the same reaction in other scenarios — a rich actor being hired to play a poor person; an actor whose real-life parents were still living being hired to play an orphan; a perfectly nice, upstanding member of society being cast as a rapist; or an actor with no scientific experience being cast as a paleontologist.”
Well-reasoned. Yet Greenbaum was called transphobic and a bigot - and probably worse - for giving voice to such views.
Killing the column wasn’t the end of the matter. Next Greenbaum's bosses created a new policy that said henceforth “culturally sensitive” pieces would receive extra vetting before they could be published.
With that, Greenbaum walked. Here’s a copy of Ms. Greenbaum’s resignation letter. She posted it to Twitter.
Good for her. That took courage.
In a piece for The Washington Post Greenbaum warned that timidity in the face of aggressive protests from small groups of loud activists was becoming commonplace in the press.
“We are slowly normalizing the policing of speech and opinion,” wrote Greenbaum. “Sometimes overtly, and sometimes through the intimidation that stops people from saying or writing or publishing what they believe because they know that the social media mob is lying in wait.
“These hordes might come from the left or the right. Or from Russian bot farms. The thing to remember is that they are not the majority, not even close. They’re just louder. And they’re here to stay.”
Business Insider isn’t the only publication to bow down to bullies. It happens in big ways and small. I wish it would stop.
Sadly, I know it won't.