Business Insider Issues ‘Cultural Sensitivity’ Guidelines After Deleting Article About Cultural Sensitivity


Business Insider has issued new sensitivity guidelines and deleted an article from their website over internal complaints over the content, which was deemed insensitive and which used terms likewise deemed unacceptable by the editorial staff.

“Ultimately, it is the first editor’s responsibility to flag culturally sensitive stories,” said an emailed memo from the company. “It may be hard to tell which are and which are not. The policy is to err on the safe side, even if it slows us down. We should be as careful about culturally sensitive pieces as we are legally sensitive pieces, and this policy reflects that.”

It is not an entirely unexpected or unprecedented thing that a paper or publication remove content after complaints about ‘social justice” or “cultural sensitivity”, but ironically, the article in this case happened to be about the over-zealousness of cultural sensitivity enforcement and “social justice warriors”, as the now-deleted article put it.

Conservative columnist Daniella Greenbaum wrote on Friday about backlash against the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in a role as a transgender man, kicking off the controversy.

“Scarlett Johansson is the latest target of the social-justice warrior mob,” Greenbaum wrote. “The actress is being chastised for, well, acting. She has been cast in a movie in which she will play someone different than herself.”

Here’s a little more from the original article, for context.

Trace Lysette, a transgender actress who plays Shea on “Transparent” took to Twitter: “And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived… so twisted. I’m so done.”

Her framing of the issue, which has been echoed by other actors and activists, is off base. “Stealing” narratives — or, more charitably, playing parts — is precisely what actors are hired to do. 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.

Business Insider’s Nich Carlson sent out a memo after the piece was pulled, which the Daily Beast’s Max Tani obtained and excerpted.

Here’s that portion of the Daily Beast article, also for context.

In an email to editors on Monday obtained by The Daily Beast, global editor-in-chief Nich Carlson announced that BI would create an internally available list of employees who had “volunteered to talk about culture and identity issues” to other staff. Further, Carlson also announced that “culturally sensitive columns, analysis, and opinion pieces” would now be reviewed by the company’s executive editors before publication.

“Editors should make sure we are not publishing shallow, ‘hot takes,’ but instead, fully thought-out arguments that reflect and respect the opposing view,” Carlson said. “There should be no partisan name-calling, e.g. ‘social justice warriors,’ ‘libtards,’ or ‘rednecks.’ Opinion and arguments should feel reported and researched, and not like quick reactions.”

Going forward, Carlson said, “[c]ulturally sensitive columns, analysis, and opinion pieces” must be reviewed by both the writer’s editor and either one of the site’s executive editors or editors-in-chief.

CNN provides additional text from the memo.

“To be clear: This does not mean our argument-writers should not take big swings, or that they must have opinions shared by everyone in our newsroom,” he said. “Editors are not being asked to agree with the column. Editors are not responsible for preventing a loud and upset response to the piece from within or without the newsroom. They are responsible for making sure that if a piece causes an uproar, we are comfortable saying it’s a well-argued and thoughtful opinion.”

Most people have received some degree of sensitivity “training” in their workplace, including journalists, and guidelines are ubiquitous. But it does not require transgressing those guidelines or ignoring corporate guidance to become the object of reprisal or punishment over supposed or perceived “insensitivity”. It can happen simply as the result of what has become the single most widely used and cost-effective form of societal pressure in history: coordinated whining.

It was on that very topic that Greenbaum chose to write, and in amazingly meta but perfectly predictable turn, for which she was herself censored.

Noah Rothman, a colleague of Greenbaum when both wrote for Commentary, noted this afternoon on Twitter the other twist in the tale.

“These activists have only magnified the ‘offending’ column” and boosted its “signal”, he tweeted.

Ironies abound. As this story bounces around the internet, you might ask yourself how many people have self-censored just to write about it. The answer is probably “all of them.”

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