Cathy Newman’s Channel 4 interview with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has gone viral across the internet. Now, opinions on it are mixed and generally reflecting whichever side of the political spectrum their holders happen to fall upon. I follow both left and right-wing news sources on Facebook, and can conclude that most on the left agree with Newman and most on the right agree with Peterson. But it is not as clear cut as that. I also follow Peterson himself, who has publicly called for an end to all the abuse that Newman has received since the interview.
I think the general consensus is that the left believe that Newman was championing political correctness and identity politics in her questioning of Peterson, and that that is a good thing. But Peterson’s recent success has revolved entirely around his statements about the incredible dangers of identity politics and political correctness. Newman’s overuse of the phrase “So you’re saying . . . ” followed by some whimsical claim of sexism or bigotry that Peterson has never actually expressed, allowed him to deconstruct the claims made against him. So, in effect, she did him a favour. And all the criticism she’s received, such as Douglas Murray’s opinion piece in The Spectator, has highlighted that her style of debate has highlighted all that is wrong with leftist politics, and is a disastrous example of what not to do in order to progress.
I actually agree with this position. Newman did not debate properly or successfully. But the abuse and criticism she has received is not only disgusting but, I would argue, ignorant. Cathy Newman is clearly not a stupid person. She read English at Oxford, graduating with a first, and has had a very respectable career in broadcasting and journalism with a ruthless commitment to truth. She has been nominated for the Orwell Prize, and, from what I’ve read, Newman’s work was worthy of such an award.
The problem with leftist politics and political correctness is an ignorance of truth and the foregrounding of control through finding offense. People who hold such views feel very strongly, I feel, that the person sitting opposite them in a debate is just plain evil and must be shut down. Which is ludicrous. In American universities, leftist fascism of this ilk has led to genuine calls for violence against opponents of political correctness – just look at the ridiculous and ignorant antics of the group Antifa. The name supposedly means “Anti-fascist,” so I struggle to understand why they want to ban everyone and treat those that disagree with them with physical harm. Isn’t that a bit … fascist? I’ve worried about the rise of this in recent years in British universities, and my fears were conformed this week as Jacob Rees-Mogg was met with violent protests from far-left activists hiding behind masks when he gave a speech at a university this week. Now, to return to the subject of this article, I don’t think Cathy Newman is comparable to any of these people, as the right seems to be claiming. She clearly showed a great deal of respect for Peterson, was not filled with violent hatred towards him, and described him as a good sport. She even gave a respectable reply to Douglas Murray’s criticism of her. A quick check of her twitter just now reveals that she found the protests against Jacob Rees-Mogg deplorable. She blogs for the Telegraph, for goodness’ sake! It’s just ridiculous to label her a leftist.
Her interviewing technique was questionable. But it is was comparable to that of Paxman or John Humphrys. Deliberately trying to bring out the worst in someone. It often works when interviewing shady politicians. It will never work on someone as intelligent as Dr. Peterson. When the person being interviewed actually wants to be interviewed and actually wants to get everyone on the same page, rather than themselves in 10 Downing Street, it’s not an appropriate style. I think informing Cathy Newman of this is fine, as she herself definitely strikes me as somebody who wants the former. So, as Peterson has said, her critics need to criticise. Not abuse. How can you complain about fascist-style politics by demonstrating the same principles? It’s an endless cycle of lunacy around the political spectrum that we do not need. Stop looking for problems where there aren’t any. Ironically, that’s the problem with leftism in the first place. You can’t criticise it by doing it. Let’s move forward together.