Opinion: #Cancel Culture: Jeffery Toobin, Chris Matthews, and Journalism

Recently, former MSNBC host Chris Matthews published “This Country,” his memoir of major historical moments in America. You may have known Matthews as the host of MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ or from his political analysis. Just over a year ago, he left the network following accusations of inappropriate flirting.

Likewise, you may have seen Jeffery Toobin, a lawyer, columnist at The New Yorker, and CNN Political Analyst return to CNN. Coworkers reported Toobin for masturbating during a work call, and The New Yorker subsequently fired him. CNN, however, reinstated him and sparked newfound scrutiny.

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While these two men have a wide gap in their actions, their return to cable television has created a problem. And it’s all wrapped in Cancel Culture.

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Chris Matthews’s comments, while widely criticized by himself and others, were comments alone. There were no accusations against Matthews regarding inappropriate physical gestures or contact. Jeffery Toobin is a completely different case in that regard. His decision was physical and more than enough reason for his former employers to remove him.

However, both of these voices in media are just that: voices. In a media environment brimming with distrust, the voices you have on-air are critical to credibility. Media figures connected to sexual harassment and assault are a challenge to that credibility at times. Their leaving networks and moving out of media spotlights are part of accountability.

But are we seeing accountability now?

Maybe this is part of the result of long-term wars against cancel culture in America as we understand it. Conservative voices return and often feel they are canceled, treating those consequences as alien. But the act of “canceling” someone isn’t outlandish in media. In fact, it’s beyond consistent with the goal of journalists and news organizations.

The act of revealing information, in and of itself, is never an act of accountability. Accountability is an activity and requires active participation. And, unfortunately for conservative figureheads who may be opposed, that’s how journalism works.

Journalists highlight revelations that cost dearly at the ballot box and that build trust. When we aren’t committed to ensuring accountability internally, or the appearance of impropriety remains, we lose. That doesn’t mean that outlets can’t regain trust, but it does mean a loss.

Likewise, the act of accountability through cancellation or removal isn’t inherently awful.

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On the one hand, it’s a genuine cleansing commitment from news organizations to keep their halls clean and trustworthy. On the other, it is escapable with rehabilitation and points to the way that media works.

Media jobs, especially those with six figures and stock options, may not be necessities in the way that one thinks. Take a different field: in the judiciary. The clamor around the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh centered on need. Leaders who presented former President Donald Trump with a list of potential justices following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement said several times that anyone on the list would do. Any other person could have filled the position well.

Even so, the former president seated Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice when that may not have been necessary. Kavanaugh already sat on another court, had previous working experience in government, and did not need the promotion following claims of sexual harassment. Some argued that he didn’t need to be a judge at all.

The return of these media figures falls into the same bucket.

These people are lawyers and decades-old political consultants with the ability to make money outside of media. They don’t need six-figure incomes or an audience of millions to continue existing. And yet, many believe that his career in the news should not end.

(I need not say how often prior activism or political affiliation impacts the ability of minorities to enter news and media.)

Those who experience cancellation can point to their work and reason with themselves. They make changes to who they were, learn about their impact on communities, and make improvements. Moreover, they don’t maintain space in a media environment that doesn’t need them.

As Chris Matthews eloquently put it in his resignation from Hardball, other, younger voices can do the job. And not many people have had this privilege.

“The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins,” Matthews said. “We’ve seen them in politics, in the media, and fighting for the causes. They’re improving the workplace.”