Jordan Peterson has been all over the news lately from a viral interview with Cathy Newman. In the interview, Newman consistently mischaracterizes Peterson and tries to make his positions sound more extreme than they really were. Peterson easily deflected all of the aggressive “gotcha” questions with calm explanations of his actual positions. This Atlantic article does a great job summarizing the problems in this interview. Let’s look at an example:
Newman: So you don’t believe in equal pay.
Peterson: No, I’m not saying that at all.
Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will say, are we going back to the dark ages?
Peterson: That’s because you’re not listening, you’re just projecting.
Newman: I’m listening very carefully, and I’m hearing you basically saying that women need to just accept that they’re never going to make it on equal terms—equal outcomes is how you defined it.
Peterson: No, I didn’t say that.
Newman: If I was a young woman watching that, I would go, well, I might as well go play with my Cindy dolls and give up trying to go school, because I’m not going to get the top job I want, because there’s someone sitting there saying, it’s not possible, it’s going to make you miserable.
Peterson: I said that equal outcomes aren’t desirable. That’s what I said. It’s a bad social goal. I didn’t say that women shouldn’t be striving for the top, or anything like that. Because I don’t believe that for a second.
Newman: Striving for the top, but you’re going to put all those hurdles in their way, as have been in their way for centuries. And that’s fine, you’re saying. That’s fine. The patriarchal system is just fine.
Peterson: No! I really think that’s silly! I do, I think that’s silly.
Peterson was definitely not arguing that women should just accept less pay. He wasn’t denying that sexism exists. He was stating how the gender wage gap we see is based on multiple factors and discrimination is only one piece of the puzzle. This is just one of several of Cathy’s attempts to make Peterson’s positions seem much worse than they were. You can watch the full interview here.
Cathy Newman’s attempt to get him flustered enough to slip up completely failed. And no, I’m not a Jordan Peterson fan. I can still recognize when someone is being unfairly characterized even if I don’t agree with them. As the author mentions in that Atlantic piece I linked above, this kind of this “sort of exaggeration or hyperbolic misrepresentation is epidemic—and addressing it for everyone’s sake is long overdue.” I totally agree with that. The media is well aware that exaggeration and extremism is going to get higher ratings. It certainly is not new or unique to Peterson! I’d like to echo that point using another example.
Ijeoma Oluo recently discussed an unfortunate experience she had with USA Today. Olou was contacted by a USA Today representative asking for the “opposing view” of due process regarding sexual assault. Olou was understandably confused and told the representative that she could write about the issues sexual assault survivors face when going through the legal system. The representative talked to the editor and called Olou back. Olou recalls the conversation below:
USA Today called me back about five minutes later.
“I ran your idea past them,” she said, “But what they really want is to write that they believe that it’s great that these women are coming forward but that they believe in due process, and they want you to write that you don’t. They want a piece that says that you don’t believe in due process and that if a few innocent men lose their jobs it’s worth it to protect women. Is that something you can do?”
I almost couldn’t get a reply out, I was stunned by how blatant their request was.
“No,” I said, “No, it’s not.”
We ended the call and I just sat frozen in my chair for a few minutes. Did this really just happen? Was I seriously just asked by the third largest paper in the nation to write their “feminazi” narrative to counter their “reasoned and compassionate” editorial? Was I just asked to be one of the excuses for why this whole “me too” moment needed to be shut down? Was I just asked to be their strawman?