Risking Cancellation

Risking Cancellation


Leonard Zwelling

In the most recent season of the superb drama The Morning Show on Apple TV, Jennifer Anniston’s character, a morning TV anchor not unlike Katie Couric, risks being cancelled on the internet because she reconnects with her disgraced former partner (Steve Carell) who plays a Matt Lauer like-lout who has sexually abused women and been ostracized for having done so. This cancel culture has to be on the minds of many in the public eye who risk criticism on social media doing what they think they should do or what they need to do for their own edification, sanity, or sense of ethics even as some deserve cancellation for heinous behavior (like Lauer).

I understand this. Cancellation (or what passed for it in the day) has happened to me twice. Both times it was awful.

In my undergraduate life at Duke, I was chair of the Major Attractions Committee, the part of the student union that brought the major entertainment to campus. In that role, I was fortunate enough to host Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, The Rascals, the Turtles, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Martha and the Vandellas, The Stone Poneys, the Fifth Dimension, and the Lovin’ Spoonful. It was heady stuff for a rock and roll nut heading for medical school. At the time of the Aretha Franklin concert, the relatively nascent Black student organization wanted to co-sponsor the event and take half of the proceeds from ticket sales. I said I was fine with their co-sponsoring, but that the university was putting up all the money for the show and would not be splitting the profits with them. Of course, I was called all kinds of names, but did not budge and risked what was the equivalent of being cancelled in 1968. Fortunately for me, this was pre-internet. Heck, it was pre-laptop, pre-cell phone, and pre-Twitter.

It happened again to me many years later when I was Vice President for Research Administration and the Institutional Review Board (ethics committee) came down hard on the Leukemia Service for a litany of misfires in its conduct of clinical research. By then I had become the face of clinical research oversight and when two faculty members had their clinical research privileges docked, the entire Faculty Senate was up in arms and wanted my head. So did the president. He eventually got it.

On both occasions, I risked the ire of powerful interest groups because I did what I thought my job demanded. In neither case do I have regrets, although I could have handled the Leukemia Service much better. I was way too confrontational and righteous. I worked that through with an analyst. That was on me, but that doesn’t mean my stance was wrong. My posture needed work.

This is all a prelude to commenting on what a reader wrote to me about local governments not being willing to risk cancellation from leftist activist groups by preventing demonstrations from getting out of hand as occurred in Kenosha. My reader believes that if the local authorities would come down hard on demonstrators and not allow them to get unruly and burn and loot, the need for vigilantism would be negated and the Kyle Rittenhouse’s of the world would stay home.

I can’t agree completely although these demonstrations that get riotous are both inexcusable and nothing close to what we saw in the 1960s where entire city blocks were leveled.

Leaders have to risk going against public opinion to do the job they were elected or chosen to do. If they get cancelled on social media, they’ll survive. You have to risk being unpopular sometimes to do the right thing. I learned it the hard way. It’s part of growing up, but many of our leaders are not grown-ups—especially those in Washington, DC.

The Build Back Better bill was enthusiastically lauded in the House when it passed. It remains to be seen whether or not the Senate will go along, but a multi-trillion dollar program of social welfare should be able to glean at least one Republican vote, but the GOP is afraid of cancellation from its base and the liberal Dems are afraid of cancellation from their base, too. That leaves Joe Manchin as the sole adult in the room asking for careful consideration of the items in the bill—something none of those voting for or against it have read.

Manchin risks cancellation by the left who have waited for years to pass this giveaway program. We should be glad he’s willing to risk cancellation. This bill has not been sufficiently vetted and may well be too expensive. The Congressional Budget Office scores it as adding $160 billion to the budget.

Is anyone in Washington willing to risk cancellation by the extremists in their respective parties to get a good bill? I know, rhetorical question.

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