She’s one of America’s most prominent commentators, and in late August she lit the Twitterverse on fire with what at least one website called “the dumbest tweet ever.” The tweet in question was directed at Donald Trump, and it slammed him for criticizing sharia law. Yes, she actually defended sharia law – a system of jurisprudence under which she, a Jewish lesbian, would be subject to the death penalty for any number of reasons.
This was, to be sure, scarcely the first time Sally Kohn, now age 39, revealed her colossal ignorance of something that she, as a regular pundit on CNN, should know more about. But we’ll get around to those episodes – and, of course, to the sharia fracas itself – in good time.
First, let’s look at who this woman is – and where she came from.
Kohn’s climb up the media ladder has been swift. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she studied psychology at George Washington University, then got a joint Master of Public Administration and JD at NYU. During her student years she was also (in turn) an intern at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), a “Vaid Fellow” (named for radical lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid) at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), an intern (briefly) at the Legal Aid Society, and director (again briefly) of something called the Third Wave Foundation, which she apparently founded herself (and of which we haven’t been able to find any trace on the Internet).
Kohn went on to work at the Ford Foundation, the Center for Community Change (a “progressive community organizing group”), and the Movement Vision Lab (which, according to its website, “makes the world safe for radical ideas”). At these jobs, according to her own LinkedIn page, Kohn spent her time building “the capacity of grassroots organizations…to articulate their ideas and build creative strategies to advance their agendas,” leading “a grassroots think tank to articulate and enliven a bold, progressive vision,” and the like.
Five years ago she entered the public eye as a political commentator for Fox News and a contributor to the Daily Beast. Two years ago she moved from Fox to CNN. Meanwhile she’s become a sought-after speaker at colleges and elsewhere and (apparently) a successful “media and public speaking consultant.” As her website brags, the gay newsmagazine The Advocate has called her “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Mediaite named her “one of the 100 most influential pundits on television,” and in 2014 she made its list of the “Top 9 Rising Stars of Cable News.”
She is, indeed, a star – and, yes, a remarkably influential one. Which raises a couple of questions. First, what qualifies her to occupy such a powerful position? Second, what is the nature of the views she spouts to her ever-widening audience?
In addressing the first question, what one notices, upon looking through her résumé, is that her experience has been almost entirely with hands-on social activism. She’s never pursued a remotely serious study of, well, anything, other than law. (Do we really want to count undergraduate psychology?) She’s certainly never seriously studied any kind of history – cultural history, political history, social history, whatever. She’s clearly innocent of economics. She’s never been a reporter. She’s never clerked for a judge. Perhaps most important, until she went into the pundit business, she never held anything remotely resembling a real job in a profit-making enterprise.
In short, she doesn’t have an especially clear idea of how the real world works.
No, whatever special wisdom she may have to offer is derived almost exclusively from years and years of living in a small, claustrophobic bubble of left-wing activism – years, that is, of being entirely devoted to the building of “creative strategies,” the advancing of dynamic agendas, and the articulating of “bold, progressive vision[s]” on behalf of various community groups, victim groups, interest groups, and the like.
Admittedly, there are certain skills and certain kinds of knowledge that one can develop as a result of being wholly immersed in such activities. But we’re not talking here about the sort of background that’s designed to deepen an individual’s historical knowledge or enrich her cultural perspective. On the contrary, it seems fair to say that Kohn has spent her adult life doing one thing: marinating in ideology – and learning, above all, how best to package it, promote it, and market it. As far as we can tell, she’s involved herself in absolutely nothing – zilch, zero, nada – that might have had the effect of (horrors!) challenging her ideology. For a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue like Kohn, a fact that causes one to re-examine one’s ideology isn’t something to mull over, take into account, and learn from; it’s something to ignore, reject, repel, conceal, distort.
As for the nature of her views – well, tune in tomorrow. There’s lots more to come.