Anti-‘Cancel Culture’ Reason Magazine Accused of Canceling Columnist for Being Too Anti-Trump

Andrew Kirell
·7 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

A leading critic of “cancel culture” is being accused of canceling one of its own—for speaking out too loudly and too often against President Donald Trump.

Throughout the Trump era, Reason magazine, a digital and print publication published by the nonprofit libertarian Reason Foundation, has routinely sounded the alarm about the perceived threat posed by “cancel culture,” the modern phenomenon in which people are publicly and professionally ostracized for heterodox beliefs or remarks. The magazine has lambasted other outlets like The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Intercept for firing or pushing out key staffers whose views or actions were determined to have conflicted with their respective editorial missions.

And yet, a long-time Reason columnist and policy analyst alleges that the libertarian magazine dropped her over her vehemently anti-Trump views.

“After 15 years, the curtains came down for me at Reason today. My views, I was told, had become too out-of-step with those of the organization,” Shikha Dalmia announced Tuesday evening in a Facebook post.

“Reason has some amazing writers who do great work on a whole host [of] issues that I will continue to read and share. And it has been an honor and pleasure to work with them,” she added. “However, I had a staunch and uncompromising anti-Trump voice calling out his authoritarian tendencies unambiguously. That this made many libertarians uncomfortable raises all kinds of interesting questions about the state of the liberty movement.”

The Reason veteran further suggested that her demise came as a result of complaints from the Reason Foundation’s donors—many of whom are also big donors to Republicans and conservative think tanks. “Defending my work to donors and stakeholders had evidently made me too much of a liability,” she wrote.

Reason editor-in-chief Katherine Mangu-Ward publicly commented on Dalmia’s post, replying, “I disagree with your characterization of our parting, but certainly won’t get into it here on your page.” And in an internal memo sent to staffers, obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Mangu-Ward announced Dalmia’s departure on Tuesday evening: “Today is Shikha’s last day, after 15 years at Reason. It has been an honor to work with a person of such tremendous journalistic talent and deep libertarian conviction. Her contributions to Reason have been enormous, especially in the area of immigration policy. This change has been in the works for a while, and I wish her great luck in her next phase.”

Virginia Postrel, Reason’s editor-in-chief from 1989 until 2000, reacted late Tuesday evening to Dalmia’s ouster and her allegations about donor pressures by tweeting: “When I was @reason it was INCREDIBLY poor but had integrity. [Co-founder] Bob Poole had some intensely uncomfortable conversations w/ donors but always defended the magazine's independence and never even read it until it came out. Now it's big and rich but I could never work there.”

Mangu-Ward replied to Postrel and another libertarian critic by repeating in multiple tweets, “I strongly disagree with this characterization of our parting, but I wish her the absolute best in what comes next.”

When reached by The Daily Beast, Dalmia said, “I stand by my statement on Facebook” but otherwise declined to comment on this story. And in a statement to The Daily Beast, Mangu-Ward wrote, “Shikha Dalmia’s departure from Reason is a personnel issue, so I won’t discuss the details.”

The top editor added, “Reason is editorially independent and publishes a tremendously wide range of content within a libertarian framework. That ‘big-tent libertarianism’ has included and continues to include pointed critiques of authoritarianism in all its guises. Reason considers it a core part of our mission to hold the powerful accountable, and believe we have done so this presidency—and plan to do so in the next. I invite your readers to actually check out the voluminous content published on our website over the past four years—and last half-century for that matter—and see for themselves. Nowhere else in opinion journalism will you find content that is consistently critical of the left and the right, of Republicans and Democrats, when they advance policies and ideas that are hostile to freedom.”

As a Reason employee, Dalmia regularly wrote columns for the magazine which also often ran at The Week, seemingly as part of the libertarian organization’s effort to advance its ideas via outside publications. (Dalmia has previously published columns at Bloomberg View, Washington Examiner, and The Daily Beast.)

Curiously, however, over the past few months, several of Dalmia’s columns were published at The Week but never appeared on her home base at Reason, including a column suggesting Trump is, in fact, a bigger statist than Joe Biden; a column outlining the libertarian case for voting for Biden; and a column criticizing the hypocrisy of conservative “cancel culture” alarmists “forgetting that right-wingers themselves have been its main practitioners through most of American history.”

The columnist’s ouster comes as the magazine has taken heat from some libertarians and former employees, including Washington Post columnist and reporter Radley Balko, for what they perceive to be the magazine’s peculiar Trump-era positioning: not overtly pro-Trump by any stretch, but apparently more focused on belittling, dismissing, or ignoring the left’s concerns about the president’s autocratic impulses rather than on actively repudiating his abusive governance—instead seeming to reserve its most unequivocal condemnations for campus PC and cancel-culture gripes.

In recent weeks, the outlet has been critical of Trump’s attempts to reverse his electoral loss by pushing baseless conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud. Elsewhere, Reason has excoriated the president’s trade wars, scorned his calls to crack down on social-media outlets because they “censor” his fact-free missives, and called out his nativist immigration policies including family separations.

“There are many staffers still at Reason who do great work, and whose journalism I really admire," Balko said in a statement to The Daily Beast. "But I think a lot of libertarians have been puzzled by the general editorial direction of the magazine in the Trump era. Libertarians are supposed to be the ones who sound the alarm about government threats. Yet with Trump, it felt like Reason spent an inordinate amount of time and energy mocking the people who felt threatened.”

He continued: “This is a magazine whose staff took a hard line against the firing of James Bennet, Kevin Williamson, and was sympathetic to Glenn Greenwald’s claim that he'd been censored by The Intercept. That’s all hard to square with firing one of their own writers for being overly critical of the most powerful man on the planet.”

Indeed, Reason dedicated more than a few articles to bashing “the woke scolds” at The New York Times for the firing of Bennet, the paper’s opinion editor, following the publishing of Sen. Tom Cotton’s screed about the Black Lives Matter protests, titled “Send in the Troops.”

And when The Atlantic fired conservative writer Kevin Williamson in 2018 shortly after his hiring was announced and after his past incendiary remarks—including calling for abortion patients to be hanged—came to light, Reason editor-in-chief Mangu-Ward lamented his exit as proof that the historic magazine does not tolerate ideological diversity.

Reason staffers are all libertarian, under a big-tent understanding of that term (not to brag, but we are repping the pro-life view),” she wrote at the time, touting her magazine’s tolerance of potentially heterodox views within libertarianism. “That’s written into our mission as a magazine.”

It is unclear how Dalmia’s expressly anti-Trump views would have fallen outside Reason’s “big-tent understanding” of libertarianism.

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