Those who enjoyed Cathy Newman's recent interview of Jordan Peterson are on solid ground and need not listen to any of the whining that has followed the exchange. The interview was everything that it should have been and this was due to the fact that two very assertive and competent personalities were on full display. The interview wouldn't have been as enjoyable or as productive if it had been of the easy echo-chamber type that Peterson so often gets. Don't get me wrong as I like those too, but for different reasons.
Some complained that Newman's hostile interview style eliminated any chance for viewers to learn anything of value about Peterson's work. To this I say buy the book or watch some of the hundreds of hours Peterson's work that are available for free online. Others complained that Newman was putting words in Peterson's mouth. I don't think that this is a valid criticism for the reason that Peterson has elbowed his way into the middle of a very large and polarizing cultural fight, and Newman was simply parroting many of the arguments that exist on the side opposite Peterson in this fight. She wouldn't be a good interviewer if she didn't raise the arguments that she did. She was doing her job.
Friendly echo-chamber interviews do have their place; however, for those interested in getting to the truth, a bit of confrontation can go a long way. Just as running uphill will toughen you up far more than walking down a gentle grade, those who aggressively force you to defend your position are doing much more for you and your ideas than someone who uncritically swallows everything that you come up with. Peterson has already experienced plenty of this type of hostility and so it is his fans who will benefit most from Newman's aggressive interview style. If you have been studying Peterson's work uncritically then you have no way of knowing if it will actually stand up to intense scrutiny. Newman is doing the real work here for you. She put Peterson in the position of having to defend his own ideas. This gave him the opportunity to show how knowledgeable and careful he is in his work. She made a serious attempt to rattle him and this allowed Peterson to come off as a very careful and measured thinker and not someone who might carelessly blurt out nonsense. Newman also put forward some of the ideas that Peterson's antagonists frequently claim to hold and she did it in an all-or-nothing way and seemed content to let the ideas themselves battle and simply see where things might end up. Because of this, Ms. Newman has also, in a way, helped Peterson's opponents. It became clear during the interview that the arguments Newman attempted fall short in a real confrontation. This means that the people making them will have to go back and refine and improve them. Through this process, they might come to allow their own opinions and ideas to evolve. What could be a better outcome than that?
I was extremely disappointed to read that Ms. Newman is now receiving a substantial amount of online abuse. This fact, while unpleasant, might also perform another important function. It should serve as a reminder to the very large percentage of our population that is decent and politically centred that there is a small band of resentful and dangerous misfits at the extreme ends of both the Left and the Right. It should also remind people to not fall into the old trap of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". The enemy of your enemy might actually be your enemy too. If they are attacking people online for the sole purpose of causing them misery for the crime of holding a different opinion then they are the enemies of reason and of civilization itself. If you are a Peterson fan, or just a fan of rational discourse in general, you might want to spend a few minutes calling out Ms. Newman's abusers if you happen to run across them on social media.
I enjoyed the interview very much and would happily watch another one. In fact, I do think a rematch is in order and I doubt very much that I would be the only one watching it.