In 2016, James Bennet left his esteemed job at The Atlantic to run the editorial pages for The New York Times. His op-ed page became a sped-up version of his Atlantic, and the essential nihilism of either endeavor was laid bare. Ideas are valued to the extent that they provoke, and because both outlets sit within a broadly liberal consensus, special value was assigned to provocations from their right flank.
At the Times, Bennet brought on a skeptic of both campus rape statistics and climate science. And Bari Weiss, another new contributor and opinion section editor, has positioned herself as a feminist apostate. People at the paper like to talk about the hires as matters of intellectual rigor and viewpoint diversity, but all they’re doing is draping a philosopher’s toga around a troll.
On Monday night, the fury over Bennet’s op-ed page and its contempt for readers coalesced around something Weiss tweeted (and later deleted). Criticism flew in from all points of the compass — including from within the Times itself, where staffers were unusually frank in expressing their anger at both Weiss and the newspaper, according to an internal chatroom transcript obtained by HuffPost.
Here is what Weiss tweeted:
People were outraged not only at the tweet ― which referenced a line from a song from “Hamilton” ― but also at Weiss’ refusal to acknowledge that perhaps she had been insensitive in placing an American citizen in the category of other. Weiss chose to respond by doubling down. (She also later claimed she had tweeted “Immigrants: we get the job done.”)
It went on like that for a while.
But many employees of The New York Times were not able to engage in this lively Twitter conversation thanks to the publication’s oppressive social media guidelines that seem only to apply to its reporters — not its opinion writers. And thanks to the recent dissolution of the public editor role, employees at the Times are left without any real outlet for internal criticism. So some employees took to Slack, a group chat platform widely used by media organizations, to discuss the incident in a chatroom visible to the rest of the company. They talked about their frustrations with Weiss’ tweet in particular and with management’s response to such instances in general.
A transcript of that conversation is below. Names of participants have been removed, as have any identifying details. The conversation took place between roughly 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday, after which Bennet and the Times soon found yet another rake to step on.
Person A: She’s double doubling down comparing her tweet to articles like this which note the difference between being the daughter of immigrants vs being an immigrant. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mirai-nagasu-michelle-kwan_us_5a81bea7e4b044b3821fc92d
Person B: i guess it’s too much to even expect a “we’re sorry you’re offended” apology since asians don’t matter
Person C: (and she’s being untruthful about having misquoted the song)
Person B: i guess you get full twitter privileges at the nyt when you are consistently factually wrong
if “interesting” could be used to describe flashbacks of internment of japanese americans
sorry, but I felt that tweet denied Mirai her full citizenship just as the internment did. and nothing will be done because no one was offended! (since we don’t count)
Person D: i was offended! i think a lot of people here were
Person E: Agree with [Person D]. I was offended at her tweet, but she’s got her hands full on social media. So I disagree with your statement that, somehow, no one cares or is paying attention. Lots of folks are paying attention. But I understand your frustration. Thanks for sharing.
Person B: here at the times, some people are allowed to make mistakes and offend. others are not ever afforded one chance.
i will no longer remain silent about our hostile work environment just so that it will be pleasant for others
Person F: i don’t know, man. it’s really painful when you feel your colleagues are disrespecting you. i don’t know if i agree that fending off people on twitter is more important than hearing people in the building
and it happens pretty often
Person B: and frankly microaggressions and people being obtuse cut the deepest. and this is DAILY.
Person G: i wasn’t here when we had a public editor, but i understand how it worked. it was clear. what i don’t understand now and now what’s unclear is what’s supposed to happen when the same mistakes keep getting made again and again. at what point is the company willing to take the responsibility off the public for calling this stuff out? will the reader center step in? is that even what the reader center is for? i genuinely don’t know!
(“mistakes” in hindsight is a very generous term for what I’m talking about here)
Person C: hey all. whatever we’re saying here is leaking outside the Times. I’ve got a message from a reporter outside the building asking me to screen shot this conversation.
which I AM NOT DOING.
but folks, c’mon
Person H: Perhaps our next leadership Q&A can address this specific topic? (When is the next one? I don’t remember the proposed cadence. Were they monthly?)
Person I: It’s totally an understandable confusion because the difference is kind of subtle.
The Reader Center is supposed to be aware of reader reactions, along with amplifying their stories.
Whereas the public editor was more like an ombudsman and would just call out whatever s/he felt was wrong.
And the Reader Center is part of the newsroom.
Person J: thank you for bringing up this issue here! I had thought about posting about it yesterday but opted instead to vent privately to other AAPI/Asian-American colleagues because I didn’t know if I had the energy to address micro aggressions and /or defend my right to feel frustrated at something other people might look at as not a big deal. I’m glad you had the courage to mention this!
on a related note, given the heightened political discourse around “free speech” where many people on the receiving end of criticism complain about being silenced, I don’t think there’s enough thought given to the way institutions/organizations/communities are structured to defacto silence people who are already most vulnerable to marginalization.
Person B: and the company should be listening because don’t we still have a discrimination lawsuit pending? [Note: This is most likely a reference to this suit.]
Person J: it definitely felt safer for me yesterday to vent in private than to discuss anything here because I’m always wary of being seen as some sort of internal agitator and given that I work on the [redacted] side, there’s a lot of political line-walking around [redacted].
anyway, I agree with you that the company should be listening, not only because of the lawsuit but because it’s the right thing to do. so thank you!
Person B: the diversity efforts here are nothing but lip service
Let’s hire more tokens we can put in their place!!!!!
Person K: @[PersonB] I agree about implicit bias training. Digital/Tech teams did this last year (I think!), and I thought it was really valuable. I would do it every year, frankly. I love that there is a channel where we can have discussions like this, but it would be even better to see some real action toward eliminating things that make you and others feel like we have a hostile work environment. I just want to say that I hear you, and I want this to be a place where everyone feels heard! And I want to do my part in making that happen. How can I help?
Person J: I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, I don’t know that implicit bias training actually seems that helpful?
it would probably be more useful if it were mandatory
and you know, maybe for people who have never thought about it, going through the training is really beneficial
but I feel like all it really does is address issues at the margins
like, oh now we’ll write a job description with slightly different words or maybe we’ll remove names and education data from resumes when we’re hiring
Person B: and i don’t know how it’s helpful if we are obsessed with poaching stars and nepotism
Person J: but it doesn’t really shift power in the way we probably should be. it doesn’t change how some male engineers will speak to female product managers or the racial makeup of roles that are lower paying vs. roles that are higher paying
implicit bias training definitely seems better than doing nothing, but it’s not hard to be better than zero
Person B: and who get tapped on the shoulder for plum jobs
Person L: what are channels we can voice the frustration about Bari’s comment internally? is some sort of letter a possible option?”
Person M [an editor on the masthead]: Hey all, a lot of smart thoughts here and just wanted you to know I am following along. Definitely worth more discussion. (I’m running into a 3 pm meeting but will be checking back later.)
Person B: i think we are supposed to just read and weep for fear of reprisals such as being blacklisted for promotions or being targeted for the next round of buyouts/layoffs
Shortly after this conversation, Bennet’s section announced it had hired Quinn Norton as a columnist. Almost instantly, Twitter users discovered that Norton had previously boasted about her friendships with neo-Nazis, among other troubling facts. That internal discussion was apparently taken to a much smaller, private Slack room. Seven hours and a considerable amount of Twitter furor later, the Times announced that it had decided to fire Norton.
UPDATE, 2 p.m. ― A New York Times spokesperson has provided HuffPost with the following statement:
The Times is deeply committed to a workplace that is reflective of the audience we serve. We view diversity - of gender, ethnicity, origin, thought and opinion, as critical to our work. And, we want The Times to be a safe and comfortable place to work for all. For that reason, we’ve prioritized training programs and forums to facilitate a constructive conversation around this very important issue.
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