Michael Goodwin: New York Times firings – here's how cancel culture claimed two more victims
Two NY Times reporters resign
Donald McNeil sorry for racist slur.
Thunk, thunk. The career guillotine at The New York Times was busy Friday, dispatching two men found wanting by the Purity Police.
When the shock wears off, the former employees might consider their departures a blessing. At least they are no longer marooned on an island that evokes “Lord of the Flies.”
The two cases are unrelated, but Donald McNeil Jr. and Andy Mills share the fact that the Times knew about their specified conduct years ago but took little or no action. It reprimanded McNeil and hired Mills despite Mills’ confessing he had engaged in unwanted sexual pestering with co-workers years earlier at NPR.
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Yet top editor Dean Baquet, egged on by witch-hunting staff members, suddenly decided to revisit the cases and concluded both offenses could no longer be tolerated, so off with their heads.
This is not moving the goal posts. This is rewriting the rules to satisfy the mob.
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Such is life in Wokestan, where notions of misconduct are malleable and arbitrary. Social-justice activists stalk a newsroom that is racialized and radicalized, hunting for reasons to be offended. When they are, the ax falls.
The ax doesn’t always fall equally.
A female reporter at the paper got her scoops by sleeping with a government source, who went to prison for leaking classified information while she kept her job.
The star female reporter who fell for the false claims of a wannabe jihadist on the “Caliphate” podcast got demoted, but Mills, her white male producer, is suddenly sent packing because Twitter users dug up his randy behavior at NPR.
At the Times, he had been promoted and was not blamed for the “Caliphate” debacle. But as Mills put it in his resignation letter, “another story emerged online: that my lack of punishment came down to entitlement and male privilege.”
The twin firings illustrate how mercurial Baquet has become and suggest his main focus is obeying the loudest voices in the newsroom. When reporters and editors gang up to complain about colleagues, including former op-ed page editor James Bennett, Baquet, along with publisher A.G. Sulzberger, promptly delivers pink slips. Careers and years of service are tossed aside like trash.
Opinion writer Bari Weiss, in her fiery resignation from the Times last year, decried the mob mentality running the paper, declaring that “Twitter has become its ultimate editor.”
Running afoul of the new absolutism on race trumps “good reporting over four decades.”
The mounting incidents offer proof of a curious evolution. Even as the Gray Lady abandons its standards of rigor and fairness in its coverage, it is obsessed with imposing progressive standards of thought and conduct on its employees. The quality of their reporting and writing increasingly takes a back seat to what they say, think or do, in or out of the office. One error can be fatal.
The case of McNeil, a Times colleague of mine decades ago, is especially instructive. A top reporter whom the paper nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last month for his coverage of the pandemic, he led a group of high-school students on a Times-affiliated trip to Peru in 2019.
Afterward, a handful of the 26 students and some parents complained that McNeil, who is white, used the N-word in repeating a story, used sexist language and rejected the teens’ idea that he benefited from white male privilege.
The Times investigated the complaints, reprimanded McNeil, apologized to the families and quietly closed the case. End of story.
Or so it was until The Daily Beast learned of the complaints and wrote about the incident on Jan. 28th.
Within hours, Baquet wrote a Times-wide note in which he defended his 2019 decision, saying he had concluded McNeil’s intentions were not “hateful or malicious,” adding: “I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance. He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.”
But Baquet also opened the door to another look at the case, writing, “Some people think we have been too tolerant in disciplining high-profile journalists,” and said he welcomed that conversation.
Soon 150 Times staff members took him up on the invitation, writing that they were “offended” by McNeil’s reported comments nearly two years earlier and felt “disrespected” at being left out of the discipline decision.
“Despite the Times’ seeming commitment to diversity and inclusion,” they wrote, “we have given a prominent platform — a critical beat covering a pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color — to someone who chose to use language that is offensive and unacceptable by any newsroom’s standards.”
Baquet instantly surrendered. In a second note, he dropped his defense of his 2019 decision, denounced “racism and discrimination of all kinds” and promised “results.”
He also said of himself, Sulzberger and the company CEO that “the three of us have no higher priority than getting this right.”
Hmmm, one might imagine that getting the news right for readers would be their highest priority. But that’s an outdated view of the Times, which now sees itself as America’s ultimate enforcer of social and racial justice. Virtually every story has an agenda, and facts that don’t fit are minimized or omitted.
Its relentless attacks on Donald Trump stoked the paper’s hubris and its bid to rewrite American history with its error-ridden 1619 Project, which put slavery at the center of the independence movement. Such grandiose callings require a relentless commitment to ferreting out evidence of human imperfections.
Thus, in his third note, where he announced McNeil was leaving, Baquet declared that while he “has done much good reporting over four decades . . . we do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”
The fiat offers no context, no redemption, even though McNeil apologized. Running afoul of the new absolutism on race trumps “good reporting over four decades.”
It’s a curious way to run a newspaper or any business, but if that’s the Times’ yardstick for everyone from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Donald McNeil and Andy Mills, I eagerly await the moment when Baquet turns the spotlight on the history of the Times itself.
As I reported last July, Times patriarch Adolph Ochs, the current publisher’s great-great-grandfather, was a Confederate sympathizer and contributed to the Stone Mountain memorial in Georgia, which the Times demonizes.
He opposed “negro suffrage” and his mother, Bertha Levy Ochs, supported slavery, had a brother and two cousins who fought for the South and was caught smuggling medicine to rebel soldiers.
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In addition, census data, family records and other documents show at least two members of the extended Ochs-Sulzberger family were slaveholders, one of whom was also a slave trader.
Surely, one of the paper’s extra-woke reporters will demand that their employer come clean about the Confederates in its closets and archives. Or is the Times itself exempt from the tests of the Purity Police?
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