The New York Times forced its veteran health-sector reporter Donald McNeil Jr to resign for even having a discussion of the N-word. Will Dean Baquet push out “1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones for doing the same? The Washington Free Beacon decided to ask Hannah-Jones, and it resulted in ugly retaliation against its reporter, Aaron Sibarium, who reported on it himself:
A Times spokeswoman muddied the waters further on Sunday, telling the Free Beacon that racial epithets had no place “in the newspaper.” The paper printed the same epithet as recently as last week in a magazine profile of the Princeton classics professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta.
“Even in ironic or self-mocking quotations about a speaker’s own group (in rap lyrics, for example), their use erodes the worthy inhibition against brutality in public discourse,” Danielle Rhoades Ha told the Free Beacon. She declined to say if that policy extends to social media, where other New York Times writers, including Nikole Hannah-Jones and Astead Herndon, have quoted the slur.
Baquet’s statement in particular came in for scathing criticism in the Facebook discussion. “‘We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent’ might be the most racist statement I’ve ever read,” said Lawrence De Maria, an award-winning crime and finance reporter. “It demeans ALL races.”
It is also untrue: “Larry Wilmore did not say, ‘You did it, my nigger,’” Hannah-Jones wrote in 2016, referencing the black comedian’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. There is a “linguistic difference b/w nigger and nigga.”
The Washington Free Beacon asked Hannah-Jones whether intent made a difference in her case. She responded by posting this reporter’s inquiry, including his cell phone number, on Twitter, in direct violation of the website’s terms of service.
To start off, this confusion and hypocrisy are precisely what happens when organizations get stampeded by their own employees into impossible-to-enforce standards. McNeil perhaps should have passed on the debate over the N-word in the private conversation with students, but if so, then Hannah-Jones should have passed on the similar and very public conversation with a journalist from a competing newspaper. If the paper has a standard that the word is verboten in its content and that intent doesn’t matter at all, then perhaps Baquet should have imposed that standard on the dozen or so articles that have appeared in NYT’s print since the McNeil incident. This “standard” declared by the Times looks very malleable indeed. By Baquet’s new standard, Baquet himself should be fired.
Hannah-Jones’ actions, however, require a separate response. Journalists should have some professional courtesy when fielding inquiries from other media outlets over issues. Even if they don’t want to respond, a simple “no comment” is all that is necessary. Doxxing another reporter over a reportorial inquiry should itself be a firing offense, especially after hearing over the last four years how dangerous their occupation had become under Donald Trump. Would Baquet tolerate that kind of reaction against one of his own reporters? Or would he demand that the person get fired?
The New York Times appears afflicted in equal measure by both hypocrisy and entitlement. Both are at levels fatal to its credibility.
Update: This must be some form of media transparency of which I’m unaware (via Twitchy):
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) February 9, 2021
Hey, under these rules, then McNeil can simply “delete” his pre-2020 conversations and keep his job … right?