Why did a column from Bret Stephens get spiked by the New York Times’ publisher? Did it disclose A.G. Sulzberger’s bank account numbers? The exact parameters of the paper’s typeface? Or perhaps reveal the Secret Hidden “Paper of Record” Code of Wokeness?

In a way, yes on the latter. The New York Post got a leaked copy of the center-right columnist’s essay and published it last night. The most stunning revelation from Stephens’ work is … the utter lack of intestinal fortitude in the NYT’s upper management. The Gray Lady is apparently so fragile that it couldn’t even handle the publication of Stephens’ academic and erudite criticism of the paper’s cave to its activist workforce. His work is stunning not because it is caustic, but because Stephens chose to remain this measured. And the paper still didn’t publish the column.

This is literally the worst criticism of the NYT in the entire piece:

Journalism as a humanistic enterprise — as opposed to hack work or propaganda — does these things in order to teach both its practitioners and consumers to be thoughtful. There is an elementary difference between citing a word for the purpose of knowledge and understanding and using the same word for the purpose of insult and harm. Lose this distinction, and you also lose the ability to understand the things you are supposed to be educated to oppose.

No wonder The Times has never previously been shy about citing racial slurs in order to explain a point. Here is a famous quote by the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater that has appeared at least seven times in The Times, most recently in 2019, precisely because it powerfully illuminates the mindset of a crucial political player.

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ “states’ rights” and all that stuff.”

Is this now supposed to be a scandal? Would the ugliness of Atwater’s meaning have been equally clearer by writing “n—, n—, n—”? A journalism that turns words into totems — and totems into fears — is an impediment to clear thinking and proper understanding.

So too is a journalism that attempts to proscribe entire fields of expression. “Racist language” is not just about a single infamous word. It’s a broad, changing, contestable category. There are many people — I include myself among them — who think that hardcore anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. That’s also official policy at the State Department and the British Labour Party. If anti-Semitism is a form of racism, and racist language is intolerable at The Times, might we someday forbid not only advocacy of anti-Zionist ideas, but even refuse to allow them to be discussed?

As I mentioned the other day, that word appeared in more than a dozen NYT stories over the past year, too. The paper printed it because the word was part of a discussion over racism and its language, just as McNeil’s usage was. The paper would not print that word if the intent of that inclusion was derogatory, of course, and neither would any other worthy publication. That is precisely why intent matters.

Now that all of this hypocrisy is being pointed out, the NYT has hit retreat on “intent”:

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet on Thursday walked back a statement regarding the company’s policy on racial slurs, the latest development in an internal scandal that began after its veteran science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. was recently pressured to resign for using the N-word.

In a staff meeting, Baquet said he had gone too far when he declared last week that the paper would not tolerate racist language in the workplace or by employees “regardless of intent,” several people present in the meeting said.

“Of course intent matters when we are talking about language in journalism,” Baquet said, calling his earlier declaration ham-handed.

If that’s the case, then where’s the reinstatement for and apology to McNeil? They forced out McNeil on the explicit premise that his intent had no weight in evaluating his use of the word — the exact same use the NYT has made of it more than a dozen times in the past year. Until McNeil gets his job back, though, this is just empty rhetoric on Baquet’s part, a cheap way to get off the hook and back out of the headlines.

And this all corroborates the conclusion John reached yesterday. Sulzberger and Baquet no longer run the New York Times. It is being run by a mob of social activists posing as journalists, a mob which has the executive offices so afraid that they can’t even dare to publish this mild rebuke from Stephens on its own pages.  Baquet and Sulzberger have spent the past several months trying to reverse-engineer principles from a series of abject surrenders to mob demands for control over content in the paper and over personnel choices as well. Baquet got caught out on “intent” this week, and gave away the game.

Get ready for the hollowing out of other institutions after the collapse of credibility at the NYT. Don’t think for a second that this same process isn’t under way at other media outlets, run by the same feckless executives who want to avoid their own social-media cancellation more than they want to maintain their own authority and integrity. McNeil and Stephens won’t be the last people that get tossed to the mob in the hope that it will sate their desire, even though it become clear that feeding the mob only makes its appetite grow ever more monstrous.