'Intent Is Irrelevant:' Another Woke Purge Inside The New York Times

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Posted: Feb 09, 2021 1:25 PM
'Intent Is Irrelevant:' Another Woke Purge Inside The New York Times

Source: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

Does a more toxic office culture exist than that of The New York Times? Get sideways with the woke cabal that dominates newsroom politics, and your life will be made a misery until you are ultimately purged. The Tom Cotton op-ed debacle was only one prominent example. Former editor Bari Weiss' ferocious resignation letter was another. The list is growing, and the latest victim of the paper's internal Cancelation Police is a longtime science writer at the Old Gray Lady, who has helped lead the organization's Coronavirus coverage. His crime? Uttering aloud a racial slur in a context clearly not meant to be derogatory in any way. Here is how The Times itself reports on Donald McNeil's departure:

Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, and Joe Kahn, the managing editor, informed the staff of the departures of Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science correspondent who reported on the coronavirus pandemic...Mr. McNeil, a veteran of The Times who has reported from 60 countries, was an expert guide on a Times-sponsored student trip to Peru in 2019. At least six students or their parents complained about comments he had made, The Daily Beast reported last week. The Times confirmed he used a “racist slur” on the trip. In their memo, Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn wrote that Mr. McNeil “has done much good reporting over four decades” but added “that this is the right next step.”... The statement was a turnabout from last week, when Mr. Baquet sent a note to the staff defending his decision to give Mr. McNeil “another chance.” “I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment,” Mr. Baquet wrote, “but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.” 

Days after that note, a group of Times staff members sent a letter to the publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, that was critical of the paper’s stance on Mr. McNeil. “Despite The Times’s seeming commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said the letter, which was viewed by a Times reporter, “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.”

So McNeil's offense was investigated, and management – led by a black executive editor – determined that his intentions were "not hateful or malicious," and that he should be given "another chance." At which point, McNeil's colleagues leaned hard into racialism to insist that his punishment was not grave enough. So he was cast out. McNeil, in keeping with an emerging leftist ritual of issuing abject, self-flagellating apologies to the mob after their livelihood has been destroyed, insisted that it's all his fault:

“I should not have done that,” he wrote. “Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it cannot. It is deeply offensive and hurtful.” Mr. McNeil concluded, “For offending my colleagues — and for anything I’ve done to hurt The Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve — I am sorry. I let you all down.”

He was made to understand that context and intent do not matter whatsoever to, er, his fellow journalists. Reading The Times story, one does not come away with any clear understanding of what actually happened, which is perhaps the point. A very bad word was said, and that's all the audience needs to know, it seems. But shouldn't factors like context and intent matter, especially to people whose profession (at least ostensibly) involves ascertaining and contextualizing truth? Here's how leftist writer Glenn Greenwald – who chose to abandon his own longtime writing perch after speech-stifling colleagues came after him – describes the incident that led to McNeil's professional demise:

On a 2019 field trip for rich high school kids to Peru, he used the “n-word” after a student asked him whether he thought it was fair that one of her classmates was punished for having used it in a video. McNeil used it not with malice or as a racist insult but to inquire about the facts of the video so he could answer the student’s question.

I strongly believe that non-black people should simply avoid using that exceptionally ugly word, period. Its history is too painful. McNeil erred by repeating it, even under these circumstances. But intent and context should matter when determining what, if anything, should be done about a mistake. Two years ago, he recited the word back to a student who'd asked him a question specifically about the use of that slur. He was trying to get his arms around the situation in which a high school student had been punished for having employed the N-word (years earlier, reportedly). In an attempt to understand and answer that inquiry, the word itself was parroted back. The Times brass correctly viewed this as non-malicious and not evidence of bigotry. But, Greenwald goes on to note, those crucial mitigating realities explicitly did not matter to the Cancelers:

Dozens of McNeil’s colleagues wrote a furious letter demanding far more severe punishment. “Our community is outraged and in pain,” said the 150 Times employee-signatories, adding: “intent is irrelevant.” Intent is irrelevant when judging how harshly to punish this storied journalist for uttering this word. They got what they wanted. McNeil wrote a grovelling, abject apology, and then the Times announced he was gone from his job after forty-five years with the paper, including for COVID reporting over the last year that the paper had submitted for a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Just think about that: New York Times employees, who are unionized, demanded that management punish a fellow union member more harshly than management wanted to. In 2002, McNeil won the 1st place prize from the National Association of Black Journalists for excellence in his reporting on how the AIDS crisis was affecting Africa. Now his forty-five-year career and reputation are destroyed — at the hands of his own colleagues — because “intent is irrelevant” when using off-limit words.

We can debate whether dozens of adults should be taken seriously when they declare themselves "in pain" over this episode. Shouldn't the particulars of the scenario in question cut against any sense of grievous offense or personal wounding? Ah, but the particulars of the scenario in question aren't important, the mob explains. "Intent is irrelevant." That's a chilling sentiment, especially because it was advanced by a group of journalists, and because it "worked." A man's 45-year career at the newspaper was extinguished in a flash of identity-driven blood lust, and the context of his supposedly termination-worthy transgression is said to be entirely beside the point – along with everything else he'd done over previous decades of work. If this constitutes newsroom "justice," that fact alone raises disturbing questions about who is really in charge of organizations tasked with reporting the truth to the American people. Questions like these:


It would be one thing if this authoritarian phenomenon were limited to just one major news outlet. But instances of mob-driven purges and related furors are cropping up all over the place, over and over again. In many instances, journalists aren't merely covering these firestorms. They're leading them. An indignant and incredulous Greenwald marvels at "the unimaginably warped dynamic in which U.S. journalists are not the defenders of free speech values but the primary crusaders to destroy them." Which leads us to another mess, in which a notorious Times 'tech journalist' smeared someone with a false accusation of using a different sort of slur:

New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz on Saturday evening accused Marc Andreessen, a billionaire tech entrepreneur and investor, of saying the “r-word” while using the social media network Clubhouse. Clubhouse is a social media network that allows users to actually speak to each other using their own voices. It was during one of these drop-in audio conversations that Lorenz claimed she heard Andreessen use the slur.  “[Marc Andreessen] just openly using the r-slur on Clubhouse tonight and not one other person in the room called him on it or saying anything,” Lorenz claimed in a since-deleted tweet. Nait Jones, a partner at Andreessen’s venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, responded to Lorenz’s tweet by saying he was the moderator for the Clubhouse chat and that Andreessen never used the slur. The word was mentioned [by someone else] because some of the redditors who participated in the GameStop stock market spree called themselves the “R***** Revolution.” “I [moderated] that room,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “Here’s what actually happened. Felicia explained that the Redditors call themselves “R-word revolution” but Marc never used that word, ever, he referenced “DeepF***ingValue” – that’s all – and this is why people block because of this horse s*** dishonesty.”

The "reporter," who is a self-stylized crusader against Wrong Think and Wrong Speak, casually deleted the original tweet, then (while playing the victim) shifted to criticizing everyone present at the virtual discussion for not calling out someone's use of the "R-word" – which was quite obviously used in the context of explaining something, not to demean. But apparently "intent is irrelevant." Perhaps The Times should consider putting that slogan on the masthead moving forward. Here is Weiss re-upping her famous summer 2020 Twitter thread about the poisonous atmosphere inside America's so-called paper of record:


It is distinctly and worrisomely clear which side is winning.  I'll leave you with some of the fittingly deranged recriminations arising from this firestorm:


Did this notorious trolly activist posing as a journalist intend to violate Twitter's terms of service and effectively dox a young reporter seeking comment?  We've been assured that intent does not matter, have we not?  Also, in what universe is this an acceptable response?  In the universe of a woke newsroom living in fear of its own internal mob, that's where.