Who needs award-caliber writers if they make others feel uncomfortable?
While it is always bad to see a journalist put out of work, at the same time, there is a level of encouragement with this story, as there is a measure of hope that a news outlet may come to a moment of dawning. The New York Times just announced the dismissal of two prominent reporters, and there are lessons to be found in these cases – lessons for the newspaper.
The first is audio reporter Andy Mills, a producer of the very popular podcast “The Daily,” but he was also the force behind the deeply controversial series called “Caliphate.” That production followed the story of a Canadian resident who had become radicalized and went on to grow into the role of an assassin for ISIS. The man’s story was completely fabricated, however, and it led to embarrassment for The Times. The paper demoted celebrated reporter Rukmini Callimachi from all work involving terrorism, it returned The Peabody Award granted to the show and issued a number of corrections and retractions to the broadcast.
Following lengthy investigations by management, Mills was encouraged to step down. Less understandable was the decisions leveled at longtime science reporter Donald McNeil. A fixture at The Times for 45 years, McNeil came under fire for a distasteful comment he made while leading a student trip in Peru in 2019. During said trip, he had a conversation with a high school student over the suspension of another. At issue was a video that the third party had recorded at 12 years of age where they used a racial slur.
In his resignation letter, McNeil explained how the conversation played out.
Includes McNeil apology: pic.twitter.com/Ikit7xs08i
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) February 5, 2021
So McNeil had merely clarified the specific word used in an effort to ascertain the context in which it was used in order to determine if there was cause for the suspension. If his version of the events is accurate, then not only was this an inoffensive use of the term – one not directed at anyone specific but used in an almost clinical fashion – but why on earth was this even an issue for the paper? For this, we can thank The Daily Beast.
That outlet detailed that a number of participants on that trip alleged the language used was accompanied by McNeil exhibiting other racist behavior, such as downplaying the importance of white supremacy and not paying proper respect to a shaman they had visited. An internal investigation at The Times looked into the matter and determined that while he used the language, it had not been done in a hateful fashion.
We conducted a thorough investigation and disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values. We found he had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language.
Following the report in The Daily Beast, it seems that many on the staff at The Times raised more outrage over the incident and motivated the paper to take action. As a result, McNeil has been provoked to tender his resignation. This seems to reflect the attitude described last summer by Bari Weiss, the former conservative columnist at the paper. In her resignation, Weiss described an atmosphere where a younger generation of writers was ruling the staff with woke standards and harsh aggression toward dissenting opinions.
This would-be cabal within The Times was loudly outraged at a Sen. Tom Cotton op-ed where he dared to suggest using the National Guard to quell violent uprisings (This petulant uprising is made more pathetic with the reality of Guard troops occupying the nation’s capital at this very moment).
This same group has now chased off a veteran writer over an issue few, if any of them, would have been aware of, let alone affected by, were it not in a Beast article. This is the kind of intemperate mindset that is settling into The Times’ writing staff and management, and it is becoming a growing issue; the paper has been watching numerous big-name departures as its coverage has become more problematic.
A sign of the skewed priorities is found in this detail about McNeil’s work. He has seen his stature broaden significantly in the past year with his coverage of the pandemic, and The Times has also submitted his work on the Covid-19 outbreak to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize. Now he has been chased off because, even as he was delivering laudatory work, he used language once that deeply offended certain staff members…who never heard him say the offensive things.
These are the priorities in our new Woke Age. Journalism and facts are now secondary to a prioritized entity – feelings.