My biggest failing as a manager was my distaste for firing people. Even when an employee deserved it, like the one who was doing drugs and repeatedly lying to me, I put off dropping the ax because I so dreaded doing the deed. Taking away a person’s livelihood was a power I never got comfortable with.
I was not alone. I worked for two of the biggest a-holes in American journalism and I can’t recall even those tyrants summarily firing anyone. Their protocol was to quietly tell disfavored employees to look for another job, allowing them to depart with some dignity. I also can’t recall an instance where a group of employees advocated for the firing of a colleague. I was fortunate to have worked with mostly compassionate people who’d take no pleasure watching someone trying to hold it together carrying their personal belongings on their way out the door.
Legions of journalists at the New York Times have no such compassion. Some 150 of them recently precipitated the firing of Donald McNeil Jr., a 67-year-old science writer who reported from 60 countries during a career spanning more than four decades. His reporting on the pandemic was submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration.
McNeil’s sin? In 2019, while leading a student tour in Peru, McNeil repeated the N-word in response to a question involving the use of the N-word. The Times’ execution mob wrote to management to say they were “outraged” and felt “disrespected” by McNeil’s comment. After first publicly defending the veteran reporter, executive editor Dean Baquet reversed himself and sent McNeil packing. McNeil issued a public apology that was eerily similar in tone and tenor to the “confessions” ISIS victims make before they’re beheaded.
There’s good reason to believe the Times journalists responsible for taking down McNeil took pleasure in his professional demise. Two years ago, the Times welcomed into its midst an editorial writer named Sara Jeong, despite, or possibly because of, tweets like this: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” I imagine Jeong, who is now a contributor to the Times, was euphoric reading about McNeil’s ouster.
McNeil’s forced resignation is of national significance. The New York Times is Ground Zero of America’s cancel culture, and the mean spiritedness responsible for McNeil’s cancellation has spread to other publications and is increasingly infecting the entire country. The Daily Beast, which asks readers to support its “fearless journalism,” assigned two reporters to ferret out McNeil’s two-year-old comment and then fanned the flames with a follow-up. Journalists take a twisted delight feasting on one of their own.
American journalism has been so overrun with miserable people consumed with negativity and hate that even acts of kindness sometimes repulses them. L.A. Times columnist Virginia Heffernan last week posted a column about the angst she experienced when her Trump-supporting neighbors cleared the snow off her New York driveway without being asked. Heffernan said she was troubled by the “aggressive kindness.”
The L.A. Times has an abundance of Heffernans working in its newsroom. In the spring of 2018, the publication forced out Jonathan Kaiman, its Beijing bureau chief, amid allegations of sexual misconduct lodged by two women who were once his friends. Emily Yoffe, a veteran journalist who’s written extensively about campus rape, did a deep dive into the allegations and found them undeserving and unfair. Yoffe typically wrote for the Atlantic and other liberal agenda-driven publications, so it’s telling that her examination of the allegations against Kaiman appeared in Reason, an obscure libertarian publication.
It’s also telling that one of Kaiman’s accusers was Felicia Sonmez, who now works at the Washington Post. Sonmez was the reporter who when news broke that Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash promptly posted a tweet linking to an article from the “fearless” Daily Beast about rape allegations the basketball star faced in 2003. The Post suspended Sonmez, possibly because she revealed personal information about people outraged by her tweet, but quickly reinstated her after howls of protests from newsroom staffers.
I’d never heard of Sonmez before she gave the American public yet another reason to despise journalists, but I was very familiar of McNeil’s work long before his downfall. McNeil was unquestionably among the most talented science writers ever, rivaled only by Sharon Begley, who recently died from complications of cancer. (I’m not exaggerating when I say this tribute to Begley ranks as the most heartfelt obituary I’ve ever read.) That McNeil, who I’d wager was the Times’ oldest newsroom employee, managed to survive countless buyouts and layoffs given his age and gender underscored his value.
McNeil’s forced resignation served as yet another reminder that the Times is dominated by millennial journalists whose whims the publication’s publisher and executive editor succumb to. Last June, publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger initially defended editorial page editor James Bennet for publishing a controversial commentary by Senator Tom Cotton, declaring “I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit.” Sulzberger fired Bennet a few days later after newsroom employees objected to his decision.
New York Times editor Dean Baquet, who is black, initially defended McNeil, saying McNeil’s intentions were neither “hateful or malicious” and “should be given another chance.” Baquet, 64, achieved journalism prominence in an era when there were few blacks working at major American publications. I’m certain his racism radar is considerably more finely honed than the myriad Times journalists who weren’t even born when Baquet entered the business. Unfortunately, Baquet felt too much pressure to stay true to his convictions.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of a discredited essay prefacing the Times’ 1619 Project that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize last year, played a leadership role in the newsroom uprisings leading to the forced resignations of McNeil and Bennet. After Baquet said an investigation into McNeil’s comments revealed no justification for McNeil’s removal, Hannah-Jones declared she’d conduct her own investigation.
On the Times publishing the Cotton op-ed, Hannah-Jones said: As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.” Yet Hannah-Jones feels no shame or embarrassment that more than 20 scholars and writers called on the Times to return her Pulitzer Prize after the publication, without alerting readers, removed the controversial claim originally made in her essay that 1619 was America’s true founding.
What’s notable is the Hannah-Jones herself tweeted the N-word multiple times, and when asked by a reporter from the conservative Washington Free Beacon about the seeming contradiction, she posted the reporter’s telephone number. A Times spokeswoman said the posting was inadvertent, which is more shameful than had Hannah-Jones done it deliberately. Reporters are routinely entrusted with confidential information and most are diligent about protecting personal and sensitive information.
What’s also notable is the Times’ decision to put McNeil out to pasture in the midst of a pandemic, arguably the biggest news story of 2021. The publication can dispense with McNeil’s experience because it is no longer a traditional “news” paper but rather an advocate of an ideological agenda predicated on the belief that America is a fundamentally racist country. To the Times, it doesn’t matter if Hannah-Jones’ commentary contained egregious errors and misinterpretations because the publication believes the premise was fundamentally correct.
The City Journal in its latest issue deftly explains what the Times and what other once elite publications have morphed into, a so-called “post journalism” the keeps readers on edge that something awful is looming to “scare the audience” and “make them donate.” In advance of the July 4th holiday two years ago, the Times published a commentary declaring that “America isn’t so great,” implicitly suggesting the publication is imbued with the enlightenment on how to make things better.
The presidency of Donald Trump provided an abundance of fodder to keep Times readers in a constant state of panic and despair. With President Biden quickly adopting policies the Times holds dear, the publication’s journalism model could be at risk. I suspect that’s why the Times quickly backed down when I refused an automatic monthly subscription renewal to $15 a month from the $4 a month I paid the previous two years.
Readers of conservative publications are already well aware the Times is no longer deserving of the trust and respect the publication once enjoyed. With the loss of a reporter of Don McNeil’s caliber, hopefully Times readers will wake up and appreciate what’s become of their beloved publication.
Worth reading: Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a report documenting yet another instance of the New York Times’ dishonesty. This commentary by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy is an insightful example.