Earlier this month, HuffPost published the transcript of a New York Times Slack conversation in which staffers criticized a tweet from opinion editor Bari Weiss incorrectly suggesting that American figure skater Mirai Nagasu is an immigrant. The internal pushback to Weiss combined exasperation toward the Times opinion section—where provocation increasingly veers toward trolling—with swipes at a recently unveiled social media policy that prizes the appearance of objectivity for reporters, but seems to have no parallel set of rules for staffers on the opinion side.
“i guess you get full twitter privileges at the nyt when you are consistently factually wrong,” one anonymous Times staffer said of Weiss’ tweet and ensuing indignation at the outrage it caused. “sorry, but I felt that tweet denied Mirai her full citizenship just as the [Japanese] internment did. and nothing will be done because no one was offended! (since we don’t count).”
On Saturday, the Times’ other in-house provocateur, Bret Stephens, took a victory lap after Nagasu said in an interview with Bleacher Report that she wasn’t personally offended by Weiss’ tweet:
Stephens has repeatedly sounded off on Twitter in defense of Weiss and others, but this latest intervention from a Times opinion contrarian apparently crossed the line for Times tech reporter Mike Isaac. In tweets that were later deleted—a tipster provided Splinter with screenshots—Isaac pushed back publicly:
A Twitter user named Senator Wario commented on one of those tweets, saying, “from the outside, it seems offensive that the opinion section is given free reign to shit on anyone, while everyone else at the nyt has to bite their tongue and use twitter in a restricted and ‘proper’ way.” Isaac replied:
Isaac, who hasn’t responded to my DM seeking comment, apparently thought better of those tweets. It’s hard to blame him given the Times’ new social media policy. But the entire exchange speaks to the power dynamics within the paper.
Stephens made a big deal about leaving Twitter last year because it “erases nuance, coarsens thought, turns into a game of ‘Telephone.’” But he’s recently returned with a laser-like focus on melting the snowflakes. Under the guise of intellectual diversity, he also appears to feel emboldened enough to subtweet the “offense addicts” in the Times newsroom. What value Stephens is providing readers by repeatedly attacking colleagues who can’t attack him back and telling people what they can and cannot be offended by is unclear. But such is the power that comes with a columnist’s perch.
Isaac, on the other hand, is among the most engaging Twitter users on the Times’ staff, sharing genuine interactions and real insights with those who follow him. But it is he who is now self-censoring. Will free speech warriors come to his defense? I’m not holding my breath.