Look, sometimes you tweet bad tweets. (Who among us, etc.) Usually, the best response when this happens is to listen to what people are saying, take the criticism in stride, and apologize. The worst response is to double down, which is exactly what The New York Times has been doing—and it’s causing a full-fledged meltdown at the paper.
On Monday (TGIF???) Times op-ed columnist and editor Bari Weiss tweeted the following:
It was objectively a very bad tweet. Many people on Twitter pointed out to Weiss that calling Mirai Nagasu, who was born in California, an immigrant, is racist—something which Weiss termed a “sign of civilization’s end.” Internal Times Slack conversations leaked to HuffPost showed that colleagues within Weiss’s own workplace were frustrated as well, with one person saying, “It’s really painful when you feel your colleagues are disrespecting you. I don’t know if I agree that fending off people on Twitter is more important than hearing people in the building.”
Just a day later, Quinn Norton was hired as the Times’ new technology opinion writer, then promptly let go in a matter of hours after the internet found tweets in which she had hurled homophobic slurs and defended her friendship with Andrew Auernheimer, a notorious white supremacist.
Then, yesterday, there were these horrifically tone-deaf tweets by Times reporter Eric Lipton in response to the school shooting in Florida:
Yet despite these missteps from both its news and opinion sections, the Times has rallied to the great cause of doubling down. On Thursday night, Weiss’ boss, editorial page editor James Bennet, wrote a 1,500-word memo to the entire paper, defending his bad opinion section as one that is “willing to challenge our own assumptions.” (Does that include the assumption that Mirai Nagasu is not an immigrant? Because...) Bennet ended with this plea: “I’d like to close with an ask of you: criticize our work privately to each other as you see fit.” Just a quick search through Weiss’s recent likes show that she is clearly receiving this memo as affirmation of her actions.
Yet while the top brass was trying to get everyone in line, one of Bennet’s other marquee hires, columnist Bret Stephens, was busy starting fires on Twitter. After Lipton took down his terrible tweet, Stephens rushed to his defense:
It’s nice to see that a Times columnist can back up a Times reporter in the noble cause of defending a bad tweet.
On Friday, after days of this insanity, the entire leadership of the Times—CEO Mark Thompson, executive editor Dean Baquet, and Bennet—issued a very stern “note on civility” to remind everyone to “engage with each other constructively.” (Times editors: They get the job done!)
That the note even needed to be sent is a sign of how badly things have broken down, but the change that’s needed isn’t more civility—it’s an honest grappling with what Bennet and his team have wrought, and what it’s doing to the paper as a whole. The Times is losing its shit over what have been a slew of legitimate and (mainly) level-headed criticisms, including from their own employees. Its response has been to do what the Times op-ed section does over and over again: Instead of spending any time listening to the world, it is trying to opine its way out of its mess.