Culture Clash at the New York Times

America's Newspaper of Record needs to figure out what it wants to be.

Ben Smith’s latest media column, reflecting on his own paper and its culture, is well worth the read. It intertwines stories of clashing cultures, both between a publication with a mission to publish All The News That’s Fit to print and an audience that wants a particular worldview and between an older generation of journalists and a younger generation of readers.

Its plot revolves around the case of recently-fired superstar health reporter Don McNeil Jr. but he’s more allegory than character. It seems that the New York Times began selling trips chaperoned by star reporters to rich families looking to boost their kids’ college resumes and it backfired on them.

Nor were the reporters always ready for the confident, hothouse politics of elite American high school students. One reporter was chided by counselors on a trip to Israel for his tone in an exchange about the future of the oil industry.

But, as Smith explains, that was only possible because of the paper’s unique status:

The Times is an object of obsession because of its unusual, perhaps unhealthy, central place in American news, culture and politics. Its actions — and those of its internal factions — carry huge symbolic weight. That’s the thing that struck me most when I got here a year ago, and wrote that “because The Times now overshadows so much of the industry, the cultural and ideological battles that used to break out between news organizations now play out inside The Times.” The Times’s media ambitions have also intensified its status as a cultural lightning rod. It is no longer just a source of information. It seeks to be the voice whispering in your ear in the morning, the curriculum in your child’s history class and the instructions on caramelizing shallots for the pasta you’re making for dinner.

Because of that, personnel squabbles there generate national attention in a way that those at other major papers don’t.

This intense attention, combined with a thriving digital subscription business that makes the company more beholden to the views of left-leaning subscribers, may yet push it into a narrower and more left-wing political lane as a kind of American version of The Guardian — the opposite of its stated, broader strategy.

I’ve reflected here before on the strange-to-me situation where very young reporters are dictating to managers with decades of experience how to run the paper. After reading Smith’s column, though, it’s obvious that this is really a reflection of both of the struggles highlighted at the outset.

One modest and early sign that The Times may be focusing a bit: A spokeswoman told me that it won’t restart the Journeys program next year. The Times may contain multitudes, but running a travel agency that drops ornery 65-year-old journalists into the literal jungle with a pack of sharp teens is a bridge too far.

What happened in Peru, too, was a kind of collision between the old Times and the next generation of its core audience, the educated globally minded elite. The student at the center of this story is Sophie Shepherd, who isn’t among the teenagers who have spoken anonymously to other news organizations. She and two other students said she was the person who spoke the most to Mr. McNeil and spent the most time with him on their “student journey.”

She was 17 at the time, and had just finished her senior year at Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school sometimes rated America’s best. She’s the kind of teenager who is excited to talk to a New York Times correspondent about public health, and perhaps to put the adventure on a résumé. She had even done the optional reading Mr. McNeil suggested, Jared Diamond’s 1997 book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” a Pulitzer-winning history that argues that environmental and geographic factors produced the global domination of European civilization. The book has drawn criticism for a deterministic view that seems to absolve colonial powers of responsibility for their choices.

Ms. Shepherd said she noticed that Mr. McNeil was walking alone as they left their hostel on the first morning of the trip, so she caught up with him. She asked him, she recalled, about the criticism of the book.

“He got very defensive very quickly about it,” she recalled. “It’s just a book, it’s just making this point, it’s very simple, it’s not racist.”

She said she backed down, apologized and “felt terribly guilty — like I must have come off as a crazy liberal.”

At lunch that day, she said she sat down the table from Mr. McNeil at a cafe overlooking the town’s narrow streets, where he was talking to another student when he uttered the N-word, and used the word in the context of a discussion of racism. Some of the teenagers responded almost reflexively, she said, to object to his use of the word in any context.

“I’m very used to people — my grandparents or people’s parents — saying things they don’t mean that are insensitive,” another student, who was then 17 and is now attending an Ivy League college, told me. “You correct them, you tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to talk like that,’ and usually people are pretty apologetic and responsive to being corrected. And he was not.”

I’m a dozen years younger than McNeil and not on as elite a perch. But we’re both old enough to be bemused by the notion that we’re supposed to defer to the sensibilities of 17-year-olds, much less kowtow to them.

McNeil was almost certainly older than most of those kids’ parents and had been covering important beats for the most important newspaper in the country for four decades. He surely saw himself in a parental-mentoring role. He thought they were there to learn from his experience and wisdom but, apparently, they thought they were there to teach him.

And, it seems McNeil has a reputation for being cantankerous to begin with (which makes him perhaps an odd choice to chaperone field trips).

To some, he embodied the swagger of the mid-20th century Times man, whose very presence rendered a story news. He could be a generous colleague, and blunt honesty is welcome in a newsroom, but he also sometimes alienated his bosses and colleagues. He asked sharp questions of the former publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., at the company’s annual staff meeting, and was a union activist who attacked management during brutal contract negotiations in the dark years of 2010 and 2011. He was a devoted, effective organizer, others in the News Guild recalled, but also drove his brothers and sisters in labor crazy with his imperiousness, and voted against the union’s 2016 contract, arguing that the union should have held out for more.

His impolitic views were also hardly a secret. When he published a book on the Zika virus in 2016, a puzzled reviewer in The Quarterly Review of Biology noted passages about feminists and gay sex, and wrote that “it is McNeil’s seniority and journalistic experience that makes the occasional misstep, or indelicate deviation from the science, all the more surprising.”

McNeil was raised in San Francisco and graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley with a degree in rhetoric. I doubt very much he was a flaming Trumper. But, again, he was 65 at the time of the trip. Views that were countercultural in the 1960s and 1970s are positively reactionary now.

Regardless, his made-man standing at the paper, his strong relationship with the union, and the fact that the public health beat wasn’t exactly prominent all combined to let him off with a slap on the wrist when the complaints first surfaced in 2019.

Ironically, the thing that made him “famous” did him in.

Mr. McNeil, who was not far from retirement, returned to his role as a reporter on the relatively unglamorous public health beat. He talked openly about taking a buyout the next time The Times offered them, and his career could easily have ended that way.

But then, just over a year ago, a strange new virus began spreading around the world. Mr. McNeil suddenly became a regular guest on The Times’s popular podcast, The Daily. His doomsaying was electrifying — stark, certain, sometimes alarming. He emerged as the voice of The Times’s coverage of the crisis.

Mr. McNeil had one high-profile stumble last May when he appeared on CNN and called for the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resign over the agency’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. “His editors have discussed the issue with him to reiterate that his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions,” a Times spokeswoman said at the time. But he remained central to the biggest story in the world. The Times included his work on the pandemic in its Pulitzer submission, two people familiar with it said.

That high profile may have led to the leak of The Times’s internal response to the Peru trip to The Daily Beast. Some employees then organized a letter saying that “our community is outraged and in pain” and asking why Mr. McNeil’s conduct hadn’t prevented him from covering a crucial story with complex racial disparities. The letter didn’t call for him to be fired, but for The Times to review its policies.

Other journalists considered the letter itself unfair, an attack on a veteran reporter’s career over speech that wasn’t directly connected to his journalism. Some Black journalists felt their white colleagues were rallying to Mr. McNeil’s defense rather than worrying about his words’ impact. “You often wonder what your white colleagues who are lovely to your face are actually thinking or saying about you — or people like you — behind your back,” a national reporter, John Eligon, tweeted.

This is where a messy but, in some ways, ordinary management problem became something more. The employees’ letter leaked. The News Guild’s own internal divisions over the matter leaked. Critics scoured Mr. McNeil’s old work, and complained on Twitter. The Times became the story.

From my perspective as a middle-aged white man on the outside, this whole thing seems absurd. A brilliant but cantankerous older dude engaged in lively debate with some spoiled rich kids whose parents were paying him to do just that. The paper’s management team, headed by a Black man, concluded that it was hardly a firing offense once they examined the context. Then, two years later, the thing is relitigated in public because suddenly McNeil had become podcast-famous.

Smith concludes,

The questions about The Times’s identity and political leanings are real; the differences inside the newsroom won’t be easily resolved. But the paper needs to figure out how to resolve these issues more clearly: Is The Times the leading newspaper for like-minded, left-leaning Americans? Or is it trying to hold what seems to be a disappearing center in a deeply divided country? Is it Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden? One thing that’s clear is that these questions probably aren’t best arbitrated through firings or resignations freighted with symbolic meaning, or hashed out inside the human resources department.

The Times will have to navigate its identity in tandem with the next generation of its audience — people like Ms. Shepherd, who said that she was most surprised by the gap between Mr. McNeil’s views and what she’d read in her favorite news outlet.

“That’s not what I would have expected from The Times,” she said. “You have the 1619 Project. You guys do all this amazing reporting on this, and you can say something like that?”

Shepherd seems like a precocious young lady. Given her rather tremendous head start in life, natural talent, and assertive personality, she’s likely to go far. But it would be a shame, indeed, if the Times became what she wants it to be.

Aside from confirming the “liberal media” trope that conservatives have been pushing for decades, our primary news outlets simply shouldn’t be ideological. Great journalism, by its very nature, should promote wide-ranging discourse. (Indeed, a little more of that might have kept the 1619 Project from going off the rails.)

Even beyond the question of sanitizing the paper’s reporting and opinion pages to ensure it confirms with the current orthodoxy of kids at liberal prep schools, the notion that people reading the New York Times should never encounter ideas that upset them is just dangerous.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Media, Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Slugger says:

    I can’t remember who said it, but beware of being too liberal in your youth, it will make you too conservative in your old age. The dominant position of The Times is not guaranteed. Being successful tends to lock you in place, and being locked in means that sooner or later you will be left behind when things change, and things always change.
    I think there are ways of talking about the N-word that are useful. Saying aloud gleefully is not one of them.

    5
  2. Blue Galangal says:

    The Times has been complicit in Trump from the get-go. That they still have pockets of reporters actually reporting – with stories that make it to the paper from time to time – is just cover for their real activities, which consist of (1) access to the Trumper class and (2) cover for their rich and famous clientele (see (1) and also Maggie Haberman). They fire a (young female) “contract” reporter (love how the young female reporter gets put on contract instead of being hired, by the way, while Maggie Haberman is pulling down how much $$ / pension/ benefits as Trump’s stenographer) for getting chills watching Biden’s plane land, and the decision to fire an (old male) reporter for much more egregious behavior is somehow the scandal?

    It’s a cliche by now, but the Times has shown us who they are repeatedly. Anyone still clinging to the notion that they are principled journalists, let alone liberal, wants to believe the lie.

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  3. CSK says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    Yet Trump claims to hate “the failing New York Times,” as he constantly refers to it. His fan club describes it as a “Commie rag.”

    3
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    It will be disappointing and a loss if the Times moves from All the News Fit to Print, to some POV reporting rag. Doing so will leave the paper being a leftist Washington Examiner. Though many readers don’t understand the difference, the paper’s editors need keep the bright lines between journalism, analysis and opinion.

    @Slugger:

    I believe it was either Disraeli or Burke that made the comment to the effect that if you are not a liberal in your youth, you have no heart and if you are not a conservative in you senior years you have no brain. Too lazy to look up the exact quote.

    3
  5. de stijl says:

    Institutions have to cope with the now.

    To address the desires of readers and the writers but within a flexible framework.

    Policy makers have to be extremely on the ball and savvy nowadays.

  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    It’s sort of an irrational fetish of mine, but I refuse to subscribe to the NYT. I live on the other coast, for Pete’s sake. Why would I do that? Yeah, I do have a chip on my shoulder about it.

    Being 65 isn’t really an excuse for it. At the same time, I heard older people say questionable things all the time when I was young, and I never dreamed of trying to get them fired for saying them. I daresay most young people today are the same. So this smacks of privilege to me, and that is in accordance with the demographic of these young people.

    Not that I want something different than what they want. Thing is, I define victory as changing a mind, not getting someone fired.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m severely disappointed that he can’t easily handle that criticism of Guns, Germs, and Steel (which I still love!).

    I do not believe that the reason that Europeans colonized and dominated North America was because the Native Americans were somehow morally superior. I think if the opportunity had been there, the roles could have been reversed. But they weren’t. Europeans had the guns and the germs, and that is gating factor for becoming a colonial power. The question is why did Europeans get them while Native Americans didn’t?

    Diamond’s answer is “geography”, and the book is intended to knock down the thesis of “Europeans are smarter”. It does a good job of that.

    But I guess this guy with summa cum laude from Berkeley couldn’t figure that out?

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer: In fairness, you’re relying on a spoiled 17-year-old’s account of the conversation.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    The war with the Right is over – the Left notches that win. The civil war (fingers crossed!) between weak, cowardly Republicans professing musty ideals they never actually believed in, vs. fascist Trump supporters, is under way. But there’s another fight coming within the Left over freedom of speech. It was subdued somewhat by the need to face a common enemy, but that doesn’t assure post-war unity among the victors.

    As a free speech guy I wish some of the people on this side were a bit less ham-fisted. It’s not a fight that will be won by appeals to authority.

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I’ve been moving the other way, becoming more liberal, not less. If in prosperous old age, with most of life’s battles won, you’re a conservative it’s not a sign of wisdom, but of self-satisfaction and indifference.

    4
  9. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK:

    Yet Trump claims to hate “the failing New York Times,” as he constantly refers to it. His fan club describes it as a “Commie rag.”

    They also now hate Mike Pence who’s been a reliable Trump sycophant for four years. NYT is not obsequiously pro-Trump, so Trump publicly disses them. And they do report the news. Trump has said publicly he denigrates the MSM as a tactic so his people will distrust anything but FOX/OAN/etc. fake news.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Diamond’s answer is “geography”, and the book is intended to knock down the thesis of “Europeans are smarter”. It does a good job of that.

    I was left with many questions after reading Diamond’s book ( I also read “Collapse”). One is that Asia had pretty much the same complement of domesticates as Europe, and many of the same germs, and many of the same tools. Yet Asian powers did not go on to become the dominant power. Much of the reason is cultural, as shown by the cancellation of the exploration voyages from China, like those of Zheng He.

    And yet, history does not stand still. Asia has been on the rise economically for a while, and China seems poised to assume a dominant role in world affairs soon.

    1
  11. Modulo Myself says:

    @Kathy:

    Fernand Braudel makes the claim that it was the threat of nomads, i.e. the Mongols, which made Asian culture primarily defensive, specifically China. And the devastation the Mongols left in what are now Iran and Iraq carved out a space for Western Europe to expand.

  12. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    Back in 2016, when Lesley Stahl asked Trump why he bashed the press, he replied: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

    As for the Trumpkins, they’ve hated Pence for a while now. They hate almost everyone but for Trump himself, Melania, and maybe Trump’s spawn. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.

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  13. dmichael says:

    @Blue Galangal: I agree completely. The internal office conflicts of a newspaper are irrelevant and boring. Since when is the NY Times a “liberal” paper or catering to “like-minded liberals?” A short walk down memory lane: Judith Miller and Michael Gordon and the Iraq War; Bill Keller who was cowered by the Bush administration and deferred publishing a comprehensive account of its illegal and massive surveillance; the ridiculous repetitive stories about HRC and her email server; Dean Baquet who on video while watching Trump’s inauguration, said “This is a fucking great story;” and of course, Maggie Haberman, queen of access journalism, dishing the latest gossip from sources inside the Trump White House, acting as a stenographer of their self-serving accounts. In their attempt to appear politically balanced, the NY Times has provided space to frauds like David Brooks and Bret Stephens. I wouldn’t care if the Times went out of business.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    China does sport one of the largest defensive fortifications ever made.

    Another question is why certain European nations went on a conquest spree in the Western hemisphere, but not all did. Germany didn’t do much at all, for instance, and neither did Italy (of course, those two weren’t unified much). Holland did a bit, but really concentrated on Asia. Most of the conquests were by Spain, Portugal, France and England.

    1
  15. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    Germany didn’t do much at all, for instance…

    At the time Spain, France, and England were building their empires, there wasn’t any single polity with a big coastline that you could label “Germany.”

    3
  16. gVOR08 says:

    I have to admit, James, my first reaction to your post was, “OK, boomer”. (I get to say that, I’m a leading edge boomer.) It’s impossible to know what actually was said on the trip, wealthy kids from Andover are likely to feel a bit entitled, as apparently does McNeil, there appears to be a lot of history, including union organizing, and this wouldn’t have been a story except for McNeil accidentally becoming prominent and leaks. This is a story where it’s impossible to to know the truth, and it’s trivia anyway.

    NYT, however, has always been a puzzle to me. On the whole they’re a very good paper and an asset to the nation. But they do have moments. And they did as much to elect Trump as James Comey did. I think part of the problem is that they take the voice from nowhere to an extreme and don’t make obvious judgements. When Weiner’s laptop surfaced, the FBI and NYT should have made the common sense assumption they’d just find more copies of emails they already had, but instead it was MORE HER EMAILS!!!. And when Barr released his summary of the Mueller report NYT should have made the common sense judgement he was probably fudging.

    NYT is notorious for launching expeditions into the wilderness west of the Hudson to interview regular guy Trump voters (who turned out with some regularity to be GOP activists) in their desire to understand the unfathomable Trump voter. They promised they’d stop doing it, but they haven’t. I believe their failure to understand flows from two sources. One, they don’t want to say there’s a strong element of racism. Two, they still see their audience as the NY establishment and themselves as the voice of the Eastern Establishment. This makes them unable to admit the degree to which the establishment really has screwed people over with unemployment, wage stagnation, and endless, pointless wars.

    I read NYT online in the morning, but I haven’t gotten there yet today. I’ll read Smith’s column when I get there. But they seem awfully prone to navel gazing over in-house trivia like this, but I’m unaware they’ve ever examined, much less publicly discussed, their role in 2016.

    I don’t want NYT to be loyal to the left or to Democrats. I want them to be loyal to objective reality. As one Party goes completely divorced from reality, the bothsiderism sucks the Times away from reality.

    15
  17. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: Thank you. I was too lazy to look up the quote.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Yeah, I kind of realized that when I posted it. Germany wasn’t unified until the late XIX century. Nations and empires farther inland, away from the Atlantic, would be more interested in the Mediterranean trade, Asia, and Russia.

  19. Andy says:

    I’m just amazed at the atrocious HR and management practices.

    What kind of message does it send to employees that HR and management decisions from years past are subject to instant revision with a 180 on the conclusion based only on the whims of a mob of young staffers?

    And the internal Slack network seems as unpoliced as Twitter, with employees attacking other employees for wongthink while management does nothing.

    Hell of a way to run a company. I kind of wonder how big the payouts the NYT is giving to the people who “resign.” It’s probably only a matter of time before there’s a big lawsuit.

    12
  20. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    My pleasure.

    One of the great ironies of this is that it’s always been one of Trump’s top ambitions to be the subject of a flattering NYTimes profile. He’d probably kill his first-born if the Times would give him favorable notice.

    He has no ideological dispute with the paper. (He has no ideology but for self-interest anyway.) He’s just seething with rage because the paper hasn’t treated him with the respect and admiration to which he feels he’s entitled. And which he desperately needs.

    5
  21. Modulo Myself says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s not a free speech issue. 30 years ago, nobody thought the free speech meant the right to say anything free of consequences to your career. Ask any women how they had to deal with sexism in the workplace in the 1980s. Free speech allows you the right to say that a joke about a blonde is sexist. Did women speak out? Did they exercise their right to free speech? A few. But most women, in my experience, tried to deal with it in ways that they knew wouldn’t hurt their careers.

    The problem right now is that these boundaries has begun to affect white men who have been led by flattering forces in the media to believe that this is a unique situation over which they have no control. More importantly, white men are not being oppressed. They are no quid pro quos and gropings that you couldn’t report. Behind closed doors, without the one black employee, nobody is making racist jokes and failing to promote the one black employee. White men are simply being asked to be sensitive towards others, even if–gasp–they don’t want to be.

    8
  22. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:

    I highly recommend The Years Of Rice And Salt.

    I cannot spell recommend to save my soul. My brain thinks it’s two cees and one em and spell check has to save me. Like necessary, too.

    2
  23. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Fernand Braudel makes the claim that it was the threat of nomads, i.e. the Mongols, which made Asian culture primarily defensive, specifically China. And the devastation the Mongols left in what are now Iran and Iraq carved out a space for Western Europe to expand.

    For similar reasons the Mongols hindered the development of much of what constitutes present-day Russia and the Russian littoral, the effects of which are arguably still present today.

    2
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    Yet Asian powers did not go on to become the dominant power

    … in our age. But Asian powers most certainly dominated in other ages. During the 13th century Mongols absolutely destroyed the Europeans, pushing far into what is now Poland, Germany and Austria despite having to stand up command and supply lines through deserts, mountains and freezing cold wasteland. And the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans all had huge empires throughout the Pacific Rim, multiple times for each.

    Hard to believe that Italians once dominated the world, or Egyptians, or the Greeks, but they did.

    2
  25. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    In fairness, you’re relying on a spoiled 17-year-old’s account of the conversation.

    In fairness, he’s probably relying on the considerable volume of criticism of Diamond by adult academics who should know better. The 17-year-old did not invent these arguments, nor did she originate the misunderstanding of Diamond’s book they are predicated on.

    Also in fairness, GG&S is one of the worst-edited books I have ever actually finished. It is excellent at the paragraph level, tolerable at the chapter level, and throw-across-the-room infuriating at the book level — and three times as long as it needs to be. Misunderstanding Diamond’s overall theses isn’t difficult.

    2
  26. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:

    I found it amusing that Belgium had an African colony. Friggin’ Belgium?

    And Congo has had a super shitty and chaotic post-imperialism existence.

    1
  27. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    I don’t want NYT to be loyal to the left or to Democrats. I want them to be loyal to objective reality.

    This.

    Unfortunately, this requires a definition of “journalism” that involves discussing what is actually true and what the likely consequences of that will be. Simply reporting who said what, and how that will affect the immediate prospects of various political factions, is inadequate — but that is what most journalism has devolved into. The Science section of the Times lives in its own little light cone, causally disjoint from the rest of the paper.

    2
  28. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    Well, the Golden Horde. Descendents thereof, but decidedly not “Mongolian” after gen 1 or 2.

  29. MarkedMan says:

    @de stijl: Not only did Belgium have an African Colony but their governance of it was depraved and brutal almost beyond imagination. The idea that Africans were savages while Europeans were enlightened could not be more thoroughly debunked by Leopold’s crushing blood-thirst, an insanity that even if you accept that this “Christian” viewed Africans without worth, still doesn’t explain the arbitrary mass murders, destruction of hundreds, perhaps thousands of villages and towns, mass amputations of limbs which all significantly reduced his ability to pillage the country.

    6
  30. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    That old ways aren’t the best ways and that younger employees have a say in how all staff should be judged.

    1
  31. Gustopher says:

    The paper’s management team, headed by a Black man, concluded that it was hardly a firing offense once they examined the context. Then, two years later, the thing is relitigated in public because suddenly McNeil had become podcast-famous.

    That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the grumpy old man was first judged by a very partial group of his friends and colleagues who bent over backwards to excuse his behavior, because “that’s just Don, ya gotta know him.” And then it all comes to a head when people who don’t know him hear about it.

    I have no idea which is the more accurate in this particular case. But slaps on the wrist because “ya gotta know him” are incredibly common.

    But, you better believe that being an old white guy — looking the part of the cantankerous, grumpy journalist that everyone loves — had everything to do with the initial response being a slap on the wrist.

    7
  32. MarkedMan says:

    In my lifetime and in my knowledge of history, every movement towards justice eventually attracts the Puritans or the Philistines, who glom onto a cause it allows them license to people down and climb on top of them. You have to expect a certain amount of this baggage, but in some cases they overwhelm the movement and drag it into disrepute.

    3
  33. Modulo Myself says:

    @de stijl:

    And Congo has had a super shitty and chaotic post-imperialism existence.

    Their colonial existence wasn’t so hot. And given the US intervention and assassination of Lumumba, I would question the post- part of the post-imperialism phase.

    1
  34. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    They were sending commandos into the Belgian Congo during my youth and blatantly killing every resistance. Brutal imperial use of force to subjugate a rancorous populace.

    Back then I would ask myself – Belgium? They’re tiny. How did this happen?

    Colonialism was not well covered in school curricula back then. If so, under a Euro bias.

  35. Andy says:

    @de stijl:

    That old ways aren’t the best ways and that younger employees have a say in how all staff should be judged.

    I don’t see how harassing and demeaning other employees is a better way to manage a company, but if you want to make the argument that it is, then I’d love to hear it.

    Well, the Golden Horde. Descendents thereof, but decidedly not “Mongolian” after gen 1 or 2.

    It’s not about ancestry – it about Russia being culturally and intellectually isolated from the rest of Europe during a critical period of Europe’s development. The Mongol domination is one of the big reason’s why Russia is geographically European but not culturally.

    3
  36. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    Thanks very much for putting words in my mouth. I really appreciate that.

    3
  37. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: Saves you the trouble of putting words in your own mouth.

    3
  38. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Would probably say it stupider anyway.

    Let a smart guy do it, I say.

    That’s not a bad lyric snippet.

  39. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Strike the “would” from first line. Better syllable count balance and easier to sing.

  40. Modulo Myself says:

    I don’t see how harassing and demeaning other employees is a better way to manage a company, but if you want to make the argument that it is, then I’d love to hear it.

    I don’t see any evidence that an employee was harassed or demeaned here. According to the article, Baquet wanted to fire McNeil, but the union rightfully stepped in to prevent that. If your behavior almost gets you fired, but you’re protected by the union, that still raises a question of your behavior.

    I honestly don’t think McNeil should have been fired, but it’s weird to lay the blame on the people who found his behavior problematic, as if they’re the problem.

    4
  41. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    What is it that you are reacting to at NYT? There are a lot of moving parts.

    If you are going to just generalize it into cancel culture bs then good-bye.

    1
  42. Modulo Myself says:

    In fairness, you’re relying on a spoiled 17-year-old’s account of the conversation.

    Also, this tends to undermine any kind of case a person might have. If an old white male casually drops he n-word and talks about how racism doesn’t exist, let’s be careful about what we say. It’s a gray area after all. But if she’s 17 and went to Andover, well then she’s objectively a spoiled little brat who can’t be trusted. Judge away.

    8
  43. Andy says:

    @de stijl:

    Thanks very much for putting words in my mouth. I really appreciate that.

    Welcome to the world I live in every day here at OTB.

    Let me revisit your response since it’s clear I didn’t understand it. I didn’t intend to put words in your mouth.

    That old ways aren’t the best ways and that younger employees have a say in how all staff should be judged.

    Ok, on a second closer reading I see two themes, but don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it beyond generalities.

    So rather than try to guess, I’ll leave it to you to elucidate (or not), and just repeat my own view which is that what is happening at the NYT (as an outsider) is just bad management for the reasons previously cited.

    3
  44. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    How did the Golden Horde “hinder” now- Russian development?

    The Rus != Russia.

  45. Just nutha ignint cracker- says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’ve been moving the other way, becoming more liberal, not less. If in prosperous old age, with most of life’s battles won, you’re a conservative it’s not a sign of wisdom, but of self-satisfaction and indifference.

    As have I; although, I don’t attribute it to prosperity in my old age. More to the main point, I suspect that if modern day conservatives really understood what Disraeli and Burke believed, conservatives would denounce them as RINOs and cucks. That’s what has caused most of my shift leftward, I suspect.

    5
  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Sorry, but in my little world it is all way more extreme than, ‘white man said bad word, let us criticize him forthwith.’ I agree that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. Now someone explain that to the self-appointed monarchs of wokeness – try criticizing them, see how that works for you – criticism is only allowed to flow in one direction. That is a free speech issue.

    Any worthy movement can be, will be, and has been, exploited by people for their personal ends. There are no saints in this life, not even among the righteous.

    7
  47. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    What kind of message does it send to employees that HR and management decisions from years past are subject to instant revision with a 180 on the conclusion based only on the whims of a mob of young staffers?

    That there is no statute of limitations on assholery, and there is no protection against double jeopardy in the office?

    Seriously, though, do you think that just because HR wrongly signed off on a decision a few years ago, that the person should get off scot free*? What if he was getting interns drunk and sleeping with them, and the HR department at the time said “well, try harder not to rape the drunken interns next time”?

    Yes, that’s a bit of a strawman, but it’s only a matter of degrees. A lot of degrees in this case.

    But, a hard and fast rule that the offense can never be revisited (as you suggest) is just as insane as a rule that anything can be revisited on a whim.

    I think current management’s decision to not get involved until there was a mob calling for justice was a mistake — they let things get to a point where any action or inaction was going to piss people off. Address it early — “As anyone who knows Don will attest, he is absolutely the wrong person to spend every waking moment around teenagers for a week, and we are taking steps to better avoid…” or “In full hindsight, we might make a different decision today, but it’s not so egregious that we are going to revisit it” or taking McNeil aside and telling him that part of the gentle slap on the wrist was that he had to keep it from being a big problem and that he needs to get ahead of it or he’s gone in a week.

    McNeil is someone who clearly enjoys playing with fire. Sometimes, when you play with fire, you get fired.

    (shrug)

    And the internal Slack network seems as unpoliced as Twitter, with employees attacking other employees for wongthink while management does nothing.

    Do you want your employees to be able to engage in free communication and collaboration, in a thought product company, or do you want them looking over their shoulders at all times? The former is usually the right choice, but there are tradeoffs.

    Hell of a way to run a company. I kind of wonder how big the payouts the NYT is giving to the people who “resign.” It’s probably only a matter of time before there’s a big lawsuit.

    One company I used to work for gave a guy who was fired for sexual harassment a many millions of dollars golden parachute. And then people learned about it. Good times. As one of my friends who still worked there at the time said “for that much money, I would have sexually harassed her.” He got to chat with HR after that.

    *: “scot free” is such a weird phrase. Yup, no Scots here, we are totally Scot Free. Makes me think of “No Irish Need Apply”

    5
  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: “He’d probably kill his first-born if the Times would give him favorable notice.”

    Considering that’s Don Jr., you’re probably right, but I suspect that he might try to bargain them down to Eric.

    5
  49. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Indeed. With the exception of Ivanka, the spawn are probably all disposable commodities.

    1
  50. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    “Scot” in this sense derives from the Scandinavian “skat,” meaning tax. “Skat-free” referred to tax relief for the poor.

    You may resume your regular programming.

    6
  51. MarkedMan says:

    @de stijl:

    younger employees have a say in how all staff should be judged

    I’m not sure exactly how you meant this. If what you mean is that younger people have just as much say in determining the norms of a work environment, then I agree. But letting a mob dictate HR policy for a specific individual is a very dangerous path. It can be illegal and even short of illegality, taking actions against one person that you didn’t take against another for similar infractions opens a company up to lawsuits, especially if it is shown that it is based on age, sex or race. HR policy needs to be clear and evenly applied. It should also protect the privacy of all those involved.

    6
  52. Andy says:

    @de stijl:

    What is it that you are reacting to at NYT? There are a lot of moving parts.

    My reaction is in my first post in this thread. I’ll add that I pretty much agree with James’ in his post.

    How did the Golden Horde “hinder” now- Russian development?

    While I’m often eager to brush the rust off my Russian history degree, I really don’t have much time to spend on this tangent.

    But the short version is that the ~250 year period of Mongol control put what became Russia (and the littoral areas) on a different trajectory than the rest of Europe. It missed out on developments that fundamentally changed most of the rest of Europe including the early Rennaisance. This had huge economic, political, social, and religious effects. Russia has tried to play catch-up ever since to include attempts westernization under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great which were only partially successful.

    The long-term effects of the Mongol invasion and occupation of what is now Russia and littoral countries isn’t that controversial unless scholarship on the topic has changed fairly recently.

    6
  53. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Free Fallin’ got overplayed in the day. But that’s a damn good song.

    Falling Free by Eivor Palsdottir aka Eivor is epic. Slow build. If there, check Trollabundin. I need to go Faroe. For years I thought she was rural Icelandic.

  54. Modulo Myself says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There are undoubtedly uptight jerks who are woke. But most people who are woke are decent and their hearts are in the right place and what they’re faced with is a culture where self-doubt and vulnerability do not exist. Even this 17-year old starts off with self-doubt. McNeil dismisses the criticism of a book. What does she say happened?

    She said she backed down, apologized and “felt terribly guilty — like I must have come off as a crazy liberal.

    I would say that white men have become synonymous with behavior that is the exact opposite of this. “You don’t like what I said? Well, fuck you, you’re the crazy one.” At a certain level, the insufferable woke people are 100% right: white male behavior is based on total privilege and is utterly toxic. Of course, they aren’t 100% right. But the McNeil situation helps their case.

    4
  55. Raou says:

    @James Joyner: In fairness you are relying on a reporter’s take (who probably is a friend of the reporter) of a young person’s account. Truth be told we don’t know the whole story.

  56. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m not sure exactly how you meant this. If what you mean is that younger people have just as much say in determining the norms of a work environment, then I agree. But letting a mob dictate HR policy for a specific individual is a very dangerous path. It can be illegal and even short of illegality, taking actions against one person that you didn’t take against another for similar infractions opens a company up to lawsuits, especially if it is shown that it is based on age, sex or race. HR policy needs to be clear and evenly applied. It should also protect the privacy of all those involved.

    Yes, that is it exactly for me. I think you explained it better than I tried to.

    @Gustopher:

    That there is no statute of limitations on assholery, and there is no protection against double jeopardy in the office?

    Let’s be clear about what the “assholery” is. McNeil was fired because he mentioned the N word in a discussion about the N word with students asked for his opinion about the use of the word. Everyone agrees he didn’t use it as an epithet.

    Now, the Times is a private company and is free to make that a firing offense, even well after the fact and after originally determining it wasn’t a firing offense (at least I think so, perhaps they could be sued). And the NYT can change its firing criteria and declare that “intent doesn’t matter” when it comes to “racist language” to capture any use of the word regardless of context. Although that brings up the question of what about when the NYT has published the word in its paper.

    But I’m talking about effective management and HR. From that perspective, a competent organization should make consistent rules and enforce them consistently and be able to explain and defend their decisions. Good management doesn’t redefine what is a firing offense on the fly, especially not as a response to demands from a woke mob. Because what this tells employees is that the employment rules that exist today or at any time in the past don’t really matter, and if you get on the wrong side of the mob, management will cave, change the rules and fire you immediately for previous behavior that doesn’t live up to the new rule (or get you to resign and cut you a check so you don’t create an embarrassing lawsuit).

    So when and how is the use of the N word a firing offense at the NYT? If “intent doesn’t matter” does that mean they will fire anyone else who has ever mentioned that word, including the writers and editors who’ve used that word on the published pages of the NYT itself?

    Again, good management is about clear and enforceable standards and are evenly and consistently applied. I think it’s hard to argue the NYT has good management by that criteria.

    6
  57. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    At a certain level, the insufferable woke people are 100% right: white male behavior is based on total privilege and is utterly toxic. Of course, they aren’t 100% right. But the McNeil situation helps their case.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I think there ought to be clear standards for what is and isn’t toxic behavior and those standards should not be based on a person’s unalterable phenotype. In other words if some behavior is toxic, then it’s toxic regardless of who engages in it.

    3
  58. MarkedMan says:

    A more general observation, not so much about MacNeil: As a leading newspaper they hire people who are tough and won’t get pushed around. People who can take the constant pummeling from those they report on and won’t buckle under. Whether these people are contrary or as sweet as sugar they are not going to quickly accept another’s opinion about what is right and wrong. Sooner or later they are going to get crosswise with other employees and sometimes they are going to be in the wrong. What’s the right way to handle them?

    2
  59. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    white male behavior is based on total privilege and is utterly toxic

    So, white males as a group are suspect and should be treated differently from other people?

    3
  60. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    This is culture bending, but my name means “tax” and ” beautiful waterfall”

    I am totally down with the sound, but taxing a beautiful waterfall is a total dick move.

  61. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    I don’t think you need worry much about that.

  62. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    In Iceland and in Scandinavia proper I always went by my middle name because no one could say my name properly. (And apparently it sounds too close to “tax”.) I never knew.

    It did not always work out. Especially in loud clubs. My middle name is super common and I did not associate that name with me when people were calling it out. Eventually , “Oh, yeah” would kick in and I would turn to face them. I figured it out eventually.

    I got a nickname I won’t share. I responded to that. It was easier to just go with the nickname to the extent I shared it with people newly met.

    I hate/love loud clubs.

    I would be terrible as a felon on the lam, or as a person in Witness Protection. I would just space out when people called me by my fake name.

  63. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Let’s be clear about what the “assholery” is. McNeil was fired because he mentioned the N word in a discussion about the N word with students asked for his opinion about the use of the word. Everyone agrees he didn’t use it as an epithet.

    Reports are that he kept doing it for effect, even when it was clear that it was causing people to cringe.

    I would say that if those reports are accurate, he was fired for deliberately making people cringe — aka “assholery” — rather than simply using the n-word in a discussion of the n-word. It’s a dick move.

    It’s a powerful word, with powerful effects — good and bad. It can make people sit up and take notice, and it can also degrade. Once people have sat up and taken notice, it doesn’t need to be used again — there are exceptions, such as when referencing the Lee Atwater quote, where you have to use it six times, but as a rule of thumb, once is plenty.

    How many times can you use it, and in what contexts? As few times as possible, in as narrow a context as possible. That’s where he reportedly went wrong.

    He thought he was being clever, using it gratuitously in the “safe” way to make the little woke teenagers squirm. He got fired. Real clever of him.

    6
  64. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve had to make cases against employees who have engaged in some pretty egregious behavior, and I can tell you that it is not something to be done lightly or sloppily. Part of the problem is that the narrative often doesn’t hold up against questioning. “You’ve got to do something about Employee X, she cursed out Employee Y!” But when you start pushing it turns out things aren’t so black and white. A variation of this just happened in my group. Both employees are female in this case. The one who cursed was junior to the one she cursed at, but doesn’t report to her. The cursing was instigated by a heated discussion over the right way to handle some documentation, and may have been triggered by an implication that the curser (a very hard worker) was being lazy. I haven’t yet heard about it officially, but only as a side note from a third party. I’ve made the decision not to drill down as it appears they have resolved it themselves, but I am also aware this can cause me or the company trouble later since “MarkedMan knew about this but didn’t do anything”. It’s further complicated by the personalities involved. I think they both are good people and my impression is that neither would deliberately hurt someone, but I could be wrong – as people often act differently around their managers and I’m not the kind of person people gossip to, so I may not know what “everyone knows”. And the one that was cursed at definitely lacks self confidence to a certain degree and I suspect has been minimized as a woman in an all too male world. She can get defensive and upset and, while not cursing anyone out, can say things that come across as sharp. The curser falls into the nerd category (not meant as an insult, as I put myself in there too) and may be a bit “on the spectrum”, having difficulty lettings something go or allowing for ambiguity.

    So, as happens not infrequently, I’ve got an issue that is more complicated than can be captured in a sound bite, but a few sound bites could be crafted depicting various people involved in very harsh ways.

    The one concrete and actionable item is the cursing. That is in our annual training. No cursing. So, “An employee shouted at another employee and cursed her, and you didn’t do anything.” But I suspect the other employee goaded the curser to some extent. Does that count for anything? And while cursing is clear cut, how do you define “goading”?

    My point isn’t that this problem is comparable to the MacNeil issue. It’s simply that what seems so clear cut when reported by an indignant third or fourth or twentieth party is not so clear cut when it becomes your responsibility. I deal with something like this every few weeks and HR deals with it day in and day out. If we went zero tolerance I don’t know how many employees we would have left and whether we could get any actual work done at all.

    3
  65. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    I would be terrible as a felon on the lam, or as a person in Witness Protection. I would just space out when people called me by my fake name.

    After moving to the west coast for a job, I was picked up after orientation by my new manager, who was not the manager I was expecting, who then explained that the job I agreed to take was gone, the team was gone, that manager was gone, etc. I explained that this was fine because I wasn’t really Zbignew (or whatever my real name is), I was Gustavo, who Zbignew hired to do his job for him.

    My new manager shrugged, and then introduced me to the entire team as Gustavo, and I instantly knew I was never going to pull that off, and said “Everyone calls me Gus.” It took me months to remember to turn my head when someone was calling out “Gus.”

    (when told my friends back east, they all laughed, and began calling me Gus. Now I have rewritten all of my childhood memories to the point where I remember being called Gus, and have that moment where I know that cannot be right)

    2
  66. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would say that if those reports are accurate,

    Aye, but there’s the rub, isn’t it. If it happened one way, it’s definitely actionable, and definitely should be actionable. But did it? No cameras present, no sound recordings. Should we take the word of the 17 year old without reservation? Yes? Ok, but she didn’t actually said he did it to offend her. She said she was offended.

    Look, I’m 60, so much much closer to his age than hers, and I haven’t let that word pass my lips since I was a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago and I’m not even sure I said it then, although it was in common usage. I don’t say it, I don’t think it, and I even avoid saying “the n-word” unless I have to. I don’t listen to all that much rap and hip hop but I absolutely don’t listen to songs that use that word a lot, lest I get an ear worm. I get that as an old white guy people are suspicious of me and are looking for me to make a mistake, and however much I think I may in tune with the younger people I’m around, I’m not, and one off-kilter word out of my mouth could be taken in the worst possible way. MacNeil’s an idiot for not knowing that. And he sounds a bit dickish. But if what actually happened (and only HR knows for sure at this point*) was that someone was fired for saying the n-word under those circumstances, the precedent has been set. It is off limits not just to use offensive language but even to discuss offensive language. If sometime in the future a twenty something young guy starts giving opinions on what his uncle used to call Italians or uses an outmoded term for homosexuality to make a point about about hurtful language, an old white guy or anyone else can demand that person be fired because they were offensive. How does the NYT’s HR department handle that?

    *I doubt those were the grounds, if only for what I pointed out below

    4
  67. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would say that if those reports are accurate, he was fired for deliberately making people cringe — aka “assholery” — rather than simply using the n-word in a discussion of the n-word. It’s a dick move.

    Well, who knows if those reports are accurate? I haven’t heard of those reports, but then again, I’m not much interested in adjudicating the specific details of this or any other case and haven’t dug too deeply.

    But again, my point is about bad management. The details on McNeil’s conduct don’t change that management handle this terribly. It’s not good if he should have been fired in 2019 and wasn’t, and it’s not good if management bent the knee to the woke mob. Either way, it does not reflect well on the leadership and management there.

    That’s why clear rules and consistent enforcement and transparency are necessary.

    1
  68. flat earth luddite says:

    @DrDaveT:

    lso in fairness, GG&S is one of the worst-edited books I have ever actually finished.

    Thank you. I first read it (and recommended it to others) while undergoing chemo. Short attention span/chemo brain necessitated reading in short bursts, instead of one chunk as is my normal practice. Tried to re-read it a couple of years ago, and only my respect for the poor innocent paper kept me from throwing it. Last I saw, it was in the donation box at Goodwill.

    1
  69. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Awesome

  70. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    One Monday morning I showed up to work.

    Not any work. I was contract. I lived in Minneapolis and my job was in Des Moines and they rented an apartment for me. Drive home Friday afternoon, drive back Sunday.

    My boss’s boss called me in to his office. Um, Gustavo has been terminated. The project you have been assigned to is under review and is now suspended. You have no job. Please leave. We will pay you for the full week.

    I made $5000 bucks in fifteen minutes. Yeah, I had to pack out of my rental place which took all of 10 minutes and drive 250 miles home *again* so about 4 hours.

    They could have called me anytime over the weekend. Saved me 8 hours drive time.

    I coped. Besides, they made the right choice. Gustavo was boinking his assistant and was skimming off a contract he made with buddies he’d hired on – getting a kickback.

    They re-hired me 3 weeks later.

    It was amusing. Gustavo was a dick and an impediment.

    I got to truly love the drive. Roughly four hours of true alone time each way and almost all on flat, straight interstate a monkey could steer. My mind could wander. I could listen to anything. Stay within the lines and keep a sharp eye on traffic ahead.

    It was a coda on a hard week. It was going towards more cash that I could acceptably spend.

    The journey is a trip.

  71. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Should we take the word of the 17 year old without reservation? Yes? Ok, but she didn’t actually said he did it to offend her. She said she was offended.

    It wasn’t just one 17 year old. It was about half of the kids on the trip complaining about his language and his demeaning attitude towards the native traditions of Peru. And saying that nepotism is affirmative action for white people. And a dozen other things…

    Really, the more you look into it, the more you wonder why he wasn’t fired the first time it was investigated, and why the people who thought it would be a good idea to have him on this trip weren’t also fired.

    A WaPo article ends with the following:

    “I’ll be fine,” McNeil wrote. “I’m 67, and for some years now, my dream has been to get a pickup truck and an RV and disappear into the Rockies with a fishing rod.”

    “I know I’m oddly silent,” he explained, “but it’s because I’m still employed by the Times for a bit while we finish up dreary departure details and I was asked not to discuss the Peru trip until I’m gone. It’s frustrating to leave in the middle of the biggest story of my life, but we all knew my big mouth would get me into trouble one day, didn’t we?”

    Sounds about right.

    (I expect my big mouth will get me into big trouble one day too… I had HR attention a month ago because the office was hounding people to post their new years’s resolutions on slack, and I said I had two: no more cocaine on fridays, and to make lentil soup. Apparently, we are a drug-free company, and that was against the policy, and I am making light of my coworkers with substance abuse problems…)

  72. de stijl says:

    MacNeil sounds like a very shitty person. Super checked out of his job. Superiority complex.

  73. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    I once saw a warning sign in an airport:
    “DO NOT MAKE JOKES ABOUT BOMBS. WE HAVE NO SENSE OF HUMOR.”

    2
  74. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    That’s why clear rules and consistent enforcement and transparency are necessary.

    HR matters are private, as a rule of thumb, and for good reason.

    And good luck creating clear rules on human behavior that capture the nuances well enough to be realistic. You’re libertarian leaning, aren’t you? (I ask because Libertarianism makes some similar assumptions, which are a lot like the old physics joke “first, assume you have a spherical cow” — you know the assumptions are wrong, so you have to be careful to make sure the model is useful anyway)

    And consistent enforcement has never happened in human history.

    It’s a dumb, messy situation, where standards are evolving quickly. What happened in 2019 was offensive by 2019 standards, and probably decided in his favor by someone who just liked him. And so long as no one ever looked at it, it was fine.

    It’s kind of offensive for the NY Times to try to simplify this down to using the n-word, when there was a lot more going on. It leaves the Black employees out to dry and effectively says “we could have had a great pandemic reporter, if it weren’t for all the uppity n-words”.

    4
  75. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    A lot of male reporters are nice people. A fair number of them are obnoxious fucks: ostentatiously macho, deeply misogynist, and prone to tantrums. I once worked with a primo example of the latter group.

    I think the problem with guys like that is that they secretly feel they aren’t “real” men because mostly they sit at a desk and write, which is what girls (shudder) do. So they carry aggressiveness and obnoxiousness to an extreme.

    There’s one very famous journalist (you’d recognize his name if I mentioned it) who used to get drunk in bars in Boston and start pounding his fist on the table and yelling: “I’m the best fuckin’ sports reporter around.” Those within earshot would roll their eyes and mutter: “Yeah, yeah.”

    2
  76. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Clearly, HR and management isn’t easy. Been there, done that. That’s why clear guidelines and at least attempting to apply clear and fair rules clearly and fairly is so important. It’s never about some kind of mechanistic perfection, but as a manager, you still have to provide clear lanes and expectations for employees and course-correct in a fair and equitable way.

    My opinion as an outsider, again, is that the NYT is doing a bad job with HR and management. Maybe I’ve missed it, but it’s not clear if you actually agree or disagree with that opinion.

    1
  77. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @flat earth luddite: As I recall, you gave it to me to read at one time. I thought it was interesting, but found his theories to be a little simplistic and far fetched. But then again, I’m not the person who should be commenting on the positions of evolutionary scientists–or even those who portray them in books.

  78. Kathy says:

    About “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” when it comes to the Aztec empire vs the Conquistadors, steel does play a huge part.

    One weapon the Aztecs used was a wooden mace covered with obsidian blades. I’ve seen recreations tested on pig carcasses, and it’s a frightful weapon. But the obsidian breaks on iron or steel armor, even chain mail armor.

    That wasn’t all, of course. The Spaniards also made alliances with other Mesoamerican peoples who didn’t like Aztec domination. That’s one of the flaws of empires: you always find disgruntled subjects willing to rebel.

    So, the Aztec warriors found conquistadors hard to kill or wound, and they faced them and lots of their local allies. Of course the Spaniards won.

    Germs are also a big deal. Estimates vary, but some are as high as 90% of some populations in the Americas dying of European diseases.

    2
  79. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: With Ash Wednesday coming up this week, and because a Buddhist acquaintance recently asked me about Lent, I’m reminded of a story from my past. When I joined the Lutheran Church, I “celebrated” Lent for the first time in my life. Occasionally, people would ask me what I give up for the season, and I never had a good answer–the whole giving up something for Lent is foreign to me, I don’t get it at all (even close to 40 years later). Eventually, I decided on telling people “I was raised Baptist, we give up self-denial for Lent.”

    Mostly people laugh. Occasionally, someone takes it wrong. The inherent risk of being snarky.

    2
  80. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    I expect my big mouth will get me into big trouble one day too

    Mine already has. I ended up in China because I got fired for telling the company owner that he was acting like a spoiled brat (he chained the doors to the store closed so his co-owner brothers couldn’t get in and do their jobs).

    I’ve come close at my current job, but the VP of HR and I have come to an understanding: I speak bluntly, so I should say things in person, not e-mails, so context and tone can be taken into consideration. Honest responses are valued at the company (the owner, now dead, valued “creative disrespect”), but context really matters. 🙂

    2
  81. MarkedMan says:

    Tangential to the discussion. My daughter had just started working at her first post-college job and was going off about work places in general (not hers) and how men used their positions to take advantage of the women who worked for them. My wife mentioned that it used to be common for women to marry their bosses and the daughter was indignant. A few days later she was talking about the people she worked with, who of course were the people she socialized with (all of them being non-native to NYC) and she mentioned a work couple. Wait, I said, is the guy the boss of the woman? Yeah. So isn’t that bad? Oh, Dad, they are the same age and she knows what she’s doing!

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  82. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    And good luck creating clear rules on human behavior that capture the nuances well enough to be realistic.
    And consistent enforcement has never happened in human history.

    I would disagree (and I think Andy is saying the same thing) because I’m including “margin of error”.

    You can lay out clear guidelines for work-place behavior. That’s what company handbooks are for. The ones I’ve seen in China get incredibly specific[1]. You understand that there are going to be gray areas and “edge cases”–which is why you put in place procedures to deal with them. One of the rules is “This is how we deal with things that aren’t neatly covered by the rules”.

    And within companies there can certainly be consistent enforcement–if, again, you acknowledge that nothing is black and white, and this is how the gray is dealt with. Is it going to be 100%? No. But 90% “strongly consistent” would be pretty damn good.

    You’re libertarian leaning, aren’t you? (I ask because Libertarianism makes some similar assumptions, which are a lot like the old physics joke “first, assume you have a spherical cow” — you know the assumptions are wrong, so you have to be careful to make sure the model is useful anyway)

    As the other resident whipping boy libertarian-leaning commentor, I’m curious why you think this is a libertarian-specific quality. I would argue that progressives are looking at an awful lot of spherical cows, too. (Republicans are grilling steaks) Primary among them would be “Assume there are no market forces”.

    ====
    [1] China Law Blog wrote about a case where a Chinese worker won wrongful termination case against their employer because stealing from the company was not explicitly prohibited in the workers’ handbook.

    (Wondering if the strike-through tag will work!)

    1
  83. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    Germs are also a big deal. Estimates vary, but some are as high as 90% of some populations in the Americas dying of European diseases.

    I’ve never understood why the Europeans weren’t also dying of American diseases. The conquistadors should have brought back something that wiped out a good chunk of Europe. What were the odds that deadly diseases would only evolve in the Old World.

    I mean, we are currently experiencing an example of “disease grows off bats and pangolins and infects the world”, so the lack of anything in the New World is bizarre. Native Americans should have had a near compliment of Old World Diseases when they crossed into Alaska and separated, and then both sides had the same chance to evolve nasty diseases or come across something novel in the environment that affected pangolins and bats.

    It’s like the Day of the Triffids, except with humanity dying of the Tiffids’ cold.

    (I don’t remember hearing in my history classes that in the 1500s half of Europe died from crippling ennui or something… but education is always very spotty… spotty like plague victims)

  84. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’ve never understood why the Europeans weren’t also dying of American diseases. The conquistadors should have brought back something that wiped out a good chunk of Europe. What were the odds that deadly diseases would only evolve in the Old World.

    I vaguely recall reading something about this. Europeans had much more interaction with different groups (including those from Africa, Arabia, and Asia), as well as some pretty awful living conditions. This led to a lot of exposure to a wide range of pathogens, and (after much dying that nobody paid much attention to) a much stronger immune system. Those in the Americas didn’t have that.

    On the other hand, they did have syphilis–which did some serious damage to Europe.

  85. Andy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    As the other resident whipping boy libertarian-leaning commentor, I’m curious why you think this is a libertarian-specific quality.

    Ha! I missed that in his comment.

    I supposed it’s true that I appear to be a libertarian compared to the median commenter here at OTB. But I’m not a libertarian and would be hesitant to say I’m libertarian-leaning generally. I do agree with them on some things and disagree with them strongly on others. I do appreciate that they generally base their views on a set of core principles, so I enjoy reading libertarian arguments. Although it should be noted that libertarian ideals are quite diverse ranging from anarcho-capitalism to the now-extinct species formerly known as limited-government Republicans.

    I’ve never really fit in neatly anywhere politically.

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  86. Gustopher says:

    @Mu Yixiao: The heart of Libertarianism is enlightened self-interest, which requires:
    – perfect information
    – the ability to capture externalities
    – enough intelligence to understand their self-interest
    – not acting out of spite anyway.

    It start with “Assume people aren’t people” and goes from there. It’s a nice thought experiment, and can create some interesting scenarios that can then be tested, but it often leads to disastrous outcomes like privatizing water supplies.

    It’s a lot like communism that way. Different assumptions, but dealing with an idealized version of people.

    It’s a bigger error when trying to structure a human society to start from such a messed up notion of people than it is to be wrong about the level of market forces.

    None of the other ideologies really assumes people are so unlike people. Say what you will about the Nazis, but they recognized that people are emotional beasts who can be led by their hopes and fears to accomplish what one person alone cannot (and, should not, in that case…).

    We would probably be better if people acted in the pursuit of enlightened self-interest so the greed balanced out, or had no desire to be ahead of their peers so long as they have enough, but it’s just not real. We might as well study bee hives and decide that we need a single Queen, and a lot of genderless workers and some male drones, and start housing people in hexagonal structures.

    (Libertarianism, Communism and Bees all grossly simplified for that example)

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  87. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I checked out of that pretty early – do Protestants have give up anything for Lent?

    I know Catholics are supposed to, but it is my impression Protestants don’t and are expected to focus on personal spiritual matters.

    I might be way wrong.

    Btw, small town Wisconsin does the best Friday night fish fry. Fight me.

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  88. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    The New Hampshire Project comes to mind. The Sealand venture.

    Those worked… well, depending on your definition. If you fancy bears in your town a success.

    Actually, Sealand was an utter disaster.

    Peter Thiel is putting some big money into Seasteading.

  89. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: @Gustopher: @Mu Yixiao: IIRC Diamonds explanation was geographic. Eurasia is long E-W while the Americas are long N-S. A species, and it’s accompanying bugs, originating in China on the Pacific coast could travel and adapt inside a temperate band stretching all the way to the Atlantic. This meant a wide range of diseases and anyone living in a crowded European town, cheek to jowl with livestock and vermin, had a real good chance of dying. If he didn’t die, he’d developed a robust immune system. His South American counterpart had been exposed to a narrower range of bugs as they tended to migrate less easily N and S through varying climates.

    I have no idea if Diamond’s explanation is widely held.

  90. Thomm says:

    @de stijl: try a Pittsburgh firehouse fish fry sometime. Life changing.

  91. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:
    @gVOR08:

    I need to learn more about the prehispanic history of the Americas.

    two things:

    1) there was a great deal of trade between Europe and Asia, stretching all the way to China. Silk was popular among Roman nobility, for example. Asian spices were highly coveted as well.

    2) Plagues were common in Europe. Roman history is chockfull of epidemics waxing and waning, sometimes affecting the course of history.

  92. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: The main thrust of what my *role models* within the fundy/evangelical community were saying about it was that needing to give up something for lent was probably indicative of something that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place. The understanding of Lenten sacrifice and its purpose was pretty warped. On the other hand, we were pretty abstemious to begin with, so it might have been difficult to find something to sacrifice for Lent in the circles in which I traveled–unless one was going to go with stuff like giving up judging other people’s motives, or saying unkind things about people with whom you disagree, or other similar things that even observers of Lenten discipline can’t/don’t/won’t do.

  93. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: Also, never ate fish when I was young. Food and sulfite allergies. I did eat shellfish sometimes (which, ironically enough, are thought to be more likely to trigger allergic reactions, hmmm…) but the my first experience with eating fish at any kind of regular intervals came in Korea. Learned how to grill mackerel there. Still allergic to most fish, from what I can tell, though.

  94. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    Btw, small town Wisconsin does the best Friday night fish fry. Fight me.

    Fight you? I’m standing in your corner on that one!

  95. Blue Galangal says:

    @de stijl: Cincinnati. Including hand battered fish and $1 beers from the Men’s Auxiliary and homemade pies for dessert. (Homemade pies. With homemade pie crust.)

    Our closest Catholic Church runs their fish fry with specialty dishes, like clam linguine and lobster mac and cheese. I was reading the menu over the phone to my raised-Catholic-on-the-West-Coast friend who did not grow up with a Lenten fish fry experience. After a long, shocked silence, she finally said, “I guess Cincinnati has a different view of what sacrifice means. Garlic? Butter?”

  96. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I need to learn more about the prehispanic history of the Americas.

    The obvious place to start is Charles Mann’s 1491.

  97. Bill says:

    @CSK: the NYT has been a liberal rag since Trump was stuffing money into Democrat coffers. They tried to be woke before it was cool by hiring substandard reporters to appeal to the less educated crowd. The best thing about it these days is the Sunday crossword puzzle.
    Grey Lady down.