New York Times changes its tune on what's too offensive

New York Times changes its tune on what's too offensive
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In a decision that could be only be described as dumbfounding and hypocritical, The New York Times is standing by its decision to hire tech writer Sarah Jeong as an editorial board member despite the emergence of racially-charged tweets she posted a few years ago. 

It’s dumbfounding given the racism of the tweets. It’s hypocritical, considering the Times hired and fired — in the same day — another writer, Quinn Norton, after old racially charged tweets emerged from her past.

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To review how we got here, the Times announced its hiring of Jeong on Thursday. But, like any big hire, a person's past, particularly on social media, gets scrubbed and scrutinized. 

 

Result: Jeong wrote some pretty vile stuff about white people on multiple occasions. The kind of stuff that, if one were to insert any other race, they'd be fired on the spot.

"Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” Jeong said in a tweet from 2014 that has since been deleted.

“Dumbass f–ing white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” Jeong said in another 2014 tweet.

In a third tweet from 2014, Jeong wrote, “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins.”

#CancelWhitePeople was also a favorite hashtag of Jeong's. 


Take "white" out of any of those tweets and insert another race in its place instead. How does anyone's career survive that?

"We hired Sarah Jeong because of the exceptional work she has done covering the internet and technology at a range of respected publications," The Times said after the tweets went viral and forced the paper's hand. 

The Gray Lady added that Jeong, as a "young Asian woman," had been the "subject of frequent online harassment," and that "for a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers." The newspaper added that Jeong knows "now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media. She regrets it, and The Times does not condone it."

But Jeong's tweets show she wasn't responding to anything: The tweets found calling white people everything from “groveling goblins” to “miserable” to “dogs" were all original, and not replying to specific instances of harassment or other Twitter users.  

The paper of record doesn't have a consistent track record on these kinds of matters. Jeong’s comments come less than six months after the Times hired Quinn Norton to write opinion pieces on “the power, culture, and consequences of technology." The ax came just hours after hiring her. Same deal: Old tweets unearthed, some racially insensitive comments — except that the ending of her Times story is much different. 

“Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways,” Times editorial editor James Bennet said on Feb. 13

“I’m sorry I can’t do the work I wanted to do with them. I wish there had been a way, but ultimately, they need to feel safe with how the net will react to their opinion writers,” Norton tweeted at the time. 

So what's the difference here between Jeong and Norton? 

Absolutely nothing.

There's also little daylight between Sarah Jeong and Kevin Williamson, whose old podcasts and comments on abortion, as abhorrent as you may find his opinions, were used to compel The Atlantic to fire him shortly after he was hired. 

But Williamson and Norton did have two things in common: The mob, something resembling the depiction of the crowds in the Roman Colosseum in the movie "Gladiator," wanted them out. The Times and The Atlantic folded quickly as a result, believing that a swarm on social media somehow resembled sentiment of the general public. 

Williamson articulated this perfectly Thursday in National Review. "I assume that the editors of the Times knew exactly who and what Jeong was when they hired her. If not, then it isn’t Jeong who needs to be fired — it’s the negligent people who hired her," he wrote. 

"If, on the other hand, the Times is more or less satisfied with Jeong, then it should resist the social-media mob campaign to have her dismissed," Williamson added. "It is up to institutions to hold the line against mass hysteria and the mob mentality of social media." 

Eli Lake of Bloomberg View also gets it right: "A thought on @sarahjeong. If you thought it was wrong to comb through Kevin Williamson’s podcasts to get him fired from the Atlantic. If you loathed the online mob dynamic that brought him down. Then now would be a good time to show some consistency and charity."

The Times is a hot mess these days when it comes to consistency: Hire then fire Quinn Norton for old tweets; hire then not fire Sarah Jeong for hers. 

If you wonder why media is so mistrusted in 2018, there's always a daily dumbfounding and oftentimes hypocritical example that underscores why. 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.