Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson has blasted journalists for feeding into the turmoil at the newspaper after veteran reporter Donald McNeil Jr. was ousted earlier this month over complaints he had said the N-word in 2019.
Abramson, who was fired in 2014 after becoming the Times’ first female executive editor three years earlier, weighed in on the controversy roiling her former employer in an op-ed published in the New York Post.
The 66-year-old revealed she has received numerous calls from reporters seeking her response to McNeil’s decision to resign over the issue after 45 years at the paper.
‘Because I’m a journalist, I always try to respond truthfully and on-the-record, which I have done,’ she wrote.
‘But some of the reporters who call me are mainly looking for little “scooplets” to feed controversy, to stoke conflict, to keep the story going for another news cycle.’
McNeil earlier this month announced he was stepping down saying he could not defend the context in which he used the ‘ugly word’ when he said the racial slur during a company sponsored school trip to Peru two years ago.
Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson has blasted journalists for feeding into the controversy regarding veteran reporter Donald McNeil Jr’s resignation after saying the N-word in 2019
The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that multiple students and parents had lodged complaints against McNeil Jr. back in 2019 after he allegedly used the N-word, said white privilege does not exist and made disparaging comments about black people during a company-sponsored school trip to Peru
The decision came after a group of 150 staffers sent a letter to the executive leadership two weeks ago stating they were ‘deeply disturbed’ by the paper’s handling of the incident and demanding a full investigation into ‘newly surfaced complaints’ against McNeil.
His departure sparked infighting at the paper, with McNeil’s supporters claiming management had been ‘bullied by a vocal minority’ and that he should have been given the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
In her column, Abramson said it is ‘painful beyond words’ for McNeil’s career at the Times to be cut short especially when the decision ‘is made by its leaders under duress and under intense public scrutiny.’
‘It’s easy to feel like the whole world is watching when, in truth, only journalists glued to Twitter are watching,’ she wrote.
She also sympathized with Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and her successor, Dean Baquet, who she said have been ‘under intense duress’, and that the ‘constant harping and carping of media reporters has only made the environment more poisonous.’
‘Like any journalist who has worked there, I enjoy hearing gossip and about internal dramas. But lately, they have threatened to endanger the very institution I have revered since I was in grade school,’ Abramson wrote.
She also lamented how the drama at the paper has prevented people from acknowledging the actual consequences of McNeil’s resignation, which is that readers are now being denied ‘vital reporting on COVID-19’.
‘No one has really stopped and asked the only question that really matters in the current flap and all the others. Have readers been adversely affected by what’s happened inside the NYT or by Mr. McNeil’s behavior?’
Abramson sympathized with Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger (right) and her successor, Dean Baquet (left) who she said have been ‘under intense duress’, and the ‘constant harping and carping of media reporters has only made the environment more poisonous’
‘Given what I know, and there is still information I don’t know, I think not.
‘Because of Mr. McNeil’s resignation, readers are being denied his vital reporting on COVID-19 at a very inopportune moment.
‘Were they impacted by whatever he said to a group of kids on a trip in 2019? I think not. Did Mr. McNeil’s utterance of a racial slur word with no intent to harm anyone hurt readers? Again, I think the answer is no, although as someone who teaches college students I would never say this word myself,’ she added.
Whether McNeil had a lapse in judgment on the trip has nothing to do with his duty as a professional journalist, Abramson argued.
‘As someone who knows Mr. McNeil, I can say with authority that he has always performed this first duty of a journalist with distinction,’ she said, adding that the same was true of James Bennet, who resigned following a controversial op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton.
The Times had allowed McNeil Jr. to keep his job after complaints regarding the racist slur surfaced – but he was forced out after 150 Times employees out of a global staff of 4,500 signed a letter slamming the decision.
Since then, writers and staff have been engaged in a battle in a private Facebook group and on Twitter with McNeil’s supporters saying management were ‘bullied by a vocal minority’ and he should have been given the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
Former Times labor correspondent Steven Greenhouse hit out at those ‘far more willing to sympathize with these privileged 15- and 16-year-olds than with a long time colleague’ while others said his career shouldn’t have ended over ‘one word’.
Abramson also defended former NYT editor James Bennet, who resigned following a controversial op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton
Times crossword columnist Deb Amlen hit back at Greenhouse in the Facebook group, writing: ‘Why is it that the focus in discussions like this almost always [is] on ruining the perpetrator’s life, and not those who were harmed by [his actions].’
1619 reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who The Daily Beast reported threatened to start her own investigation into McNeil Jr., posted a Free Beacon reporter’s email and cell phone number on Twitter when she was asked about her use of the N-word in previous tweets.
Greenhouse added: ‘What ever happened to the notion of worker solidarity … to giving a fellow worker the benefit of the doubt?
‘And why didn’t the NewsGuild do far more to defend and protect the job of a long-time Times employee, one who at times did tireless, heroic work on behalf of the Guild to help improve pay and conditions for all NYT employees?’
The row between NYT staffers spilled onto Twitter after reporter Michael Powell tweeted a statement from free speech group PEN which read: ‘For reporter Donald McNeil Jr. to end his long career as a result of a single word, risks sending a chilling message. That the paper apparently altered its course … as a result of public pressure is a further worrying signal.’
Race reporter John Eligon replied: ‘The paper didn’t alter course cuz of ‘public pressure.’ Legit concerns were raised by Black employees who worked alongside Don. It’s disheartening that a colleague I’ve worked with & respected would tweet this & speaks to how isolating it is to be Black at a mainstream news org.
‘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.’
In a letter to staff Friday, Donald McNeil Jr. announced he was standing down from the paper after 45 years saying he ‘originally thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended’ but now realized ‘it cannot.’
Top bosses had previously said he should be ‘given another chance’ saying McNeil Jr. hadn’t used the word with ‘malicious or hateful intent’ during the Times-sponsored school trip.
The paper also changed tact Friday telling staff ‘we do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.’