New York Times Editor Walks Back Statement About Intent When Using A Racial Slur: ‘Of Course Intent Matters’

Now that a prominent yet controversial New York Times reporter has also found to have used a racial slur, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet walked back an earlier statement used to justify the newspaper’s severed ties with a white reporter.

When veteran reporter Donald McNeil resigned last week, he acknowledged that he had repeated a racial slur while on an educational trip in Peru with high school students. He said one of the students asked him if a classmate should have been suspended for a video she made when she was 12 years old, in which she used a racial slur. McNeil said he asked the student if she had called someone else the slur or was rapping or quoting a book. In doing so, he used the slur himself.

Other students on the trip also complained about McNeil and he was apparently disciplined by the Times after the trip occurred in 2019. Last week, the allegations against him were made public, and McNeil was forced to resign. Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn wrote of McNeil’s resignation at the time, “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”

Shortly after McNeil’s resignation, it was pointed out that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the much criticized “1619 Project” had also used the racial slur years earlier, in a similar way as McNeil. Hannah-Jones had previously used the slur in May 2016 while defending black comedian Larry Wilmore’s use of the word at the White House Correspondents Dinner, The Daily Wire’s Tim Pearce reported.

“Larry Wilmore did not say, ‘You did it, my n****r.’ Come on, now,” Hannah-Jones said at the time, using the full words without the asterisks.

Hannah-Jones even doxed a reporter asking her about her previous use of the word. The Times did not punish her for either. In fact, as The Daily Wire reported, the Times defended Hannah-Jones, saying she “inadvertently” posted the reporter’s cell number, even though a Twitter exchange occurring 71 hours before the tweet was removed made it clear Hannah-Jones was aware of what she had done.

Times media columnist Ben Smith tweeted Thursday morning that Baquet walked back his earlier statement about intent. Now, intent mattered.

“In our zeal to make a powerful statement about our workplace culture, we hamhandedly said something that some of you saw as threatening to our journalism…. Of course intent matters when we are talking about language in journalism,” Baquet said during an internal meeting, according to Smith.

Eileen Murphy, the Times’ head of communications, put the meeting on the record. Baquet also apparently said during that meeting that the “n-word” would still appear in the Times if and when it’s is needed, but that it wouldn’t be “used for effect.”

It does not appear as though McNeil will be brought back based on the changing statements and intent of Times editors.

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