New York Times Staffer: ‘Racism Is in Everything… Foundation of All of the Systems in the Country’

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Dean Baquet and Liz Garbus speak on stage at Showtime's World Premiere of The Fourth Estate at Tribeca Film Festival Screening at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center on April 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Showtime)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Showtime, Jewel Samad, Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty, Mark Makela/Getty

A New York Times staff member argued Monday that “racism is in everything” when it comes to the “foundation of all systems” in the United States and should shape the newspaper’s reporting on multiple subjects, according to a report.

On Thursday, Slate published a revealing transcript of a crisis town hall meeting convened by New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet (pictured) this week, prompted by internal turmoil over the newspaper’s coverage of the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting that claimed 22 lives and left 25 injured. The Times faced blowback last week after publishing the frontpage headline on President Donald Trump’s denouncement of the suspected gunman’s alleged anti-Hispanic motivations: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” After outcry poured in, the newspaper caved to critics by switching its headline to “Assailing Hate But Not Guns” for its second edition of the newspaper.

During the town hall, in which staff were allowed to submit questions anonymously, one person asked Baquet whether he shared their view that the U.S. is built on racism and white supremacy and proposed that the viewpoint influence the newspaper’s coverage across the board.

Below is a partial transcript of the exchange between the unnamed Times staffer and Baquet:

Staffer: Hello, I have another question about racism. I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country. And I think particularly as we are launching a 1619 Project, I feel like that’s going to open us up to even more criticism from people who are like, “OK, well you’re saying this, and you’re producing this big project about this. But are you guys actually considering this in your daily reporting?”

Baquet: You know, it’s interesting, the argument you just made, to go back to the use of the word racist. I didn’t agree with all of this from Keith Woods, who I know from New Orleans and who’s the ombudsman for NPR. He wrote a piece about why he wouldn’t have used the word racist, and his argument, which is pretty provocative, boils down to this: Pretty much everything is racist. His view is that a huge percentage of American conversation is racist, so why isolate this one comment from Donald Trump? His argument is that he could cite things that people say in their everyday lives that we don’t characterize that way, which is always interesting. You know, I don’t know how to answer that, other than I do think that that race has always played a huge part in the American story.

The above exchange between Times staffers and Baquet is one of several tense exchanges during the town hall, which also consisted of the newspaper’s executive editor repeatedly apologizing for the “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” headline. When asked how much of the social media backlash spurred the headline change, Baquet failed to provide a concrete response but did concede that his initial reaction to Twitter’s dismay was “not polite.”

“We were all—it was a fucking mess—we were all over the headline. Me. Matt. The print hub. Probably [assistant managing editor] Alison [Mitchell]. We were all over it, and then in the middle of it, [deputy managing editor] Rebecca Blumenstein sent an email—but we were already messing with it —saying, “You should know, there’s a social media firestorm over the headline,” the paper’s top editor recounted.

“My reaction [inaudible] was not polite. My reaction was to essentially say, “Fuck ’em, we’re already working on it.” And we were working on it, on deadline. We had already lost half of the papers, and it was too late to redraw the whole page. We would’ve lost the whole thing,” he added.

The town hall meeting also came as the Times demoted Jonathan Weisman, its deputy Washington editor, following complaints about various tweets that his critics deemed racist.  In one now-deleted post, Weisman implied that lawmakers of color from urban districts, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) were not representative of the Midwest and the South.

“Jonathan Weisman met with [Executive Editor Dean Baquet] today and apologized for his recent serious lapses in judgement,” the Times said in a statement. “As a consequence of his actions, he has been demoted and will no longer be overseeing the team that covers Congress or be active on social media.”

“I accept Dean’s judgment,” Weisman said. “I think he’s right to do what he’s doing. I embarrassed the newspaper, and he had to act.”

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