Fear and Favor at the New York Times

Nikole Hannah-Jones and A.G. Sulzberger / Getty Images
February 10, 2021

The New York Times pledges to hold the powerful accountable "without fear or favor," scrutinizing their actions and demanding transparency.

So it's instructive when we get a chance to see whether the paper's own leaders will abide by the standards to which they so zealously hold others.

The picture isn't pretty. Times management has gone to ground after star magazine correspondent Nikole Hannah-Jones on Saturday posted the cell phone number of our colleague Aaron Sibarium to her 500,000 Twitter followers. The number was up for two days, and Hannah-Jones spent them mocking Sibarium and trading jokes about her behavior with her allies on social media.

Repeated entreaties to Times management, including executive editor Dean Baquet and chairman A.G. Sulzberger, to address the ongoing harassment of our reporter fell on apparently deaf ears—right up until the moment Sibarium published his first-rate reporting on the fallout inside the Times, bringing sudden public attention to Hannah-Jones's disgraceful attack on our man.

Here's what happened. In response to a professional journalistic inquiry, Hannah-Jones posted Sibarium's phone number in the course of mocking his request for comment. Sibarium was asking about the new Times policy articulated by Baquet on Friday that the use of racial slurs is unacceptable "regardless of intent."

Hannah-Jones and other African-American employees of the Times have used this particular racial slur, presumably without any malicious intent, and Sibarium asked for her views on the new policy. It's a good question—one that Sibarium's own reporting has demonstrated is roiling the newspaper.

Times social media guidelines dictate that employees "always treat others with respect on social media." Presumably that means refraining from doxxing fellow journalists.

Pressed for an explanation, or a defense of Hannah-Jones's conduct, or any kind of comment at all, Baquet and Sulzberger punted to Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy, who told us, falsely, that the posting of Sibarium's cell phone number was "inadvertent." Hannah-Jones joked about it after the fact. Did Hannah-Jones lie to Murphy? Or did Murphy take it upon herself to lie to us? Neither explanation would surprise us.

The Times policy also admonishes journalists: "Be transparent. If you tweeted an error or something inappropriate and wish to delete the tweet, be sure to quickly acknowledge the deletion in a subsequent tweet." We're still waiting.

Silence. Misdirection. A refusal to take responsibility.

Fear and favor are on the masthead.

Published under: New York Times