'Intent Matters': NYT’s Baquet Walks Back Policy on Racial Slurs

'We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,' Baquet said Friday

New York Times
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February 11, 2021

After stating last week it would "not tolerate racist language regardless of intent," the New York Times reversed course Thursday and said "intent matters" in speech and writing.

"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," executive editor Dean Baquet said in a meeting. "Of course intent matters when we are talking about language in journalism." NBC News's Dylan Byers originally reported the remarks.

Baquet's comments come after the Times pushed out veteran reporter Donald McNeil Jr. last week for uttering a racial slur while discussing an incident in which the same slur—the n-word—was used. McNeil resigned on Friday after the Daily Beast reported on his use of the slur. In an email following McNeil's resignation, Baquet warned staff, "We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent."

The Washington Free Beacon reported Monday, however, that the Times had printed the same slur a week before.

McNeil's ouster led to fierce debate among current and former employees of the paper. The Free Beacon reported that frustration about the Times's handling of the event spilled over into a Facebook group for the paper's current and former staffers, where members questioned the precedent set by the decision.

"‘We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent’ might be the most racist statement I’ve ever read," said one former award-winning crime and finance reporter. "It demeans ALL races."

The Free Beacon also reached out to Times employees who have used racial slurs on Twitter and was doxxed by one of them. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the New York Times Magazine's influential 1619 Project, who commands a Twitter following of half a million, posted Free Beacon reporter Aaron Sibarium's email inquiry, which included his cell phone number, in violation of the social media company's terms of service. Hannah-Jones later scrubbed her account after leaving Sibarium's information up for two days.

Byers also reported the Times barred columnist Bret Stephens on Monday from writing about the newsroom dustup. In his column, Stephens had questioned Baquet's principle of policing racist language "regardless of intent," drawing from pieces published by the Times to argue his point.

Published under: New York Times