Politics & Policy

By Its Own Standard, the New York Times Should Fire Sarah Jeong

I don’t like outrage mobs, and I think David French enunciates a sensible line in these cases — past tweets shouldn’t be a firing offense, but things you say while working for your employer are fair game. But the hypocrisy in the Sarah Jeong case is off the charts. There is no way that the Times stands by a writer who expressed such animus against any other group. And the idea, advanced by the Times in its explanation of why it is keeping her, that she was simply adopting the language of her online harassers, is completely dishonest. Who says racist things for years because they get nasty messages on Twitter? These tweets weren’t isolated instances — Andrew Sullivan pointed to a thread that walks through them all:

But what is most galling about this episode is that, in almost exactly the same circumstance earlier this year, the Times preemptively fired a new hire for past tweets. And it seems that Quinn Norton really was adopting the language of people she was directly addressing.

Certainly, her use of the n-word was completely innocent. She retweeted someone using the word to troll racists:

If any rational person had to decide whether to keep Sarah Jeong or Quinn Norton on the basis of past tweets, it wouldn’t even be a close call — Norton would stay and Jeong would go. The Times reached the opposite conclusion, via a dishonest account of Jeong’s tweeting. Again, this doesn’t mean that Jeong should be fired. It does mean that the Times and Jeong should be more forthcoming, and that the paper owes Quinn Norton an apology.

As for whether this episode leads to a pause in the firing wars, don’t bet on it. It’s more likely to be a step toward entrenching the view among the elite that racial animus isn’t so bad, so long as it’s directed at the group that was the long-running target of Jeong’s contempt.

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