When confronted between having to delete a tweet or reveal what could look like tribalist sentiments, the New York Times Writers Guild chose to save face and remove a scathing tweet targeting Bret Stephen’s latest op-ed.
New York Times journo union tries to denounce New York Times columnist, then has second thoughts. https://t.co/En30Su3iqm
— Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) October 12, 2020
Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist, wrote a critique of The New York Time‘s 1619 Project last Friday, claiming that journalists were at their best when they wrote, “the first rough draft of history, not the last word on it.” Throughout his article, Stephens suggests that the 1619’s Project attempt to selectively highlight facts about the origins of the United States and its conflict with race goes beyond the scope of what good journalism should look like.
Simply put, for Stephens, the 1619 Project is bad rhetoric.
The op-ed in question focuses its critique not on the 1619 Project‘s portrayal of slavery in the United States, but rather on what Stephens’ sees as a historical slight-of-hand used to cast a new light on the American narrative as a whole.
“We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the Capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded,” Stephens wrote.
The 1619 Project, spearheaded by Nikole Hannah-Jones, has already been a source of controversy. It has prompted a conversation on the identity of the United States, bringing into question what a free nation made by and for its people looks like even while bearing with it an irremovable history of slavery. But what Stephens would receive criticism for two days later, however, would not be the content of his op-ed or his reasoning. Instead, it would be on account of its place of publication: The New York Times.
In a tweet made by the New York Times Guild, Stephens’ article was called out as unacceptable friendly fire, simultaneously attacking both the author and the NYT. Then the Guild deleted the tweet.
Sometimes “errors” are more revealing than corrections pic.twitter.com/9UVeaKaKpz
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) October 12, 2020
“It says a lot about an organization when it breaks its own rules and goes after one of its own. The act, like the article, reeks.”
Not long after, the Guild deleted the tweet, released a separate statement which called the tweet a mistake.
“We deleted our previous tweet. It was tweeted in error. We apologize for the mistake,” the tweet said.
According to another source in the Guild, the tweet was posted without internal discussion, prompting conflict in NYT circles of communication. After the tweet was sent, the ensuing conversation resulted in deletion.
Someone else active in the Times Union tells me that a leader of the chapter, who runs the account, tweeted about the Stephens column without any internal discussion, causing a furor in Slack and drawing heated objections from others in the Guild, and leading to this: https://t.co/7LPoulxaa7
— Ben Smith (@benyt) October 12, 2020
The deleted tweet appeals to a “rule,” seemingly pointing to some guideline that would prevent NYT writers from criticizing each other—an appeal to some manner of institutional reputational insulation. Oddly enough, Stephens suggests something similar in his article.
“Outside of exceptional circumstances, it’s bad practice to openly criticize the work of one’s colleagues,” Stephens writes. “We bat for the same team and owe one another collegial respect. On the other hand, the 1619 Project has become, partly by its design and partly because of avoidable mistakes, a focal point of the kind of intense national debate that communists are supposed to cover…”
Whether or not critiquing journalists of a parent organization is an acceptable standard held by The New York Times or alternate publications, it’s clearly on the NYT Guild would rather keep out of sight.