New York (CNN Business) The New York Times ( NYT ) is familiar with breaking some of the biggest stories related to culture, race, and gender. But events over the past several weeks reveal that the nation’s paper of record is largely divided when it discovers such issues sitting in its own backyard.
The announcement Friday of the departure of two high-profile journalists from The Times has spurred what some staffers have described as unprecedented levels of divisiveness and controversy inside the newsroom, with staffers warring with each other in private, on Facebook, and even in public on Twitter.
At the core of the divide: What is the best course of action to take when The Times’ own reporters stand accused of violating some of the fundamental principles the newspaper champions? Exacerbating that divide is another question: Why can’t the Times’ leadership seem to decide on the best course of action in any given case and then stick with a decision once made?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but the lack of transparency from the top brass at The Times as to how such decisions are being made has frustrated staffers and demoralized a significant swath of the newsroom, multiple staffers at The Times told CNN Business in conversations this week. It has also raised questions about The Times’ leadership and how equipped it is to navigate such challenges.
“It’s a real f**king disaster,” one Times employee remarked to CNN Business.
It was only after McNeil and Mills faced new scrutiny for their previous actions that The Times no longer appeared comfortable standing beside them and the two men resigned. The apparent about-face has served as fuel in what is now a full-throated debate that has engulfed The Times.
The Times, however, told CNN Business its decision to part ways with McNeil and Mills came after new information surfaced after their cases received public attention.
“For cases like these, it’s the job of our leadership to investigate fully to find out exactly what happened and what should be done about it,” said Eileen Murphy, a spokesperson for The Times. “Often new information or concerns emerge after these cases become public. We work through these issues as we do our journalism, trying to do our best, focusing on the facts, and with our company policies and values — independence, integrity, and respect — central to the decision-making process. That’s what we did in both of these instances.”
But the lack of transparency into the matter has not quelled tensions internally and the void of concrete details has contributed to an environment in which many staffers are arriving at conclusions based on piecemeal bits of information.
But staffers who make up the opposing wing of The Times firmly reject that label and contend that their letter simply called for accountability and asked for transparency on how key decisions are made. The staffers also pushed back against the “cancel culture” narrative that has taken hold and suggested media coverage has been too focused on McNeil’s 2019 actions and not his lack of contrition afterward.
Importantly, Murphy also told CNN Business that the decision about McNeil’s leaving The Times had been made before the letter was delivered to management.
This article is based on conversations with eight Times employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal workplace dynamics. McNeil did not return requests for comment. Murphy declined to make Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Publisher A.G. Sulzberger available for interviews. Mills told CNN Business over iMessage that he is “just very sad” over the experience. Mills added, “I can say that I hope for better days for both Donald and my beloved NYTimes.”
‘No higher priority than getting this right’
Hours after The Daily Beast published its report, Baquet emailed staff to address the “offensive remarks” McNeil had made during the trip and affirm that he was satisfied with how the situation was handled.
“When I first heard the story, I was outraged and expected I would fire him,” Baquet wrote in that email. “I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious. I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance. He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.”
The note to Sulzberger, which was sent on February 3, said The Times “should now take the opportunity to review its policies and better assess the harm behavior like Mr. McNeil’s causes, both to colleagues and especially to the report.” It asked for Sulzberger to call on McNeil to issue an apology; for there to be a “renewed investigation into the 2019 complaints and into any newly surfaced complaints”; and for “transparent policies” that “address when Times employees use hate speech in their work for the company.”
The Times management responded to the staffers by writing a note, signed by Sulzberger, Baquet, and chief executive Meredith Kopit Levien. The note said management had “no higher priority than getting this right.” It ended promising, “You will see results.”
The sequence of events led many inside and outside The Times to believe that management had been pressured to take the action it did by what several staffers characterized as a “vocal minority.” Read from source….