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Times hurts credibility by excusing hateful tweets

August 7, 2018

A week ago the New York Times announced the hiring of Sarah Jeong as the lead technology writer for its editorial board. The hiring made good sense. Rapidly changing communication’s technology, Jeong’s specialty, is playing an ever-growing role in our political and public discourse. She has been working at the Vox Media site The Verge.

Aged 30 and an Asian-American woman, Jeong also brought generational and ethnic diversity to the board, which is charged with providing editorial guidance to the New York Times opinion pages.

Then came publication on right-wing websites of disturbing tweets written by Jeong between 2013 and 2015. Among them:

“Let’s fund a study on whether killing all the white people would make black people safer.”

“Dumbass f---ing white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.”

“Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

The New York Times stood by the hiring, saying it had researched Jeong’s Twitter past.

“Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media,” read the statement by the Times.

Jeong said in a statement on Twitter that she regretted the tweets, which were “intended as satire.” Jeong added that she recognizes “how hurtful these posts are out of context.”

The Times should have considered the statements disqualifying. The Day would have. It is hard to imagine if the name of any other ethnic or religious group were substituted for “white” in those tweets that The Times would have accepted the explanation of defensive satire.

Even accepting Jeong’s explanation — that she was responding to “trolls” who attacked her in hate-laced language by mimicking their own — it shows bad judgment for someone now entrusted to help form opinions for The Times.

Granted, some of the websites now roasting Jeong on the skewer of her past tweets are the very ones that feed half-truths and distortions to the trolls who have attacked Jeong. For this reason, some are applauding The Times for not backing down.

If that’s a victory, it has come with damage to the board’s credibility.

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