It is with sadness that I write to tell you that I am resigning from The New York Times.
Three years ago I joined the newspaper with gratitude and optimism. I was hired for the purpose of bringing in voices that wouldn’t otherwise appear on your pages: aspiring writers, centrists, conservatives, and others who wouldn’t consider The Times their home. The reason for this effort was clear: the newspaper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant it lacked a good understanding of the country it covers. Dean Baquet and others have admitted this on several occasions. The priority in Advice was to help remedy that critical shortcoming.
I was honored to be part of that effort, led by James Bennet. I am proud of my work as a writer and as an editor. Among those I helped bring to our pages: Venezuelan dissident Wuilly Arteaga; the Iranian chess champion Dorsa Derakhshani; and Hong Kong Christian Democrat Derek Lam. Also: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Masih Alinejad, Zaina Arafat, Elna Baker, Rachael Denhollander, Matti Friedman, Nick Gillespie, Heather Heying, Randall Kennedy, Julius Krein, Monica Lewinsky, Glenn Loury, Jesse Singal, Ali Soufan, Chloe Valdary, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Wesley Yang and many others.
But the lessons that should have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the need to resist tribalism, and the central role of the free exchange of ideas in a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially in this paper: that truth is not a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to a few enlightened people whose job is to protect everyone else. to inform.
Twitter is not at the top of The New York Times. But Twitter has become the ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the newspaper, the newspaper itself has increasingly become something of a performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to please the smallest audience, rather than letting a curious audience read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were tasked with writing the first rough draft of history. Now history itself is still a fleeting thing formed to meet the needs of a predetermined story.
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I’ve learned to brush aside comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues who were considered friendly to me were harassed by colleagues. My work and my character are openly humiliated on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly have their say. Some co-workers insist I must be exterminated if this company really wants to be “inclusive”, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly defame me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that the harassment of me will be met with appropriate measures. They never are.
There are terms for all this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive dismissal. I’m not a lawyer. But I know this is wrong.
I don’t understand how you allowed this kind of behavior within your company to take place in full view of the entire newspaper staff and the public. And I certainly can’t stand how you and other Times leaders have watched while simultaneously praising me privately for my bravery. It would not take courage to work as a centrist at an American newspaper.
Part of me wished I could say my experience was unique. But the truth is that intellectual curiosity — let alone risk-taking — is now a liability at The Times. Why edit something that challenges our readers, or write something bold just to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can ensure job security (and clicks) for ourselves by publishing our 4,000th opinion arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm.
Whatever rules remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If someone’s ideology is in line with the new orthodoxy, they and their work go unnoticed. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunder dome. Online gif is excused as long as it targets the right targets.
Opinions that would have been easily published two years ago would now put an editor or writer in serious trouble, if not fired. If a piece is seen as likely to elicit reactions internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strong enough to suggest it, she is quickly sent to safer ground. And if she occasionally manages to get a piece published that doesn’t explicitly promote progressive goals, it’s only after each line has been carefully massaged, negotiated, and reserved.
It took the paper two days and two jobs to say that Tom Cotton’s opinion “didn’t meet our standards.” We attached an editor’s note to a travelogue about Jaffa shortly after it was published because it “didn’t touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history.” But still nothing has been added to Cheryl Strayed’s fawning interview with writer Alice Walker, a proud anti-Semite who believes in lizard Illuminati.
The document is, more and more, the record of those who live in a distant galaxy, one whose worries have been deeply removed from most people’s lives. This is a galaxy in which, to name just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program has been praised for its “diversity”; doxxing teenagers in the name of justice is tolerated; and the worst caste systems in human history include the United States alongside Nazi Germany.
Even now I am convinced that most people at The Times do not have this view. Yet they are intimidated by those who do. Why? Perhaps because they believe the ultimate goal is just. Perhaps because they believe they will be protected if they nod, because our empire’s currency – language – is being degraded in the service of an ever-changing laundry list of charities. Maybe because there are millions of unemployed people in this country and they feel lucky to have a job in a contracting company.
Or maybe it’s because they know that championing the principle in the papers doesn’t get any praise these days. It puts a target on your back. Too wise to post on Slack, they write to me privately about the “new McCarthyism” that has taken root in the paper.
All of this doesn’t bode well, especially for independent young writers and editors who pay close attention to what they need to do to advance in their careers. Rule number one: speak your mind at your own risk. Rule two: never risk writing a story that goes against the story. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually the publisher will give in to the mafia, the editor will be fired or reassigned, and you will be hanged to dry.
For these young writers and editors, there is one consolation. While places like The Times and other once great journalistic institutions betray their standards and lose sight of their principles, Americans still hunger for news that is accurate, opinions that are vital, and debate that is genuine. I hear from these people every day. “An independent press is not a liberal ideal or a progressive ideal or a democratic ideal. It’s an American ideal,” you said a few years ago. I couldn’t agree more. America is a great country that deserves a great newspaper.
All this doesn’t mean that some of the world’s most talented journalists aren’t still working for this paper. They do, which makes the illiberal environment particularly heartbreaking. I will, as always, be a devoted reader of their work. But I can no longer do the work you brought me here for—the work Adolph Ochs described in that famous 1896 statement: “to make the New York Times columns a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end invite an intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”
Ochs’ idea is one of the best I’ve come across. And I’ve always comforted myself that the best ideas win. But ideas cannot win alone. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be supported by people who want to live by them.