Our Amazon Product du Jour, The Ministry of Truth contains
a very relevant quote, brought to us by
Like Stalin’s regime during the Great Terror, the Party doesn’t fear heretics; it needs them, because its power is renewed by crushing them.
I don't want to be accused of a "far-right" version of Reductio ad Hitlerum where
s/Hitler/Stalin/. Still, there's something going on…
… and one of the latest instantiations is described by Charles C. W. Cooke,
(who may be wondering "I became an American citizen for this?")
Donald McNeil: New York Times Reporter Fired for Absurd Reason.
CCWC reproduces a message from "Dean and Joe", New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn, sent to NYT employees, explaining why reporter Donald McNeil Jr., who had been employed there for 45 years. was leaving the paper.
And it includes McNeil's statement in response.
Bottom line: back in 2019, on a New York Times trip to Peru for high school students, McNeil used the "N-word". The context was understandable. But under the new rules, unacceptable.
And McNeil's apology is abject. But not abject enough, he's still out on his ass, after 45 years in the saddle.
Andrew Sullivan suggests that this reads like “a confession procured by the Khmer Rouge,” which is correct but understates the case. In order to extract its “confessions,” the Khmer Rouge used grotesque instruments of torture and hung the ever-present threat of the killing fields over those they were trying to control. The New York Times, by contrast, has . . . what? In Cambodia, the fact that the apologies were extracted under duress made the willingness of the targeted to acquiesce understandable, and, by extension, made it less likely that anyone watching would believe that the tortured really meant what they said. And in Manhattan . . . ? At one level, I am disinclined to blame the victim here. At another, though, I am absolutely appalled by McNeil’s failure to stand up for the truth, and for himself. At some level, at least, he must know that he is dealing with witch-hunting lunatics who, having entered themselves into a never-ending frenzy of self-righteousness, have lost their capacity to reason. At some level, he must know that there is a profound difference between using a racial epithet in the course of a discussion about that racial epithet’s use, and using a racial epithet to diminish or to wound someone. At some level, he must know that it is not only acceptable to ask in what context a word was used, but that if one wishes to comprehend what happened during a given incident, it is imperative. Or, put another way: At some level, the 67-year-old Donald G. McNeil Jr. must know that he has done absolutely nothing wrong.
Also weighing in…
Matt Welch at Reason is also appalled.
It’s Official: Linguistic Intent No Longer Matters at The New York Times.
Scores of professional journalists have asserted publicly as a matter of plain fact that Donald McNeil is a "racist," one of the most grave accusations in contemporary life. This is the extent of his bosses' generosity toward his career, after their abrupt, pressure-induced reversal of disciplinary policy: "Donald joined The Times in 1976 and has done much good reporting over four decades. But we feel that this is the next right step."
I have almost never used the N-word in my private life, let alone in my public work. (It is not hard to find video of me on television wincing at its mention.) I do not seethe with even one drop of resentment that it would probably be frowned upon if I walked down the street shouting N.W.A. lyrics. But on those few occasions that I have written the word, it was not to "use a racial slur," it was to highlight the too-common evil of racism in my childhood environment, and to attempt to have an honest conversation about where we are today.
It is gratifying to work for a publication that not only values free speech, but considers the subject a core coverage area. What's truly regretful, even alarming, is that that approach has become the exception, not the rule, in modern journalism.
We're lucky to have publications like National Review and Reason. However imperfect, they're far more likely to report on racial matters honestly than is the New York Times.
Also on the job is John McWhorter,
The N-word as slur vs. the N-word as a sequence of sounds.
Inevitably, in response to outcry over how needlessly punitive this is, his inquisitors and defenders will note that he is documented to have said some other things that suggest that he is not completely on board with what a certain educated orthodoxy considers the proper positions on race, and that he was reputed to have treated some staffers in a discriminatory way. However, if the complaints were only these, it is reasonable to suppose that he would still have his job. It was the N-word thing that pushed things over the edge, and is the focus of the letter signed by 150 staffers demanding, in effect, his head on a pole.
That is, for people like this, the N-word has gone from being a slur to having, in its mere shape and sound, a totemic taboo status directly akin to how Harry Potter characters process the name Voldemort and theatre people maintain a pox on saying “Macbeth” inside a theatre. The letter roasts McNeil for “us[ing] language that is offensive and unacceptable,” implying a string of language, a whole point or series thereof, something like a stream, a stretch – “language.” But no: they are referring to his referring to a single word.
The kinds of people who got McNeil fired think of this new obsessive policing of the N-word as a kind of strength. Their idea is “We are offended by this word, we demand that you don’t use it, and if you do use it, we are going to make sure you lose your job.” But the analogy is off here. This would be strength if the issue were the vote, or employment. Here, people are demanding the right to exhibit performative delicacy, and being abetted in it by non-black fellow travellers.
McWhorter's bottom line: "to get McNeil fired for using the N-word to refer to it makes black people look dumb." Were I black, I hope I'd feel the same way, and be brave enough to say so.