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July 15, 2020 3:14 pm

Seven Unanswered Questions About Bari Weiss’ New York Times Exit

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

A taxi passes by in front of The New York Times head office, Feb. 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri / File.

The public resignation of Bari Weiss from her job as an editor and writer at The New York Times editorial page leaves many questions unanswered. Among them:

  1. Will Bret Stephens stay? Stephens and Weiss are both veterans of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. At least once they shared a byline, one in which they described themselves as “unhinged Zionists.” Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize winner, joined the Times shortly before Weiss and was brought in by the same editorial page editor, James Bennet, who recently resigned under pressure. If Weiss is accurately depicting how hostile the Times workplace environment is for people of her ideological persuasion, there’s no reason to believe it would be any more tenable for him than for her. The longer he sticks around, the more it undercuts her case that the place is not tenable to people of her ideological persuasion, because their ideological persuasions are pretty similar (if anything, he might be a little further to the right on some issues). I emailed Stephens to ask if he was planning to stay or to follow Weiss out the door and he didn’t immediately respond.
  2. Will there be litigation or a settlement agreement? A “nondisparagement” clause is pretty standard in negotiated severance packages, but Weiss’s scorching resignation letter means some of the value of such a nondisparagement clause is already gone — it’s too late. Will Weiss lawyer up and pursue a legal claim under the “unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge” categories she mentions in her resignation letter? Zionists and political centrists aren’t categories protected in employment law, but Jews are, and one specific complaint Weiss made concerns comments by colleagues that she was “‘writing about the Jews again.” (Fortunately, this is not a complaint I get from colleagues at The Algemeiner.) It’s hard for a lone individual to pursue a claim against a big company such as the Times with in-house lawyers and high-priced outside counsel, but perhaps some lawyer ideologically sympathetic to Weiss will see an opportunity. The discovery in such a case alone would offer the opportunity to expose what another Times veteran, Jodi Rudoren, described as “cesspools” — workplace Slack channels used for internal communication. The goal wouldn’t be financial — Weiss’s primary motivation doesn’t seem to be money — but rather exposing the facts.
  3. What will Weiss do next? There’s already speculation that she, Andrew Sullivan and Ben Shapiro are joining forces to start their own new outlet. She would certainly have access to capital if she wanted to do that.
  4. Will the Times take any action to improve its workplace climate? Doing so would concede that Weiss is correct and accurate in diagnosing the problems there, but failing to do so would be a signal that the paper’s leadership is indifferent to the bullying she describes. In a Times news article about the resignation, a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, said, “We’re committed to fostering an environment of honest, searching and empathetic dialogue between colleagues, one where mutual respect is required of all.” But the Times news article provided no specifics about what the company would do differently to foster that environment, or why and how it has fallen short of that.
  5. Will the Times bring in another centrist or Zionist voice to replace Weiss to try to combat her claim that the organization couldn’t tolerate her views? The same Times news article quoted the acting editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury, as saying, “I’m personally committed to ensuring that The Times continues to publish voices, experiences and viewpoints from across the political spectrum in the Opinion report.” The question is whether the Kingsbury definition of “across the political spectrum” is the spectrum between Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, or between Peter Beinart and Mohammad Javad Zarif, or whether it extends further than that. The Times is already under pressure to fill Weiss’ spot with someone of similar ideological ilk. An editor at The Washington Free Beacon, Stephen Gutowski, tweeted, “If Bari Weiss is wrong and The New York Times opinion section is still committed to intellectual diversity then they will soon hire a center-right columnist who is respected among their ideological cohorts to replace her, yes?”
  6. Who uttered the Bari’s “writing about the Jews again” comments? Weiss’s resignation letter said, “I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.’” Who at the Times made those comments and what do they have to say for themselves?

If this were any other powerful institution, we’d expect to see some probing investigative reporting from the Times about this. Instead the paper is likely to enter its traditional defensive crouch. Which brings us to the next question:

7. Where is the Jonathan Landman-led, post-Jayson Blair-scandal-style internal investigation with corrective recommendations?

Rather than taking Weiss’ complaints seriously, the Times seems ready to shrug them off — which suggests she may well be right in her assessment of how phony is the paper’s desire to represent a broad spectrum of opinion, or how hostile it is to opinions like hers.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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