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New York Times ‘Racist’ Staff Meeting Reminds How, When To Cover Race

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The fallout at the New York Times over a recent headline’s clear mischaracterization of the president’s nonstop racism continued this week with a staff meeting addressing a number of missteps the paper has had covering the topic of race. The newspaper held a staff-wide town hall meeting on Monday that the Daily Beast said required newsroom leaders to revisit certain topics that included the Aug. 6 headline in question that initially, and falsely, said, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.”

The headline was later changed, but not before outrage that reportedly started in the newsroom quickly spread across social media and resulted in the hashtag “#CancelNYT” being the top trending topic that morning and afternoon.

All of which reportedly prompted Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s first Black person to serve in that role, to announce in front of the staff on Monday that the headline was a mistake and “a fucking mess.” It was seemingly the wrong time to finally be addressing a topic that has increasingly divided the country since the 2016 election.

The staff meeting came one day before Baquet decided to demote the paper’s deputy editor in Washington over several racially insensitive — or racist — tweets. Jonathan Weisman’s social media activity offended a number of the paper’s Black employees, including Roxane Gay, who tweeted her opinion on the matter Tuesday afternoon.

Back in the staff meeting, according to the Daily Beast, Baquet “emphasized that rather than simply labeling the president or other leaders ‘racist’ or using euphemisms like ‘racially charged,’ the paper should demonstrate instances of racism through concrete examples.” Baquet went on to say that there would soon be an addition to the Times style guide “for when the paper should use the word ‘racist.’” 

If that decision to revise how and when to use the word “racist” sounds like it should have been done a while ago — at least beginning hen Trump announced his candidacy four years ago — that’s because it should have. The years-long delay in updating its style guide comes just a few months after fellow mainstream media outlet Associated Press’ most recent stylebook addressed the topic.

Meanwhile, members of the Black press, like NewsOne, have had no problem accurately labeling Trump the racist that he is. But that was because, of course, the Black press actually employs Black people who have that institutional knowledge of when to call a spade a spade. 

According to the Times’ own diversity report for last year, just 8 percent of its staff identified as “Black or African-American” and 5 percent of its leadership was the same, with the latter reflecting an increase of 1 percentage point from three years earlier.

And since numbers don’t lie, the Times has one easy solution to stop misrepresenting what is and isn’t “racist” when it comes to the president: hire more Black people in leadership and decision-making roles. Until that happens, chances are the Times will be forced to convene more and more impromptu staff meetings to explain why it ran an ill-advised profile about a Nazi sympathizer or it misidentified one dark-skinned Black woman for another or would rather refer to racist political robocalls by white supremacists as “racial stumbles” instead of “racism” from a candidate who referred to his opponent as a “monkey.”

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