Why New York Times and Facebook employees are rebelling

Fed up with Trump kowtowing

I don't normally publish PRESS RUN four days a week, but I felt that the disturbing events in recent days require more attention.

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Even during a pandemic that has unleashed historic unemployment and at a time when media jobs are vanishing at a stunning rate, some brave employees at Facebook and New York Times have had enough, and risked their careers by calling out their employers over the way they constantly bow down to authoritarian Republican power in the age of Trump. Having ignored outside criticism for years, Facebook and the Times now have to deal with internal revolts that are much harder to dismiss. This time, the howls of protest are coming from inside the building.

In both cases, the worker rebellions are being fueled by deep anger over corporate behavior that emboldens Trump's divisive and hateful ways. At Facebook, the resentment stems from how the social media giant has given Trump a green light to lie and use the global social media platform as a misinformation weapon this campaign season. Facebook has also allowed itself to become a sewer for racist content during a time of national disturbance and protest.

At the Times, the paper this week published an Op-Ed from a Republican senator who echoed Trump's rhetoric and basically urged that martial law be invoked, using the full force of the U.S. military as a way to silence nationwide protests that erupted in the wake of a Minneapolis policeman murdering an unconscious black man, George Floyd, by kneeling on his neck.

The stunning column, which urged the U.S. Army be sent into cities over the objection of local mayors and governors, came not only at a time of widespread abuse as peaceful protesters are beaten and tear gassed nationwide, but at a time when journalists are being targeted for unlawful assault by law enforcement.

Twitter immediately lit up the Times with criticism, which is not unusual given how often the paper strikes an errant chord in the Trump era. But then the unexpected happened —Times staffers started posting their own protests. Nikole Hannah-Jones, a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, tweeted, “As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.” Others cited the Cotton column and tweeted, "Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger." The NewsGuild of New York, the union that represents many Times journalists, stressed in a statement that the Op-Ed “promotes hate" during this "particularly vulnerable moment in American history."

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Responding to the immediate internal outcry, editorial page editor James Bennet insisted that in an open debate it's important to hear all sides and that the Times has an obligation to include many voices, even if they’re unpopular. (Question: Would the daily run an op-ed supporting violence against law enforcement?) Basically, Bennet washed his hands of the decision-making process and suggested that of course, the paper had to publish a Republican senator.

Bennet was initially supported by the newspaper’s publisher. But then by Thursday evening, Times leadership issued a statement saying the Cotton piece had been “rushed” to publication and had not met the paper’s standards. (So why did the publisher support its publication?)

Here’s what helped doom the Times this week — the idea that anything a GOP senator puts his/her name on automatically means it's important and mainstream. The Times for years has actively refused to acknowledge GOP's dangerous, radical turn, and it started during Barack Obama's presidency.

Today, that timidity has transferred to its Trump coverage. Example: Last year the Times published a peculiar article about how White House communications director Hope Hicks faced an "existential choice" of whether or not to comply with a congressional subpoena. (That's not how subpoenas work.) Just last winter the Times compared Trump, whose presidency is defined by naked corruption, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, suggesting they’re both “populists.”

Meanwhile over at Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg can't stop capitulating to Trump and his message of violence and civil unrest. Last week as protests erupted in the streets, Zuckerberg insisted any type of message from the White House that encouraged violence would by removed by Facebook. Then when Trump did exactly that ("when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!") Zuckerberg retreated and announced Facebook would take no action to remove the message.

On Monday, Facebook engineer Timothy Aveni publicly announced he was quitting in protest: "Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric." That same day hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walk-out, in protest of the Zuckerberg's decision on Trump's hate posts.

Soon, dozens of influential early employees of Facebook, including the company's first chief of communications, as well as designers, engineers and policy executives, publicly condemned Zuckerberg's refusal to apply Facebook's clearly stated content guidelines to Trump. "We are devastated to see something we built and something we believed would make the world a better place lose its way so profoundly," they wrote.

It's true that the number of voices speaking out this week remain relatively small considering how large Facebook and the Times are. But it's important to understand the culture, especially at the Times, where defending the paper from criticism is considered an employment prerequisite. In recent years, a cult-like defense has permeated the newsroom, where staffers remained convinced Times critics were naïve and misguided. So for staffers this week to speak up is quite unusual.

The sad truth is that both Facebook and the Paper of Record appear to be deeply confused institutions right now in terms of how they deal with Trump. They both appear to be willing victims of Trump's bullying. Facebook has been running scared of the GOP since 2016 when the party launched an orchestrated campaign about how the company was "silencing" Republican voices, complete with Congressional hearings. Zuckerberg has been fixed in a permanent bowing position every since.

As for the Times, the paper does lots of amazing reporting, particularly during the pandemic and covering a nation in revolt. But when it comes to dealing with Trump and being honest with readers about his dangerous and radical ways, the Times and its D.C. bureau have been helping boost Trump for years. How else do you explain the paper's nonsensical policy of not calling Trump a "liar"? The newsroom is forbidden from calling Trump a liar, but the Times published a GOP screed basically arguing in favor of martial law?

No wonder staffers are pissed off.

UPDATED: On Sunday, Bennet resigned as the Times’ editorial page editor.

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💻 GOOD STUFF:

Read the full letter from more than 30 former Facebook employees to get a sense of the heartbreak so many feel about a company whose initial progressive, inclusive culture has been destroyed by Zuckerberg and his defense of Trump's authoritarian rhetoric:

Today, Facebook’s leadership interprets freedom of expression to mean that they should do nothing — or very nearly nothing — to interfere in political discourse. They have decided that elected officials should be held to a lower standard than those they govern. One set of rules for you, and another for any politician, from your local mayor to the President of the United States.

🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

John Mellencamp, “I’m Not Running Anymore”

1. This is my favorite Mellencamp song. 2. Most people probably aren't familiar with it. 3. It sounds nothing like a Mellencamp song. (Yes, that’s a James Brown sample.) 4. It will make you smile.

Well I look in the mirror - what the hell happened to me?
Whatever I had has gone away
I'm not the young kid that I used to be
So I push the hair back out of my face
That's O.K., I knew this would happen
But I was hopin' not today