On Wednesday, the New York Times announced its decision to hire tech writer Sarah Jeong to its editorial board; within hours, right-wingers had unearthed some of Jeong’s old tweets, which they deemed “anti-white.” This, they argued, were enough to disqualify her from the job. Today, the Times declared that it was standing by Jeong — but also issued an apology in response to the bad-faith criticism from the right.
Many of Jeong’s tweets that the right dug up dated back five years, and were harmless jokes about conservative white people. In one tweet from 2014, she used the hashtag, #cancelwhitepeople; in another, from 2013, she joked about how “nothing but an unending cascade of vomit” comes out of her mouth when she tries to “politely greet a Republican.” Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those who were moved to vociferously, publicly decry Jeong’s tweets were writers at right-wing publications like National Review and The Federalist, as well as run-of-the-mill conservative white men — many of whom defended the Atlantic’s decision to hire Kevin Williamson, a conservative writer who once tweeted that women should be hanged for getting an abortion.
As pressure mounted, the Times decided to respond, issuing a statement regarding the controversy on Thursday morning. While the publication acknowledged that being a young Asian woman made Jeong “a subject of frequent online harassment,” it also said that she responded to that behavior “by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers” and apologized on behalf of itself and Jeong.
“We had candid conversations with Sarah as part of our thorough vetting process, which included a review of her social media history,” the statement reads. “She understands that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable at The Times and we are confident that she will be an important voice for the editorial board moving forward.”
Jeong also issued her own apology about her old tweets — alongside a screenshot of just two examples of the types of vitriolic messages she typically receives — stating that she simply thought she was engaging in “counter-trolling” when she tweeted the purportedly controversial sentiments.
“While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers,” she wrote. “These comments were not aimed at a general audience, because general audiences do not engage in harassment campaigns. I can understand how hurtful these posts are out of context, and would not do it again.”
Following the Times statement, journalists took to Twitter to stand in solidarity with Jeong, vocalizing just how discouraging this controversy — and the publication’s reaction — has been. Right-wing trolls are notorious for taking comments and jokes out of context and drumming up disingenuous outrage to target their opponents; although the Times didn’t cave to their demands, it did legitimize them with a response.
“Proud to call her a colleague,” Times technology reporter Mike Isaac tweeted.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: Following the Times’ statement, the editorial leadership at Jeong’s former employer, The Verge, released their own, calling the right-wing backlash “dishonest and outrageous.”
“Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda,” the statement reads. “They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation.”