Case Study - New Tolerance Campaign

Case Study

In February 2018, The New York Times fired Quinn Norton from its editorial board for Tweets that included derogatory slurs for gay people and African-Americans. While apologizing for poor tweeting, Norton defended herself, saying that “[w]hen I speak to communities, I used their language to do it” and claimed that “context collapse is what happened here…”

In response to this information, The Times’ editorial page editor released a statement saying that “[d]espite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways.” The New York Times thus went on the record, establishing that their editorial board was to be free of those who use bigoted and racist language, even if the author had a rationale for doing it that some might find reasonable given the context.

On August 1st, 2019, The New York Times announced that Sarah Jeong would join its editorial board. Soon thereafter, reports came to life highlighting Tweets from Jeong that criticized white people along racial lines. Jeong and others defended her Tweets similarly to Norton’s defense, saying that they meant to mimic her harassers and detractors.

The New York Times responded by announcing that Jeong would remain on its editorial board, and despite saying that it did not condone her behavior, The Times accepted it because “[h]er journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment.”

It is problematic that a mainstream arbiter of news and opinion such as The New York Times would apply a double standard to the line they draw on intolerance on their editorial board. In this case, we have two very similar situations – journalists who were hired to join the editorial board of The New York Times making Tweets in poor taste who both defended those Tweets as contextually-appropriate – being treated in two different ways by the same mainstream actor. As a source that millions of people look to daily to make sense of the world, The New York Times must do better in deciding on and practicing a single standard on tolerance.