Sign up for the Prompt 2024 newsletter for opinions on the biggest questions in politicsArrowRight

Yes, I’m talking about the Chick-fil-A saga of last week, an X-spawned controversy that sounds trivial in light of its connection to a savory concoction served on a “toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips.” But it’s just the sort of spat you’d expect at a place that’s convulsing over the ideological divisions of a changing workforce.

In an essay for the Atlantic — title: “I Was a Heretic at The New York Times” — Adam Rubenstein, a former editor in the paper’s Opinion section, documents his reception at the Times after having worked at right-leaning outlets. “Being a conservative — or at least being considered one — at the Times was a strange experience,” writes Rubenstein. In the lede of his piece, Rubenstein recalls the time he cited a Chick-fil-A offering in a 2019 orientation session when he was asked to name his favorite sandwich.

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The HR professional conducting the orientation scolded him — and not for consuming 75 percent of his daily recommended sodium max in one sando. “We don’t do that here. They hate gay people,” said the HR rep of Chick-fil-A.

Follow this authorErik Wemple's opinions

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Some skeptics on social media annotated that passage with summary dismissals or snark. “Never happened,” tweeted Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine. Mike Isaac, a tech reporter for the Times, called the anecdote “obviously fake.” Michael Hobbes, who co-hosts a podcast on wellness and weight loss, called for inquiries to the Atlantic about the “process behind publishing this egregiously fake anecdote.” Others chimed in with similar declarations as well as criticism of how the Atlantic handled the its transparency obligations.

Consideration of the anecdote’s veracity eclipsed a reckoning over the gist of Rubenstein’s article, though perhaps that was the point.

Advertisement

Following the denunciations of the Chick-fil-A moment, X users posted notes stating that Rubenstein had told the same story at the time. Yet further corroboration was available: As I posted on X on Friday, this HR incident at the Times became an HR incident in its own right at the newspaper. It started shortly after the episode itself, according to multiple sources, when Rubenstein shared his account of the run-in with colleagues, including longtime columnist David Brooks, his supervisor. Duly apprised, Brooks notified then-editorial page editor James Bennet, who had prioritized a more robust mix of conservative voices in his section and sought to create a welcoming professional environment for them. He discussed the matter with HR.

In a separate meeting requested by an HR rep, Rubenstein made casual mention of the incident. However, he also told his colleagues that he didn’t wish to file a complaint or receive some orchestrated apology. According to two sources, the HR official who issued the Chick-fil-A brushback was approached over the incident and expressed contrition for her remarks. Citing personnel issues and conversations among employees no longer at the newspaper, the Times declined to comment.

So the anecdote is anything but “egregiously fake.” The Atlantic issued a statement saying that “details were confirmed by New York Times employees who had contemporaneous knowledge of the incident in question.”

Advertisement

In explaining her conclusion, Hannah-Jones tweeted, “I have eaten Chik-fil-A at the NYT. No one who has ever interacted with NYT HR believes this story. Nor do new hires snap in spontaneous harmony. What.” Well, don’t tell that to the New York Times! In 2015, reporter Katherine Rosman explained — in “Why Snapping Is the New Clapping” — how finger-snapping is “more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.” And white-collar orientation sessions, perhaps.

There’s another reason, moreover, to withhold the bombs-away skepticism of the Chick-fil-A anecdote: The paper’s corridors — or at least its Slack channels — have played host in recent years to intramural ideological clashes far spicier than the one at hand — clashes in which Times journalism comes under attack from the left. In a longform Economist essay in December, Bennet described how the Times workforce underwent a transformation in the 2010s, with a mass of engineers, young journalists and social media sophisticates — among others — streaming onto the payroll. The ideological drift, suggested Bennet, went in one direction: “All these recruits arrived with their own notions of the purpose of the Times. To me, publishing conservatives helped fulfill the paper’s mission; to them, I think, it betrayed that mission,” wrote Bennet.

For instance: An internal revolt that surfaced on Slack and Twitter in June 2020 over the now-infamous Tom Cotton op-ed (“Send in the Troops”) helped to push Bennet out of his job atop the Opinion section. Participants wrote some variation of the following on Twitter: “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.” A year ago, the Times warned staffers who signed onto a high-profile letter bashing the newspaper’s coverage of transgender youths.

Advertisement

A new chapter in the Times’s ideological fissures unfolded just last month. Times opinion columnist Pamela Paul wrote a long piece embracing a cautious approach to medical treatment for transgender youths. Internal criticism surfaced on a Times Slack channel. As I reported on X, the Times deleted Slack messages — seven, in all — from employees criticizing the Paul piece and other coverage. The Slack messages allegedly violated the paper’s internal communications policy — introduced on Jan. 9 — which prohibits criticism of colleagues in large forums, including certain company Slack channels. It does, however, allow employees to direct criticism to higher-ups through established electronic — and nonpublic — channels. Attacks on the company writ large are also just fine.

Below is one of the deleted messages, which approaches an assertion of equivalence between the Times’s published work and the Times’s work environment. The prospect that dissenters within the Times’s walls could convert its content into workplace complaints endangers its ability to deliver a news product “without fear or favor.”

Below is an example of one of the comments that the New York Times removed from a Slack chat following the publication of Pamela Paul's opinion piece titled, "As Kids, They Thought They Were Trans. They No Longer Do." https://t.co/qwEpU3AQkE pic.twitter.com/KIS1W7VET2

— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) February 6, 2024

Is this a company that couldn’t possibly generate a fleeting dust up over the political import of a chicken sandwich?

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Turmoil at the Times has even prompted a leak investigation, of all insane things. The Intercept in January published a story revealing that franchise podcast “The Daily” had paused work on an adaptation of a December Times story alleging that Hamas “weaponized” sexual violence in its Oct. 7 attacks. That pause occurred amid a “furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject,” according to the Intercept. The leak was gobsmacking in its audacity — spilling disclosures about pending editorial projects is a no-no — and it’s unclear what motivated the transgression: strictly journalistic misgivings or ideological leanings on the Israel-Gaza war? Perhaps Times leadership will reach some conclusion on that point as it pursues its probe, which was first reported by Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein.

The Times should not be conducting leak investigations; it should be condemning them.

How Times employees are allowed to trash their colleagues is a question that’s moving to a federal venue. The NewsGuild of New York on Feb. 27 filed an unfair labor practice charge over the Times’s communications policy with the National Labor Relations Board. New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha says that the newspaper developed the Jan. 9 communications policy with input from the three guild bargaining units. The aim, she says, is to “provide a workplace where everyone’s work is free from criticism in large or external forums. We believe it is possible to have a culture that both encourages productive feedback in the appropriate channels and fiercely supports the independence of our colleagues as they create their work.”

Advertisement

The policy, says Ha, isn’t intended to conflict with staff’s “important legal rights to address terms and conditions of employment.”

According to a NewsGuild spokeswoman, however, the policy is “vague, overly broad and, among other problems, inaccurately defines the Times internal company Slack channels — the primary forum remote employees use to talk collectively with groups of colleagues — as ‘essentially public forums.’” The curbs, continued the statement, “can chill the ability of employees to talk about shared concerns about their working conditions and engage in protected, concerted activity.”

Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York, says there is “of course” a line separating editorial content from workplace conditions. But she argues that any “reasonable reading of the policy” would lead employees to “believe that they are constrained about talking about workplace concerns — safety concerns — that arise from the coverage.”

Advertisement

That the Times and the guild are slugging it out over a communications policy tells you all you need to know about the conflicts at the Times, whether they concern momentous stuff such as transgender coverage or stupid stuff such as sandwiches. Even though the newspaper is right to be concerned about its Slack battlegrounds and the cohesion of its workforce, Times leaders have better things to do than enforce a ban on intramural sniping on certain platforms. Even a judiciously enforced prohibition — let alone an overzealous or ham-handedly enforced one, always a possibility — could cause more division than it resolves.

In any event, there’s sure to be plenty more fights at the Times. Please send Slack excerpts to erik.wemple@washpost.com.

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Journalists never stop talking about how Americans are divided on every possible front — from politics to music to movies to cars to real estate to food and beyond. And yet: Some of them refuse to believe that a choice of sandwich could roil an orientation session at the New York Times, one of the most political places on the map.

Yes, I’m talking about the Chick-fil-A saga of last week, an X-spawned controversy that sounds trivial in light of its connection to a savory concoction served on a “toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips.” But it’s just the sort of spat you’d expect at a place that’s convulsing over the ideological divisions of a changing workforce.

In an essay for the Atlantic — title: “I Was a Heretic at The New York Times” — Adam Rubenstein, a former editor in the paper’s Opinion section, documents his reception at the Times after having worked at right-leaning outlets. “Being a conservative — or at least being considered one — at the Times was a strange experience,” writes Rubenstein. In the lede of his piece, Rubenstein recalls the time he cited a Chick-fil-A offering in a 2019 orientation session when he was asked to name his favorite sandwich.

The HR professional conducting the orientation scolded him — and not for consuming 75 percent of his daily recommended sodium max in one sando. “We don’t do that here. They hate gay people,” said the HR rep of Chick-fil-A.

Some skeptics on social media annotated that passage with summary dismissals or snark. “Never happened,” tweeted Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine. Mike Isaac, a tech reporter for the Times, called the anecdote “obviously fake.” Michael Hobbes, who co-hosts a podcast on wellness and weight loss, called for inquiries to the Atlantic about the “process behind publishing this egregiously fake anecdote.” Others chimed in with similar declarations as well as criticism of how the Atlantic handled the its transparency obligations.

Consideration of the anecdote’s veracity eclipsed a reckoning over the gist of Rubenstein’s article, though perhaps that was the point.

Following the denunciations of the Chick-fil-A moment, X users posted notes stating that Rubenstein had told the same story at the time. Yet further corroboration was available: As I posted on X on Friday, this HR incident at the Times became an HR incident in its own right at the newspaper. It started shortly after the episode itself, according to multiple sources, when Rubenstein shared his account of the run-in with colleagues, including longtime columnist David Brooks, his supervisor. Duly apprised, Brooks notified then-editorial page editor James Bennet, who had prioritized a more robust mix of conservative voices in his section and sought to create a welcoming professional environment for them. He discussed the matter with HR.

In a separate meeting requested by an HR rep, Rubenstein made casual mention of the incident. However, he also told his colleagues that he didn’t wish to file a complaint or receive some orchestrated apology. According to two sources, the HR official who issued the Chick-fil-A brushback was approached over the incident and expressed contrition for her remarks. Citing personnel issues and conversations among employees no longer at the newspaper, the Times declined to comment.

So the anecdote is anything but “egregiously fake.” The Atlantic issued a statement saying that “details were confirmed by New York Times employees who had contemporaneous knowledge of the incident in question.”

In explaining her conclusion, Hannah-Jones tweeted, “I have eaten Chik-fil-A at the NYT. No one who has ever interacted with NYT HR believes this story. Nor do new hires snap in spontaneous harmony. What.” Well, don’t tell that to the New York Times! In 2015, reporter Katherine Rosman explained — in “Why Snapping Is the New Clapping” — how finger-snapping is “more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.” And white-collar orientation sessions, perhaps.

There’s another reason, moreover, to withhold the bombs-away skepticism of the Chick-fil-A anecdote: The paper’s corridors — or at least its Slack channels — have played host in recent years to intramural ideological clashes far spicier than the one at hand — clashes in which Times journalism comes under attack from the left. In a longform Economist essay in December, Bennet described how the Times workforce underwent a transformation in the 2010s, with a mass of engineers, young journalists and social media sophisticates — among others — streaming onto the payroll. The ideological drift, suggested Bennet, went in one direction: “All these recruits arrived with their own notions of the purpose of the Times. To me, publishing conservatives helped fulfill the paper’s mission; to them, I think, it betrayed that mission,” wrote Bennet.

For instance: An internal revolt that surfaced on Slack and Twitter in June 2020 over the now-infamous Tom Cotton op-ed (“Send in the Troops”) helped to push Bennet out of his job atop the Opinion section. Participants wrote some variation of the following on Twitter: “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.” A year ago, the Times warned staffers who signed onto a high-profile letter bashing the newspaper’s coverage of transgender youths.

A new chapter in the Times’s ideological fissures unfolded just last month. Times opinion columnist Pamela Paul wrote a long piece embracing a cautious approach to medical treatment for transgender youths. Internal criticism surfaced on a Times Slack channel. As I reported on X, the Times deleted Slack messages — seven, in all — from employees criticizing the Paul piece and other coverage. The Slack messages allegedly violated the paper’s internal communications policy — introduced on Jan. 9 — which prohibits criticism of colleagues in large forums, including certain company Slack channels. It does, however, allow employees to direct criticism to higher-ups through established electronic — and nonpublic — channels. Attacks on the company writ large are also just fine.

Below is one of the deleted messages, which approaches an assertion of equivalence between the Times’s published work and the Times’s work environment. The prospect that dissenters within the Times’s walls could convert its content into workplace complaints endangers its ability to deliver a news product “without fear or favor.”

Below is an example of one of the comments that the New York Times removed from a Slack chat following the publication of Pamela Paul's opinion piece titled, "As Kids, They Thought They Were Trans. They No Longer Do." https://t.co/qwEpU3AQkE pic.twitter.com/KIS1W7VET2

Is this a company that couldn’t possibly generate a fleeting dust up over the political import of a chicken sandwich?

Turmoil at the Times has even prompted a leak investigation, of all insane things. The Intercept in January published a story revealing that franchise podcast “The Daily” had paused work on an adaptation of a December Times story alleging that Hamas “weaponized” sexual violence in its Oct. 7 attacks. That pause occurred amid a “furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject,” according to the Intercept. The leak was gobsmacking in its audacity — spilling disclosures about pending editorial projects is a no-no — and it’s unclear what motivated the transgression: strictly journalistic misgivings or ideological leanings on the Israel-Gaza war? Perhaps Times leadership will reach some conclusion on that point as it pursues its probe, which was first reported by Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein.

The Times should not be conducting leak investigations; it should be condemning them.

How Times employees are allowed to trash their colleagues is a question that’s moving to a federal venue. The NewsGuild of New York on Feb. 27 filed an unfair labor practice charge over the Times’s communications policy with the National Labor Relations Board. New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha says that the newspaper developed the Jan. 9 communications policy with input from the three guild bargaining units. The aim, she says, is to “provide a workplace where everyone’s work is free from criticism in large or external forums. We believe it is possible to have a culture that both encourages productive feedback in the appropriate channels and fiercely supports the independence of our colleagues as they create their work.”

The policy, says Ha, isn’t intended to conflict with staff’s “important legal rights to address terms and conditions of employment.”

According to a NewsGuild spokeswoman, however, the policy is “vague, overly broad and, among other problems, inaccurately defines the Times internal company Slack channels — the primary forum remote employees use to talk collectively with groups of colleagues — as ‘essentially public forums.’” The curbs, continued the statement, “can chill the ability of employees to talk about shared concerns about their working conditions and engage in protected, concerted activity.”

Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York, says there is “of course” a line separating editorial content from workplace conditions. But she argues that any “reasonable reading of the policy” would lead employees to “believe that they are constrained about talking about workplace concerns — safety concerns — that arise from the coverage.”

That the Times and the guild are slugging it out over a communications policy tells you all you need to know about the conflicts at the Times, whether they concern momentous stuff such as transgender coverage or stupid stuff such as sandwiches. Even though the newspaper is right to be concerned about its Slack battlegrounds and the cohesion of its workforce, Times leaders have better things to do than enforce a ban on intramural sniping on certain platforms. Even a judiciously enforced prohibition — let alone an overzealous or ham-handedly enforced one, always a possibility — could cause more division than it resolves.

In any event, there’s sure to be plenty more fights at the Times. Please send Slack excerpts to erik.wemple@washpost.com.

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New York Times employees fighting over Chick-fil-A? Sounds about right.

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08.03.2024

Sign up for the Prompt 2024 newsletter for opinions on the biggest questions in politicsArrowRight

Yes, I’m talking about the Chick-fil-A saga of last week, an X-spawned controversy that sounds trivial in light of its connection to a savory concoction served on a “toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips.” But it’s just the sort of spat you’d expect at a place that’s convulsing over the ideological divisions of a changing workforce.

In an essay for the Atlantic — title: “I Was a Heretic at The New York Times” — Adam Rubenstein, a former editor in the paper’s Opinion section, documents his reception at the Times after having worked at right-leaning outlets. “Being a conservative — or at least being considered one — at the Times was a strange experience,” writes Rubenstein. In the lede of his piece, Rubenstein recalls the time he cited a Chick-fil-A offering in a 2019 orientation session when he was asked to name his favorite sandwich.

Advertisement

The HR professional conducting the orientation scolded him — and not for consuming 75 percent of his daily recommended sodium max in one sando. “We don’t do that here. They hate gay people,” said the HR rep of Chick-fil-A.

Follow this authorErik Wemple's opinions

Follow

Some skeptics on social media annotated that passage with summary dismissals or snark. “Never happened,” tweeted Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine. Mike Isaac, a tech reporter for the Times, called the anecdote “obviously fake.” Michael Hobbes, who co-hosts a podcast on wellness and weight loss, called for inquiries to the Atlantic about the “process behind publishing this egregiously fake anecdote.” Others chimed in with similar declarations as well as criticism of how the Atlantic handled the its transparency obligations.

Consideration of the anecdote’s veracity eclipsed a reckoning over the gist of Rubenstein’s article, though perhaps that was the point.

Advertisement

Following the denunciations of the Chick-fil-A moment, X users posted notes stating that Rubenstein had told the same story at the time. Yet further corroboration was available: As I posted on X on Friday, this HR incident at the Times became an HR incident in its own right at the newspaper. It started shortly after the episode itself, according to multiple sources, when Rubenstein shared his account of the run-in with colleagues, including longtime columnist David Brooks, his supervisor. Duly apprised, Brooks notified then-editorial page editor James Bennet, who had prioritized a more robust mix of conservative voices in his section and sought to create a welcoming professional environment for them. He discussed the matter with HR.

In a separate meeting requested by an HR rep, Rubenstein made casual mention of the incident. However, he also told his colleagues that he didn’t wish to file a complaint or receive some orchestrated apology. According to two sources, the HR official who issued the Chick-fil-A brushback was approached over the incident and expressed contrition for her remarks. Citing personnel issues and conversations among employees no longer at the newspaper, the Times declined to comment.

So the anecdote is anything but “egregiously fake.” The Atlantic issued a statement saying that “details were confirmed by New York Times employees who had contemporaneous knowledge of the incident in question.”

Advertisement

In explaining her conclusion, Hannah-Jones tweeted, “I have eaten Chik-fil-A at the NYT. No one who has ever interacted with NYT HR believes this story. Nor do new hires snap in spontaneous harmony. What.” Well, don’t tell that to the New York Times! In 2015, reporter Katherine Rosman explained — in “Why Snapping Is the New Clapping” — how finger-snapping is “more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.” And white-collar orientation sessions, perhaps.

There’s another reason, moreover, to withhold the bombs-away skepticism of the Chick-fil-A anecdote: The paper’s corridors — or at least its Slack channels — have played host in recent years to intramural ideological clashes far spicier than the one at hand — clashes in which Times journalism comes under attack from the left. In a longform Economist essay in December, Bennet described how the Times workforce underwent a transformation in the 2010s, with a mass of engineers, young journalists and social media sophisticates — among others — streaming onto the payroll. The ideological drift, suggested Bennet, went in one direction: “All these recruits arrived with their own notions of the purpose of the Times. To me, publishing conservatives helped fulfill the paper’s mission; to them, I think, it betrayed that mission,” wrote Bennet.

For instance: An internal revolt that surfaced on Slack and Twitter in June 2020 over the now-infamous Tom Cotton op-ed (“Send in the Troops”) helped to push Bennet out of his job atop the Opinion section. Participants wrote some variation of the following on Twitter: “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.” A year ago, the Times warned staffers........

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