The New York Times continues to shake up its editorial page after the resignation of James Bennet, the opinion editor who angered many of his former colleagues by publishing an op-ed written by a Republican.
In addition to hiring Charlotte Greensit, former managing editor at the Intercept, the Times announced the promotion of Talmon Smith to the position of staff editor. Smith, who has previously written for Salon, the New Republic, and HuffPost, has a history of what some would describe as blatant partisan bias on social media.
“All I want for Christmas is impeachment,” Smith wrote in November 2017. That was before he started working for the Times, which maintains a strict social media policy under which its journalists “must not express partisan opinions [or] promote political views.” The Times demoted a deputy editor for suggesting on Twitter that big cities (Minneapolis, Atlanta) are not representative of the broader regions (Midwest, Deep South) in which they reside.
It is not clear whether Smith’s descriptions of President Donald Trump as a fascist “dick” and “openly bigoted white man” who is “AS RACIST AS THE SKY IS BLUE” would run afoul of that policy.
Smith even criticized the Times in 2017 for a headline suggesting Trump had a chance to “unify” the country in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He has also dabbled in failed punditry, asserting in 2018 that former vice president Joe Biden “has an approximate zero percent chance of winning a 2020 primary.”
Smith’s promotion comes as professional newsrooms, and the ornately educated liberal youths who populate them, debate the merits of objectivity in journalism. Restrictive social media policies such as those at the Times have come under fire for limiting the ability of journalists to express their feelings about politically charged issues.
Some outlets, such as Axios, have responded by allowing their employees to take part in public protests. “We trust our colleagues to do the right thing, and stand firmly behind them should they decide to exercise their constitutional right to free speech,” Axios founder Jim VandeHei said in a statement.
That statement, and the willingness to allow journalists to take part in protests, appeared to conflict with the opinion VandeHei expressed in a 2018 column advising media outlets to “ban their reporters from doing anything on social media—especially Twitter—beyond sharing stories.” VandeHei argued that “snark, jokes and blatant opinion are showing your hand, and it always seems to be the left one. This makes it impossible to win back the skeptics.”
This view may be prevalent among media bosses, but it is increasingly under attack by younger journalists who consider their profession a form of political activism.
“What if we built a journalism where instead of judging a reporter’s ability to be fair and accurate based on their tweets, we instead judged them based on their journalism?” tweeted Pulitzer Prize-winning race journalist Wesley Lowery while promoting his widely disseminated (among elite journalists) piece on the media’s “Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists.”
Smith’s tweets have become more subdued since joining the Times but continue to address controversial topics. For example, he retweeted more than one positive assessment of disgraced editor James Bennet’s humanity and suggested that liberals should stop shaming people for not social distancing following the mass protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd. Smith also tweeted in praise of Dave Chappelle, who some have criticized as anti-transgender, and said he “will happily take a memorial day [part] 2 based on white guilt,” in reference to the recent observance of Juneteenth.
The entire media industry is in the midst of a revolution of sorts. At the very least, it’s a hasty attempt on behalf of white industry leaders to express their opposition to racism and support for left-wing activism. It’s the new normal, for now.