Oh hey, what did Matt Welch and I do last night? Just as a snowstorm moved into NYC and right before we live-streamed his haircut on the new Paloma Media YouTube channel (which you should totally subscribe to)? We talked about Last Week’s Campaign to Cancel a Media Person Using What Radioactive Means Are at Hand.
“But Nancy,” you’re asking, “which campaign? There are so many…”
We’re talking about Donald McNeil, science writer for The New York Times since 1974. I wrote/videoed about this story on the last Substack, “How Not to Do Journalism,” and nothing I’ve since learned changes my opinion that the reporting on the story, “is superficial and relies on outraged tweets to amplify the story so that it becomes a story, whose impact depends on how well you respond to outrage-fueled stories. It’s like an old movie pitches, ‘If you liked our takedown of Bari Weiss, you’ll love what we’re doing with Don McNeil!’”
One question to ask: Why did information from an internal investigation at the Times in 2019 land last week in the in-box of someone at the Daily Beast (and perhaps other outlets)?
“Who decided this was an important thing to say right now?” Matt asks toward the end of the podcast. “The brave thing to do and that is never done in journalism is as follows: Not just getting the smoking gun at the heart of the story — which they didn’t in this case — but also to indicate, why did you get this story? Why now? You don’t see that a lot in journalism because they don’t want to tarnish their product with maybe the less than savory motives of the people who are feeding them the information.”
Maybe I’m wrong to see motivation here, to detect, through some in media’s amplification of this story, a sort of glee at the takedown of a colleague. But I don’t think so.
“It’s Pulitzer season and everyone knows Don is up for a big prize,” someone inside the Times told me. “The comments on the internal NYT Facebook group are just so mean.”
NB: I misspoke when I said the piece I wrote that included Sonmez appeared in Tablet (that was this piece, which was given another title but which I always think of as, “Good Luck, Portland”). “The Shiv in the Hand of Kindness” ran in Arc Digital, a year ago this week.
Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of the Paloma Media podcast. Here’s where we’re coming to you from xx