That didn't take long. Hours after The New York Times announced the appointment of technology and law reporter Sarah Jeong to their editorial board, the mob combed through her old tweets, salivating. And there was plenty to salivate over.
“Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” Jeong, a technology reporter, tweeted in 2014. “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” she also tweeted that year, along with "white people are bullshit," and "#cancelwhitepeople." These tweets are only racist if you believe that white people can be victims of racism—and plenty of people would argue that's simply not possible—but conservatives jumped at the chance to take down a lefty media figure.
Trial by social media is an increasingly common phenomenon. This week, Twitter came for Jerry Saltz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Magazine art critic who tweeted praise of an art piece showing Sean Hannity sucking Donald Trump's dick. After Saltz was widely accused of homophobia, he deleted the tweet and apologized, but the mob demanded his firing anyway. And there was the saga of Times editor and opinion writer Bari Weiss, who, during the Olympics, made the mortal sin of tweeting praise at American figure skater Mirai Nagasu while failing to note that Nagasu was a U.S. citizen. Despite huge internal backlash over Bari's clumsy tweet, Weiss kept her job—and I highly doubt Saltz will get canned for his alleged "homophobia"—but others have not been so lucky. The Times fired tech writer Quinn Norton before she even started after some of her past tweets were dredged up. Same with Kevin Williamson, who was dispatched by the Atlantic around the same time after damning tweets and statements about abortion and the women who have them came to light.
Norton, Williamson, and Weiss were all largely targeted by people on the left (largely, in fact, by people working in media on the left), but the right has figured out how to weaponize Twitter too. Last week, spurred on by alt-right asshole Mike Cernovich, a conservative Twitter mob managed to get filmmaker James Gunn fired by Disney after old tweets joking about pedophilia were uncovered. And it was the right that came for Jeong too: Conservative media jumped on the story, which has been covered by the National Review ("Newest Member of NYT Editorial Board Has History of Racist Tweets"), Breitbart ("NYT: New Hire Sarah Jeong ‘Regrets’ Professing Hate for ‘Dumbass F*cking White People’"), and, of course, Fox New ("New York Times stands by new tech writer Sarah Jeong after racist tweets surface"). And the Times is standing by Jeong: In a statement, the company said:
We hired Sarah Jeong because of the exceptional work she has done covering the internet and technology at a range of respected publications.
Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time, she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media. She regrets it, and The Times does not condone it.
We had candid conversations with Sarah as part of our thorough vetting process, which included a review of her social media history. 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.
Had Jeong tweeted these things about any race other than white, surely, she would have been bounced. But she didn't, and so her job is, in all likelihood, safe. And I think that's a good thing; I'm not in favor of mobs dictating either public or private policy. Of course, I don't think Weiss or Saltz or Norton or Williamson should have been fired either, positions that aren't entirely popular on my own side of the aisle. (Moral consistency might be rare these days, but I still think it's a virtue.) More than anything, however, my takeaway from this saga is how entirely predictable this whole song-and-dance has become. The left may have started the Twitter mob, but the right will perfect it. The question is, who will the pitchforks come for next?