“For Black employees, it’s an extremely small ask to not hear that particular slur and not have debate about whether it’s OK for white employees to use that particular slur.”
—Joel Anderson,host of Slate’s podcast “Slow Burn” and an African-American journalist.
Just ponder that statement a bit while I provide the context.
The online publication Slate suspended Mike Pesca, the host of “The Gist,” a podcast on news and culture. Why, you ask? Well, says the New York Times, he debated with colleagues on an interoffice messaging platform over whether non-blacks should “be able to quote a racial slur” in some contexts. Wait, new York Times–what “racial slur”? Isn’t that crucial to the story? Oh..oh..I get it. The Times also can’t quote a racial slur, whatever it is, even if the “context” is a news story about that slur! Got it.
This is so stupid it hurts.
Slate staff members were discussing the resignation of Don McNeil, the science reporter whose cowardly resignation from the Times for doing nothing wrong—except apologizing to a an office mob— was discussed here. Pesca (of course he’s white) had to argue that there were contexts in which the slur could be used, despite the fact that there are contexts in which ANY word can be used in a free society. Slate’s chief executive, Dan Check, “stepped in to shut down the discussion.”
Ooooh. Can’t have discussions about contentious and controversial issues within the staff of an opinion magazine! Is this not self-evidently absurd? And if not, why not?
Pesca, unfortunately for him and us, is a weenie on this topic. When he used the word—nigger, of course–in a 2019 podcast about a black security guard who was fired for using it, he used the term while quoting the man. Then he asked his producer to make a version without the term, which was the one used. Incredibly, Slate held a human resources investigation because he used the slur. If the man had any integrity as a journalist, he would have quit then, with a ringing memo about censorship. Instead, he apologized to the producers. Pesca, who has worked at Slate for seven years, learned this week that he would be suspended without pay indefinitely—-for even arguing with staff members that words should not be taboo when they are the legitimate topic of a social or political issue. He says he is “heartsick” over “hurting his colleagues”—they weren’t hurt, you censorship enabling weakling— but added, “I hate the idea of things that are beyond debate and things that cannot be said.”
Really? If that’s true, why did you apologize in 2019? You greased the skids for this. You were the architect for your own destruction, and what you enabled is now menacing all of us.
Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s former chairman and editor in chief, reacted to the incident by saying, “I don’t think he did anything that merits discipline or consequences, and I think it’s an example of a kind of overreaction and a lack of judgment and perspective that is unfortunately spreading,”
How unfortunate. This is the kind of gentle tut-tutting that allows free speech to perish of a thousand cuts.
Now for the quote: “asking” that citizens in a democracy be restricted in their vocabularies and the issues they can discuss is not ” as small ask.” This is incrementalism. If it’s acceptable to punish the use of some words and content, it is no small step to do the same with others. Smith’s fatuous statement is a defense of speech suppression.
Slate, meanwhile, is a disgrace. And I can’t post this piece on Facebook, because if I do, I’ll risk having the blog banned again.