Bret Stephens’s Spiked Column Regarding Reporter Donald McNeil’s Ouster From The Times

The New York Post:

Last weekend, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a piece criticizing the rationale behind the forced ouster of Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., but it was never published. Stephens told colleagues the column was killed by publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Since then, the piece has circulated among Times staffers and others — and it was from one of them, not Stephens himself, that The Post obtained it. We publish his spiked column here in full.

Bret Stephens:

Every serious moral philosophy, every decent legal system and every ethical organization cares deeply about intention.

It is the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is an aggravating or extenuating factor in judicial settings. It is a cardinal consideration in pardons (or at least it was until Donald Trump got in on the act). It’s an elementary aspect of parenting, friendship, courtship and marriage.

A hallmark of injustice is indifference to intention. Most of what is cruel, intolerant, stupid and misjudged in life stems from that indifference. Read accounts about life in repressive societies — I’d recommend Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” and Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai” — and what strikes you first is how deeply the regimes care about outward conformity, and how little for personal intention.

It’s worth noting that it is rather extraordinary for the Times to spike a column from one of their op-ed page columnists — Times columnists have broad discretion to write what they want.

Stephens’s column is bracing, to be sure, but any discussion of the N-word is inherently bracing. Whatever your thoughts on the McNeil controversy, I don’t see how Stephens’s column about it should not have been published. The column wasn’t bad (I think it’s very good in fact) — but it makes the Times look bad.

Sunday, 14 February 2021