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A Times Editor Is Demoted as the Paper Discusses Its Coverage of Race

The New York Times said in a statement on Tuesday that Jonathan Weisman, a deputy Washington editor of The Times, had been demoted and would no longer oversee the paper’s congressional correspondents because he repeatedly posted messages on social media about race and politics that showed what the paper called “serious lapses in judgment.”

Mr. Weisman, 53, will lose the title of deputy editor, a designation for Times editors with wide-ranging duties and significant input into news coverage, a spokeswoman for the paper said.

Mr. Weisman met with Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, on Tuesday and apologized, the Times statement said. He will also no longer be “active on social media,” the statement added.

In a brief interview after the meeting with Mr. Baquet, Mr. Weisman, who will stay on at the paper as an editor, said: “I accept Dean’s judgment. I think he’s right to do what he’s doing. I embarrassed the newspaper, and he had to act.”

The reprimand came amid a broader discussion in the Times newsroom of how the paper covers race and the Trump administration in a polarized time. On Monday, Mr. Baquet led a staff meeting at which a recent front-page headline that generated heavy public criticism was a main topic.

Mr. Weisman, who joined The Times in 2012, was under scrutiny for messages he posted on Twitter on July 31 and Aug. 7. In the July 31 posts, he implied that it was inaccurate to describe certain politicians from urban areas as being representative of the Midwest and the South. He specifically mentioned four Democrats: Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Lloyd Doggett of Texas and John Lewis of Georgia. Three of the four are minorities.

“Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South,” Mr. Weisman wrote. “C’mon.”

Mr. Weisman, who is white, deleted the tweet and a pair of follow-ups after they were criticized as racist on Twitter and in the African-American-focused online publication The Root.

The Times’s standards editor, Phil Corbett, advised Mr. Weisman to be more careful on social media, Mr. Weisman said. But on Aug. 7, he ventured into similar territory.

Replying to a Twitter post by the progressive political organization Justice Democrats that included a photograph of Morgan Harper, a candidate the group was backing for a United States House seat in Ohio, Mr. Weisman noted that she would be challenging Representative Joyce Beatty, an African-American Democrat.

Ms. Harper quickly replied to Mr. Weisman’s message, telling him, “I am also black.”

To that, Mr. Weisman replied, “@justicedems’s endorsement included a photo,” as if that settled the matter.

Roxane Gay, a contributing opinion writer to The Times since 2015, joined the discussion with a tweet that said, “Any time you think you’re unqualified for a job remember that this guy, telling a black woman she isn’t black because he looked at a picture and can’t see, has one of the most prestigious jobs in America.”

According to screenshots posted by Ms. Gay, Mr. Weisman sent messages to her saying she owed him “an enormous apology.” Ms. Gay made it clear in a subsequent tweet that she strongly disagreed with Mr. Weisman’s demand.

Erica Green, a national education reporter at The Times, said in an interview that she understood why the tweets by Mr. Weisman, who was her editor, had provoked a backlash. She also defended him as a journalist and colleague, based on her experiences working with him on stories about minorities.

“As a black woman, I feel a little bit better that he is in the room,” Ms. Green said.

Mr. Weisman, the author of the 2018 book “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” stepped away from Twitter for a few months in 2016 after becoming a target of online trolls. Before joining The Times, he worked at newspapers including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Last week, The Times drew intense criticism — from readers, some of whom canceled subscriptions; members of its own staff; and prominent politicians — because of a front-page headline that Mr. Baquet described as “credulous.” The headline, “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism,” was changed for later editions.

In the first edition of the Aug. 6 paper, it sat atop an article that quoted President Trump’s prepared remarks on the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, while also noting that Mr. Trump “has himself amplified right-wing voices online with histories of racism and bigotry.” Editors changed the headline to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns.”

At the staff meeting on Monday, Mr. Baquet acknowledged “a couple of significant missteps” and likened the current political climate to the turbulent 1960s. He asked those in the packed 15th-floor room of The New York Times Building for their help in reporting on a difficult time, an effort that would require the paper’s journalists to pay close attention to how they covered race and a divisive administration.

“This is hard stuff,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.

Mr. Baquet, who became the first African-American executive editor in the history of The Times in 2014, took responsibility for the much-criticized headline, adding that the paper’s print hub, which produces the newspaper’s print version, was not given enough space to convey the story fairly.

The other main topic of discussion was the paper’s reluctance to describe certain actions and comments by the president and some of his supporters as “racist.” Mr. Baquet said that, in general, it was sufficient to describe racist speech and behavior plainly in news articles without necessarily labeling it as such.

“My own view,” he said, “is that the best way to capture the kinds of remarks the president makes is to use them, to lay it out in perspective, and that is much more powerful than the use of a word.”

Some journalists in attendance expressed disagreement with that view, and Mr. Baquet said he was working with other editors to establish a written standard that would try to clarify when the use of “racist” and similar terms was warranted in news coverage.

Part of the reason for the gathering on Monday, he said, was the online behavior of Mr. Weisman, which seemed emblematic of larger debates inside and outside the newsroom.

“By the way,” Mr. Baquet said toward the end of the meeting, “let’s catch our breath before tweeting stupid stuff or stuff that hurts the paper.”


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