March 1, 2024 - 2:06pm

Over the past decade, the New York Times’ newsroom has been subject to ongoing, and sometimes overlapping, staff revolts. It seems that you can almost time these rebellions, which usually take the form of walkouts and coordinated social media campaigns, to major news events, like the BLM demonstrations and the paper’s supposedly anti-trans coverage.

Of course, the war in Gaza could never have escaped the woke crucible that the Times’ newsroom has become. And so, exactly on cue, news broke last week that Times management is conducting an investigation into leaks concerning staff rebellion over an episode of the paper’s podcast, The Daily, focused on Hamas’ systematic use of rape and sexual assault on October 7. 

The story initially broke late January in The Intercept claiming that the Times pulled the podcast episode after what it described as “a furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject.” The Intercept, however, is no neutral party in the debate. 

Two days after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, the news outlet accused Israel of “ordering mass war crimes in Gaza,” weeks before an Israeli soldier had set foot in the Gaza Strip. One of the authors of the January story about the Times, Ryan Grim, frequently makes outrageous charges against Israel on X — including that the IDF is “starving people to death” and reposting an Owen Jones post accusing Israel of “genocidal mania” — often without citing any evidence. 

(On the particular issue of the New York Times row, Grim reposted a meme on X comparing the New York Times management to a Nazi for conducting an investigation into the leak.)

The story took another turn this week when Vanity Fair reported that the Times was conducting an internal investigation into the January leaks about the podcast to The Intercept. According to the report, Times “management in recent weeks has pulled at least two dozen staffers, including Daily producers, into meetings in an attempt to understand how internal details about the podcast’s editorial process got out.”

For a paper trying to right itself after years of walkouts, rebellions and social media protests, this cannot be a welcome development. During the Trump era, the paper virtually invited this kind of newsroom activism, proudly declaring — both on and off the page — that it was abandoning traditional notions like objectivity, associated by woke staffers with white supremacy, in favour of “moral clarity.”

In a pivotal oped, a prominent journalist argued that the news industry had a duty “to abandon the appearance of objectivity as the aspirational journalistic standards.” That oped won wide praise, including from Dean Baquet, then executive editor of the Times

With the appointment of a new executive editor in 2022, the Baquet era came to an end. The new Times chief, Joe Kahn, is no doubt thinking about how to keep his unruly newsroom under control, especially as noisy stories about the New York Times are now frequently covered by the paper. This is especially true after the Times suffered a labour walkout in late 2022, its first such mass action in four decades. 

While Kahn and Times management, namely publisher A.G. Sulzberger, have an overriding interest in keeping the workforce focused on producing news, the task may not be so simple. Since the Trump era, journalistic activism at the paper has become at least as important a priority for many staffers as producing news. For an older generation of journalists (such as the one to which Joe Kahn belongs) this is baffling. But for younger journalists building a presence on social media and hewing close to a strongly left wing ideological agenda, it would seem impossible not to take this kind of action.

Indeed, last November a New York Times Magazine staff writer named Jazmine Hughes signed a letter in support of the Palestinian cause and harshly criticising Israel, violating the Times’ stated policies on such forms of public protest. Hughes resigned shortly after, with Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein saying in a Times article that the policy is an “an important part of our commitment to independence.”

This latest flap will be the strongest litmus test yet of the New York Times’ ability to navigate its newsroom through stormy political waters. Just as importantly, it will be a signal as to what kind of leadership style Kahn will take and whether the Times will re-embrace traditional journalistic values like objectivity or wade further into the intractable swamp of newsroom activism.