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 [above]. 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.
This is an argument about three words: “Regardless of intent.” Should intent be the only thing that counts in judgment? Obviously not. Can people do painful, harmful, stupid or objectionable things regardless of intent? Obviously.Bret Stephens: "Journalism as a humanistic enterprise — as opposed to hack work or propaganda."
Do any of us want to live in a world, or work in a field, where intent is categorically ruled out as a mitigating factor? I hope not.
That ought to go in journalism as much, if not more, than in any other profession. What is it that journalists do, except try to perceive intent, examine motive, furnish context, explore nuance, explain varying shades of meaning, forgive fallibility, make allowances for irony and humor, slow the rush to judgment (and therefore outrage), and preserve vital intellectual distinctions?
Journalism as a humanistic enterprise — as opposed to hack work or propaganda — does these things in order to teach both its practitioners and consumers to be thoughtful.