Ex-New York Times Staffer Details ‘Maoist Struggle Session’ That Saw Editor Ousted – ‘I Was So F–king Freaked Out’

A new book from author Steve Krakauer details the “Maoist struggle session” that almost ripped the New York Times apart in 2020. His book, “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People,” includes interviews with former New York Times staffer Shawn McCreesh and covers the ousting of the chief opinion editor James Bennet.

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The book gives an insider look at the controversy that engulfed the Times in 2020, after it published an op-ed by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Cotton’s op-ed, entitled “Send in the Troops,” was written during the height of the Black Lives Matter riots and called on governors to mobilize the national guard.

“The rioting has nothing to do with George Floyd,” Cotton wrote at the time. “Nihilist criminals are simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction… That opinion may not appear often in chic salons, but widespread support for it is fact nonetheless.”

According to excerpts from the book, which Mediaite published, the decision to publish Cotton’s words led to a furor at the New York Times. Staff accused their bosses of endangering black reporters by publishing the commentary. Staff meetings were organized, and employees demanded the ousting of those involved in the piece. “It was just so bizarre what was happening,” McCreesh told Krakauer. “It was like a Maoist struggle session.”

McCreesh said that one tech writer at the Times told him that “none of his friends wanted to talk to him anymore because he worked for this horrible evil newspaper that would print this op-ed.”

He then told Krakauer about the events leading up to Bennet’s resignation under pressure.

“There was like this giant communal Slack chat for the whole company that became sort of the digital gallows… And all these angry backbiting staffers were gathering there and demanding that heads roll and the most bloodthirsty of the employees were these sort of weird tech and audio staffers and then a handful of people who wrote for like the Arts and Leisure section, and the Style section, and the magazine, which, in other words, you know, it was no one who was actually out covering any of the protests or the riots or the politics. It was just sort of like a bunch of Twitter-brained crazies kind of running wild on Slack. And the leadership was so horrified by what was happening. They just completely lost their nerve.”

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McCreesh added that the many of the employees demanding Bennet resignation were in fact people that Bennet had hired and introduced to the New York Times.

“It was like Caesar on the floor of the Roman Senate or something. Just this sort of horrible moment, and I remember closing my laptop and pouring a huge glass of wine, even though it was at like noon. Because I was so fucking freaked out by what we had just witnessed.”

Bennet reportedly did not speak on the record for Krakauer’s book, but he did break his silence in October 2022, more than two years after the ouster. In an interview with Semafor Media, he said his only regret at the time was adding an editor’s note apologizing for the piece. “My mistake there was trying to mollify people… I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”

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Krakauer’s book was released Monday. According to the description, it “spotlights the problems of a news industry filled with geographically isolated, introspection-free, egomaniacal journalists.”

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