The New York Times has long prided itself on publishing “all the news that’s fit to print.” Notice the Gray Lady was careful to avoid mentioning anything about spinning an already published story to conform to its own editorial biases.
Spin the Times did in its coverage of the ouster of Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, reworking the story after it went live in a way that de-emphasizes core facts while injecting a narrative about how Pao was brought down by sexism.
Ellen Pao left the social media site last Friday after a tumultuous two-year tenure that saw multiple clashes with Reddit’s vast user base. Her ultimate downfall came after the company fired popular employee Victoria Taylor, who managed the site’s famous “Ask Me Anything” feature, with little explanation and no warning. In response, dozens of popular pages, or “subreddits,” were shut down by the users who operated them.
When news of Pao’s firing broke, the Times went into warp speed, knocking out a piece on it by 5:23 p.m. This first draft of the story, written by reporter Mike Isaac, presents the downfall of Pao in a very neutral, factual manner, stating that her exit came after “a week of ceaseless criticism from scores of angry users over the handling of an employee departure.”
Isaac described Reddit in detail for those unfamiliar, noting its huge user base of over 160 million people.
About two and a half hours after this neutral story went up, the Times edited the piece so dramatically that it essentially became a new story, adding a second author, David Streitfeld. Streitfeld’s edits drastically alter the narrative and focuses on Pao being a martyr fighting sexism in the tech world.
“Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley,” the piece was changed to read. “But sentiment is a fickle thing, and late Friday the entrepreneur fell victim to a shrill crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.”
While Isaac’s original piece focused on the controversy that drove Pao out of her post, Streitfeld’s new and unimproved version buries this inconvenient truth deep in the story. In the rewrite, Pao now went down after a “torrent” of racist and sexist attacks, which Streitfeld says is evidence that “bullying, harassment and ugly behavior are out of control on the web.”
Streitfeld also claims Silicon Valley has a “lack of interest” in hiring anybody who isn’t white and male. That’s a peculiar claim inasmuch as the United States is about 62% non-Hispanic white, and many major tech companies actually fall below that figure. Rather, it is Asians, like Pao herself, who are dramatically overrepresented in the tech field.
Only after 11 paragraphs discussing the sexist crusade against Pao does Streitfeld concede a key fact: Pao was brought down by criticism following her dismissal of another female employee.
Ironically, Streitfeld’s edit even removed some significant facts from the story, including Pao’s own explanation of why she left the company.
“It became clear that the board and I had a different view on the ability of Reddit to grow this year,” Pao had told the Times in an interview. “Because of that, it made sense to bring someone in that shared the same view.”
Streitfeld’s edit removes the quote entirely, while the basic facts about Reddit that Isaac had included in the piece are buried all the way at the end.
The piece’s shift in tone is even more noticeable because it wasn’t clear it was even necessary. Isaac’s original article hadn’t ignored the sexism angle for Pao’s departure, noting that she had suffered many “racist and misogynistic” attacks before her final fall.
Apparently even the Times realized Streitfeld’s edit went too far, as an hour later it made a second edit to the piece, toning down much of its language. Pao was no longer described as an “entrepreneur” (while Pao has worked in venture capital, she isn’t known for founding companies), and the quip about Silicon Valley’s “lack of interest” in non-white employees is removed. “Male aggression” was downgraded to “machismo,” and women were now “often” put in secondary roles rather than “always.”
A third edit later made one additional change, changing Silicon Valley’s “sexist” culture to a “male-dominated” one. Then, 20 minutes later, it was changed back. After another 20 minutes, it became “male-dominated” again, suggesting a feud in the Times newsroom over what was best.
If Streitfeld was the driving force behind the new version of the story, it wouldn’t be the first time his neutrality has been questionable. Last year, he received a gentle but very public rebuke for his coverage of Amazon from Times editor Margaret Sullivan.
This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.