Ex-New York Times journalist reports being ‘disgusted’ by newsroom cancel culture, says the paper allowed it

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Nellie Bowles landed her dream job as a reporter at The New York Times in 2017, but a brutal reality set in as what she calls a progressive “movement” took over the editorial department.

Bowles, once a staunch progressive and proud member of the so-called “movement,” writes in his new book, “The Morning After the Revolution” documents how the leftist ideas that have gained so much momentum in recent years are not working in practice, including within The Times itself.

Bowles worked at The New York Times during the aftermath of Sen. Tom Cotton’s now-infamous op-ed, which sparked an open revolt among staff in June 2020. Many of the staff took to social media, posting phrases like, “Publishing this puts Black staff at @nytimes at risk.”

“I was not going to tweet the tweet that we all had to tweet that day. That was my final moment in the movement within the newspaper,” Bowles said in an interview with Fox News Digital. “If people knew I wasn’t going to tweet, it meant they had to choose a side. So we all had to speak up and try to get the editor fired… We all had to speak up and get everyone involved in that fired, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

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In an interview with Fox News Digital, the Free Press’s Nellie Bowles spoke about the “movement” that has plagued The New York Times. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images via Dropbox/Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Cotton’s op-ed, titled “Send in the Troops,” supported then-President Trump’s call to send in the military to quell the George Floyd riots that had wreaked havoc in cities across the United States.

A furious backlash from both inside and outside the Times editorial board came days later, with senior executives at the paper saying the op-ed “did not meet our standards and should not have been published. As a result, two Times opinion staffers, James Bennett and Adam Rubenstein, were ultimately forced out of the Times. Another staffer, James Dao, was moved to another department.

“I lost friends immediately, friends who had been demanding I post. [the tweet]”From that day onwards, anyone who didn’t post it was considered highly suspicious. In retrospect, that was really weird,” Bowles said.

The New York Times is still haunted by Tom Cotton’s op-ed nearly four years later.

Another event that deeply affected her was the ousting in February 2021 of veteran Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr.

“He was slandered in a vile way,” Bowles said. “He was a man I respected deeply and I respected his work deeply. For example, this was an early reporter of AIDS at a time when people were too scared to talk about it. This was a man who reported in depth. He was a remarkable man who gave his life to the organization and in many ways had the career path that I would have followed as a longtime Times man.”

Donald McNeill Jr.

Donald McNeil is a longtime science reporter for The New York Times and was one of the star journalists covering the COVID-19 pandemic until he was forced to resign in 2021. (Getty Images)

McNeil, who worked at The New York Times for 45 years, sparked an editorial uproar when he reportedly used the “n-word” during a discussion about the slur itself during a college education trip he led in 2019. He resigned soon after.

“To see this man slandered and how casually it was done and the way it was slandered, it was like a deep disgrace… They want to pass it on to his children and grandchildren. “It’s going to be embarrassing. They’re going to portray this man as if he yelled these derogatory words. That’s not true. That’s false,” Bowles said.

“And when I saw that, it really hit me hard. And I don’t just mean in a selfish way, like, ‘I don’t want them to do that.’ Basically, if the movement wants to find out if you’ve done something wrong, they’re going to find something. Nobody is pure enough to survive a thorough investigation by the movement.”

“I was also, in a way, disgusted by an organization that would tolerate that kind of treatment, and that someone who had dedicated their life to it would be treated like that. So it really hit me, and it made me think more openly about the nature of a for-profit enterprise,” she continued.

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As Bowles details in her book, she herself has participated in cancel culture and acknowledges that she played a key role in the cancellation of one of her friends.

“Cancelling is a very warm and social thing,” Bowles writes. “There’s a potluck energy; everyone brings something they can contribute, and everyone is inspired by their friends’ creativity. What you’re doing is positive, and it feels less like a battle and more like nurturing the love of friends and keeping a warm flame for a cause. When you cancel, you hold real power, and with enough of you, you can push out some very powerful people.”

In the book, Bowles recalls trying to cancel a colleague at The Times who had a reputation within the company for being a maverick. The attempt “failed spectacularly” and he instead “immediately fell in love.”

The colleague in question was Bari Weiss, then opinion editor at The Times and now Bowles’ wife.

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“I was in a very good position at the newspaper at the time, and I was a progressive. I knew Bari was a dissident liberal. And… I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I met her and I just fell in love with her,” Bowles told Fox News Digital. “And I loved to debate. I mean, one of the debates we had at the beginning of our relationship, and we still have, was about Gawker. Is Gawker a good thing? Is Gawker a force for good? I was very supportive of Gawker. I thought it was, overall, a force for good. But she was arguing that it was a force for evil. That was fun for me! It’s okay to have some friction and differences in relationships. And now there’s this idea that everyone has to be totally aligned, and that’s so boring!”

“A friend from college contacted me and said that I had to publicly disown Bali, that in order to stay on good terms with her, if I wanted to stay in a relationship with her, I had to publicly disown her. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?! Where in the world are you in?!’ It was just insane.”

Bari Weiss

In a scathing resignation letter to the publisher of The New York Times, Bari Weiss, wife of Nellie Bowles, accused former colleagues of bullying her. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Bowles’ new romance faced hostility not only from her college friends but also from her colleagues at The Times. In her book, she recalls that one night out for drinks with her editor and other staff, the editor accused her of dating a “fucking Nazi.”

“I just felt awkward and uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do,” Bowles said. “It was strange that this was happening and how I could go from good to very bad so quickly. It was surreal. For a second I felt a little out of body. Then the moment passed, and after that night, my editors thought all of my ideas were pretty bad.”

“The hard thing is, I liked him. And in some ways I still like him. … The funny thing, the really funny thing is, even after that, after an editor called my girlfriend a Nazi and my colleagues nodded and laughed, I was like, ‘I can still be here. I can still work here. This is OK.’ I mean, once you get in a place like this, you get delusional, and the level of commitment that people are willing to make is pretty wild.”

Bari Weiss slams New York Times after staffer involved in Tom Cotton op-ed resigns

Weiss resigned from The New York Times in July 2020, weeks after an internal dispute over an op-ed by Cotton that had influenced opinion-page colleagues.

In a scathing open letter to New York Times Publisher AG Sulzberger, Weiss said she was constantly bullied for holding different opinions, and declared, “Twitter has no place in The New York Times editorial board, but it has become the Paper’s editor in chief.”

Bowles left the Times the following year.

“My parents were super supportive, but at the same time they were like, ‘You quit?!? And you’re starting a Substack called!? What? That’s crazy!'” Bowles recalls. “Even Bari’s family was shocked at first. It was a really weird moment. I think 2021 has felt like a hangover from the peak of the revolution for a lot of people. Of course, the revolution wasn’t over, but people were realizing, ‘Oh, we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift. There’s a movement happening, and we have to find our footing in it.'”

Senator Tom Cotton

An op-ed written by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sparked an unprecedented outcry from New York Times staff, leading to the firing of several editors. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Bowles says she can forgive people like her former editor because it’s hard “to stand up to a mob when it’s forming,” especially in these hyper-politicized times. But her strong opposition to covering stories her bosses didn’t want her to cover (like the 2020 Seattle disaster of Chaz) and their open hostility toward her partner forced her to step aside from the “movement” that was plaguing the Times’ editorial department.

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“Of course, being frustrated by my reporting and falling in love made me realize that this movement was calling for a purity that was impossible and unhealthy and didn’t lead to a good life,” Bowles said. “Any movement that says you can only be friends with or fall in love with people who are exactly like you is an unhealthy movement.”

The Times did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.

Bowles and Weiss married in 2021 and founded the Free Press in 2022. Bowles began her book tour while about eight months pregnant with her second child, who is due in late June.