The New York Times's decision to keep reporter Glenn Thrush on staff has frustrated some journalists and puzzled others who look askance at one particular aspect of the move — taking Thrush off the White House beat that made him a star and shifting him to another, unspecified assignment.
In a statement, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet presented Thrush's removal from the White House team as a form of punishment for alleged sexual misconduct, along with a two-month suspension that will end in late January and “training designed to improve his workplace conduct.”
The allegations against Thrush left the Times in an awkward position, since a White House correspondent's job sometimes entails asking about President Trump's treatment of women or his view of harassment accusations against other politicians.
But HLN host S.E. Cupp said the Times made a “colossally uncourageous” call, tweeting that the paper should have either stood by Thrush completely or fired him altogether. And commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz asked why there would be different standards of behavior for different beats — why the Times would permit Thrush to cover, say, the State Department but not the White House.
In the same vein, I wondered whether the criticism the Times invited by retaining Thrush — and there has been plenty — is worth enduring, if he isn't going to produce White House scoops anymore. Heidi N. Moore, a veteran of the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal, suggested that the Times's handling of Thrush could hurt the Pulitzer Prize candidacy of the paper's reporting on sexual misconduct.
Others, however, said they understood the Times's decision.
“Thrush is a good reporter, and he'll have scoops on any beat he covers,” former Times executive editor Jill Abramson told me. “I don't think the issue of whether the Times will be criticized is relevant. After investigating and evaluating evidence, the Times decided he had behaved badly, but not badly enough to warrant being fired. He's been suspended. The Times has reached a sound decision, based on the facts that I've seen.”
Another former Times executive editor, Bill Keller, declined to weigh in, saying he didn't know enough about how the paper made its call.
Details are indeed scarce. Baquet said the Times conducted an investigation that “included dozens of interviews with people both inside and outside the newsroom” and “found that Glenn has behaved in ways that we do not condone.” Baquet did not elaborate, beyond saying, “We believe that Glenn has acted offensively.”
Thus it is unclear whether the Times confirmed the accounts of four women contained in a Nov. 20 Vox report, parts of which Thrush disputed, or turned up anything new.
Writing in the first person, Vox's editorial director, Laura McGann, recalled a 2012 encounter with Thrush at a bar.
“He caught me off-guard, put his hand on my thigh, and suddenly started kissing me,” McGann wrote, adding that three other women “described to me a range of similar experiences, from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol.”
Thrush issued a general apology “to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately” but claimed the encounter with McGann was consensual. He also denied spreading rumors about McGann in the newsroom and attributed some of his behavior to an alcohol problem for which he has sought treatment.
McGann has not said whether she agrees or disagrees with the Times's decision on Thrush. She was philosophical in a piece published Wednesday:
Baquet is tapping into the broader question of what to do with men who “aren’t Weinstein,” as many have come to put it. These men aren’t accused of rape, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, but they’ve also done something terrible to a colleague (or colleagues) in the industry or a co-worker in the office.
We know what to do when the accusations are monstrous. But what do we do when accusations are bad, or even terrible, but fall below the bar set by the worst of the worst? Thrush is an early test.