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Opinion Slate and Mike Pesca have agreed to ‘part ways’

Mike Pesca in Nashville in 2019. (Ed Rode/Getty Images for Politicon)

Podcast host Mike Pesca and Slate have “mutually agreed to part ways” following an investigation announced in February, when Pesca drew staff complaints for his arguments about the n-word in a Slack chat. As part of the arrangement, Pesca will take his podcast, “The Gist,” to an independent platform.

“Slate has been The Gist’s home for the past seven years, and we’re proud of the work the show has done,” noted Slate spokeswoman Katie Rayford in a statement. “Slate and Mike Pesca have mutually agreed that the best way forward is for The Gist to be produced independently.”

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In February, Pesca engaged colleagues in a Slack debate concerning Donald G. McNeil Jr., the New York Times reporter who left the newspaper after it was publicly revealed that he’d used the n-word during a Times trip to Peru with a student delegation. “My points are [McNeil’s] internal conduct was in a grey area, you guys don’t think it was,” wrote Pesca in the Slack chat, as revealed by Defector.

That position followed two instances from 2019 in which Pesca had used the n-word: Once while being interviewed about the “wokeness divide” by another Slate journalist and another time in a podcast taping. Slate didn’t publish either utterance, and the context in both cases was journalistic. In a February statement, Rayford had hinted at the scope of the investigation: “While I can’t get into specific allegations that are under investigation, I can confirm this was not a decision based around making an isolated abstract argument in a Slack channel. After additional issues were raised by staff, we felt it was appropriate to take further action to indefinitely suspend the show pending an investigation.” That investigation was conducted by the law firm IslerDare PC.

A source familiar with the events says that Slate sold the show to Pesca and that he was not terminated.

Margaret Sullivan: Some journalists are debating when it’s okay to use the n-word. But this one should be easy.

At the time, Pesca countered perceptions that he was fixated on situations in which he could use the n-word. “[T]his only looks like an ‘obsession’ if you set aside the fact that I engage with literally thousands of arguments a year,” wrote the host in a text. He also sounded a note of contrition: “On my show I cover language and words extensively. I’m so sorry that my colleagues were hurt by my continued pursuit of this question.”

In a note to staffers, Slate chief executive Dan Check and Editor in Chief Jared Hohlt wrote, “Slate has long been a place for authoritative and provocative debate, and we are proud to publish a range of opinions and analysis on both our site and podcasts. We are also a workplace committed to fostering an inclusive and respectful environment for all employees. And we can only do our best work when all employees feel heard, respected, and motivated to do their jobs.”

Pesca confirmed the Slate statement about “parting ways” but declined to speak on the record about the investigation. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Slate if the investigation found that Pesca had violated any rules. We’ll update this post if we receive a reply.

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