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Slate suspends podcast host ‘indefinitely’ after debate over racial slur

Slate has suspended a popular podcast host ‘indefinitely’ after he defended the use of the N-word in certain contexts during a discussion with colleagues over the resignation of a New York Times reporter who used the slur.

Mike Pesca, the host of The Gist, told the New York Times, that he was suspended indefinitely on Monday pending an investigation. He was initially told on Friday that he would be suspended for a week without pay.

The suspension stemmed from his defense of the use of the slur in certain contexts during a discussion over Slack last week. 

During the conversation, Slate staff members talked about Donald G. McNeil Jr, a Times reporter who said he was resigning after using the slur during a discussion about racism while leading a student trip in 2019.

Slate has reportedly suspended popular podcast host, Mike Pesca (pictured in 2019), ‘indefinitely’ after he defended the use of the N-word in certain contexts during a discussion with colleagues over the resignation of a New York Times reporter who used the slur 

According to Defector, during the conversation Pesca suggested that McNeil should not have resigned, writing: ‘McNeil’s journalism made the Times more valuable to more Americans than having ousted him in 2019 would have.’

‘My points are his internal conduct was in a grey area, you guys don’t think it was, Pesca reportedly told his coworkers. 

‘Here’s my position. Expressing the views, not the word, the views he did on that trip are not fire-able. Worthy of a talking to or a ‘What are you doing as a representative of the Times, Don?’ But nothing requirement [sic] much angst among management or staff? Or no? – should the Times discipline staffers who question the idea of White Supremacy or who express retrograde ideas on mass incarceration?’ Pesca wrote.   

In response, Slate staff writer, Rachelle Hampton, who is black, hit back at Pesca’s comments, saying: ‘Feel like it’s weird that everyone’s dancing around the point that working in an environment where white people feel empowered to say the n-word in service of whatever argument they want to make is incredibly hostile for black people.’

According to Defector, the conversation continued for a few more hours with Pesca making his final point: ‘I don’t think it’s proper to use it in casual conversation and I’m in no position to tell Black NY Times workers that they shouldn’t be worried it’s going to pop out of a colleague’s mouth at some point. 

‘If you want my opinion it’s that there are some limited reasons why a non African American journalist or professor to use the word when conveying a quote in the name of clarity or factualness […] But it’s not a comfortable point to even pursue right now. If I had the opposite opinion I know a hundred ways I could make the opinion I actually have seem horrible and racist, and you know what, maybe it is.’

During the debate, Pesca suggested that Donald McNeil (pictured) should not have resigned, writing: 'McNeil’s journalism made the Times more valuable to more Americans than having ousted him in 2019 would have'

During the debate, Pesca suggested that Donald McNeil (pictured) should not have resigned, writing: ‘McNeil’s journalism made the Times more valuable to more Americans than having ousted him in 2019 would have’

Eventually, Slate’s chief executive, Dan Check, stepped in to shut down the discussion.

Joel Anderson, a Black staff member at Slate, told the Times: ‘For black employees, it’s an extremely small ask to not hear that particular slur and not have debate about whether it’s OK for white employees to use that particular slur.’ 

One Slate staffer told Defector that they were ‘outraged’.

‘I cannot believe I had to watch him enthusiastically provoke people on whether or not it is appropriate to use a racist slur,’ the anonymous staffer said. 

Another told the news site: ‘I don’t want to be in a workplace where people feel emboldened to have this argument. People’s humanity is not an intellectual debate.’

The following day, Slate editor-in-chief Jared Hohlt wrote in Slack: ‘While we are a workplace where people argue about things all the time, it’s also a workplace where we must think very hard about the lived experience of colleagues whose experience is different than ours.’

A spokeswoman for Slate said Pesca and The Gist have been suspended indefinitely, pending an investigation.

Pesca told the Times that he was ‘heartsick’ over hurting his colleagues but added: ‘I hate the idea of things that are beyond debate and things that cannot be said.’

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