The Ethical Alcatraz of Diversity and Harassment Training

By David Bernstein

If you’ve been following the culture wars in the US, you’ve no doubt heard about the resignation of Don McNeil, the highly respected science reporter from the New York Times. One of McNeil’s supposed sins was quoting someone using the N-word on an official New York Times trip with high school students in Peru in 2019.

After an internal investigation, McNeil was subject to undisclosed disciplinary action but ultimately allowed to keep his job since the executive editor determined that it did not appear like “his intentions were hateful or malicious”.

After McNeil’s partial exoneration, 150 staffers of the New York Times wrote to the publisher, urging that the newspaper take further action. In that letter, they made the following point:

Our harassment training makes clear that what matters is how an act makes a victim feel; Mr McNeil’s victims weren’t shy about decrying his conduct on the trip. We, his colleagues, feel disrespected by his actions. The company has a responsibility to take those feelings seriously.

The letter refers to company-sponsored harassment training, which is mandated under New York state law. Citing the harassment training sounds to me like a thinly veiled legal threat against the newspaper. If the New York Times didn’t take the allegations from the staff members seriously, the paper would be violating the precepts of its own mandated harassment training. So, it appears, they gave McNeil the axe.

These training programmes mitigate risk for companies against lawsuits. But rarely do the higher-ups pay attention to the underlying ideological agenda. The programmes don’t just prohibit a set of destructive and illegal behaviors, they adopt a particular ethical framework that insists the only thing that matters is how the alleged perpetrator made the alleged victim feel.

Moral judgments based on emotional harm alone are highly subjective and ultimately unworkable. Under such a framework, anyone can be held responsible for how anyone else feels. For example, a New York Times reporter who believes in free expression might have felt emotionally hurt by the letter from her colleagues condemning Don McNeil and thus claim to have been harmed. Obviously, the newspaper wouldn’t take such a claim seriously, as free speech advocates do not constitute a protected class, proving how very arbitrary and precarious the emotional harm standard is.

The New York Times now feels bound by the decrees of the “great moral philosophers” who conducted their harassment workshops. It must henceforth apply this framework anytime someone from a protected class claims to be offended.

So what should companies like the New York Times do about it? They should seek out alternative harassment and diversity training programs that don’t indoctrinate their employees in a particular ideological model. They should grow a spine and stand up for their historic values of free expression.

If you are uncomfortable with CRT based diversity training, you are not alone. Join us at Counterweight as we explore alternative ways to enable diversity, including viewpoint diversity, in the workplace.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

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