Slate Suspends Podcast Host After Ethnic Slur Debate
The Gist Mike Pesca said that after defending, in a Slack debate with colleagues, the use of the slur in certain cases, he was suspended.
After he disagreed with colleagues on whether individuals who are not Black should be able to quote a racial slur in certain cases, the online publication Slate removed a well-known podcast host.
Mike Pesca, host of "The Gist," a news and culture podcast, said in an interview that after defending the use of the slur in some cases, he was suspended indefinitely on Monday. During a chat last week with colleagues on the interoffice messaging network Slack, he made his point.
Slate staff members addressed the resignation of Donald G. McNeil Jr., a writer who said this month that he was resigning from the New York Times after he had used the slur during a racism debate while serving as a guide on a student trip in 2019, in a long thread of messages.
According to screenshots of the Slack conversation that were shared with The Times, Mr. Pesca, who is white, said he thought that there were ways in which the slur could be used. The chief executive of Slate, Dan Search, jumped in to shut the conversation down.
Katie Rayford, Slate's spokesperson, acknowledged that, pending an investigation, "The Gist" had been suspended indefinitely but would not comment on Mr. Pesca. "While I can not get into particular allegations under investigation," Ms. Rayford said, "I can confirm that this was not a decision based on a Slack channel making an isolated abstract argument."
The suspension of Mr. Pesca and the internal debate at Slate were earlier mentioned by Defector Media, a multimedia platform focused on sports and culture.
Slate adopted a policy in November 2019 that mandated podcast hosts and producers to address the use of racial words in a pending show, before recording it, in or out of quoted content.
In a 2019 podcast about a black security guard who was shot for using it, Mr. Pesca discussed the debate about the use of the slur. Mr. Pesca said that in an early version of the show, when quoting the guy, he used the phrase. He rerecorded the episode without it after speaking with his producers and his boss, who objected to his quotation of the slur, he said.
"Mr. Pesca said in the interview, "The version of the story with the offensive word never aired and this is how I think the editorial process should go.
After a human resources inquiry into his quotation of the slur, no action was taken against him, Mr. Pesca said. He said he had apologised to the affected producers.
Mr. Pesca said Mr. Check, the chief executive, and Jared Hohlt, the editor-in-chief of Slate, had brought up the previous instance of his quoting the slur when, after the Slack talk, they talked with him. He added that another instance of his usage of the word that he did not remember had been listed.
Mr. Pesca, whose interview style often seemed to represent the opposing brand of Slate, said he had been told on Friday that he would be suspended without pay for a week. He was told on Monday that the suspension was permanent and he said that he would either have to accept severance or be the target of an investigation.
"Mr. Pesca, who has worked for seven years at Slate, said he was "heartsick" about his colleagues being hurt, but added, "I hate the idea of things beyond discussion and things that can not be said.
Mr. Pesca was named "a huge talent and a fair-minded journalist" by Jacob Weisberg, Slate's former chairman and chief editor, who left the company for the podcast start-up Pushkin in 2018.
"Mr. Weisberg said, "I don't think he has done something that merits punishment or repercussions, and I think it's an instance of a kind of overreaction and a lack of judgment and perspective that is sadly spreading.
Joel Anderson, a member of the Black team at Slate who hosted the Slow Burn podcast's third season, disagreed. "It is an extremely small request for black employees not to hear that particular slur and not to debate whether it is OK for white employees to use that particular slur," he said.