Posted on January 15, 2022

The Price of Dissent

Christopher Rufo, City Journal, January 5, 2022

Zac Kriegman had the ideal résumé for the professional-managerial class: a bachelors in economics from Michigan and a J.D. from Harvard and years of experience with high-tech startups, a white-shoe law firm, and an econometrics research consultancy. He then spent six years at Thomson Reuters Corporation, the international media conglomerate, spearheading the company’s efforts on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced software engineering. By the beginning of 2020, Kriegman had assumed the title of Director of Data Science and was leading a team tasked with implementing deep learning throughout the organization.

But within a few months, this would all collapse. A chain of events—beginning with the death of George Floyd and culminating with a statistical analysis of Black Lives Matter’s claims—would turn the 44-year-old data scientist’s life upside-down. By June 2021, Kriegman would be locked out of Reuters’s servers, denounced by his colleagues, and fired by email. Kriegman had committed an unpardonable offense: he directly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement in the company’s internal communications forum, debunked Reuters’s own biased reporting, and violated a corporate taboo. Driven by what he called a “moral obligation” to speak out, Kriegman refused to celebrate unquestioningly the BLM narrative and his company’s “diversity and inclusion” programming; to the contrary, he argued that Reuters was exhibiting significant left-wing bias in the newsroom and that the ongoing BLM protests, riots, and calls to “defund the police” would wreak havoc on minority communities. Week after week, Kriegman felt increasingly disillusioned by the Thomson Reuters line. Finally, on the first Tuesday in May 2021, he posted a long, data-intensive critique of BLM’s and his company’s hypocrisy. He was sent to Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion for the chance to reform his thoughts.

He refused—so they fired him.


Like many corporations in the United States in 2020, Reuters went through a quiet revolution in human resources and “diversity and inclusion.” The company launched a series of lectures and training programs, ranging from a study of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory to an interactive panel called “Let’s Talk About Race” to a keynote presentation on “unlocking the power of diversity.” In honor of Floyd, the company asked employees to participate in a “21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge,” which promoted race-based reparations payments, academic articles on critical race theory, and instructions on “how to be a better white person.”

Some of the materials were patronizing and outright racist. One resource told Reuters employees that their “black colleagues” are “confused and scared,” barely able to show up to work, and feel pressured to “take the personal trauma we all know to be true and tuck it away to protect white people,” who cannot understand anything beyond their own whiteness. The proper etiquette, according to a subsequent lesson, is for white employees to let themselves get “called out” by their minority colleagues and then respond with automatic contrition: “I believe you”; “I recognize that I have work to do”; “I apologize, I’m going to do better.” The ultimate solution is for whites to admit complicity in systemic racism and repent for their collective guilt. “White people built this system. White people control this system,” reads a module from self-described “wypipologist” Michael Harriot. “It is white people who have tacitly agreed to perpetuate white supremacy throughout America’s history. It is you who must confront your racist friends, coworkers, and relatives. You have to cure your country of this disease. The sickness is not ours.”

Kriegman came to believe that the company’s “blue bubble” had created a significant bias in the company’s news reporting.  {snip}

A review of Reuters coverage over the spring and summer of 2020 confirms Kriegman’s interpretation. Though early articles covering the first days of the chaos in Minneapolis were straightforward about the violence—“Protests, looting erupt in Minneapolis over racially charged killing by police,” reads one headline—Reuters’s coverage eventually seemed like it had been processed to add ideology and euphemism. Beginning in the summer and continuing over the course of the year, the newswire’s reporting adopted the BLM narrative in substance and style. The stories framed the unrest as a “a new national reckoning about racial injustice” and described the protests as “mostly peaceful” or “largely peaceful,” despite widespread violence, looting, and crime. “More than 93% of recent demonstrations connected to Black Lives Matter were peaceful,” Reuters insisted, even as rioters caused up to $2 billion in property damage across the country. The company’s news reporters adopted the syntax of BLM activists. {snip}

Reuters’s data-based reporting and “fact checks” were also biased, always in favor of the BLM interpretations. One of the wire service’s “special reports” claims that “a growing body of research supports the perception that police unfairly target Black Americans. They are more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested than their white compatriots. They also are more likely to be killed by police.” In the 4,600-word story, Reuters gives only two short paragraphs to a dissenting viewpoint, then quickly dismisses it to advance the argument. In other stories, Reuters claims without evidence that Supreme Court protection of qualified immunity is “rooted in racism,” hosts an exclusively left-leaning panel on criminal-justice reform that uncritically promotes policies such as “defund the police,” and suggests that “hundreds” of unjustified police killings of black men “fail to win victims any redress,” without providing facts to substantiate the claim.

The company’s data reporting consistently re-contextualized accurate information about racial violence and policing in order to align with Black Lives Matter rhetoric. In a “fact check” of a social media post that claimed whites are more likely to be killed by blacks than blacks are to be killed by whites, Reuters concedes that this is factually accurate but labels the post “misleading”—in part because it doesn’t show that police kill black people at a higher rate than their share of the overall population, a completely unrelated claim. Likewise, when President Donald Trump accurately pointed out that police officers kill “more white people” than black people each year, Reuters immediately published a story reframing the narrative. Though the report admitted that “half of people killed by police are white,” the writers pushed the line that “Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate” and then used a quotation from the American Civil Liberties Union to paint the president as a “racist.”

{snip} He decided to take two months’ leave from Thomson Reuters in order to grapple with the statistical and ethical implications of the company’s reporting on the riots and the Black Lives Matter movement. {snip}

During his leave, Kriegman used his skills as a data scientist to conduct a careful statistical investigation comparing BLM’s claims on race, violence, and policing with the hard evidence from a range of academic and governmental sources. The result: a 12,000-word essay, titled “BLM is Anti-Black Systemic Racism,” that called into question the entire sequence of claims by the Black Lives Matter movement and echoed by the Reuters news team. {snip}

Kriegman’s essay focuses on debunking what he sees as the three key claims of BLM activists and their media supporters: that police officers kill blacks disproportionately, that law enforcement “over-polices” black neighborhoods, and that policies such as “defund the police” will reduce violence. First, Kriegman writes that the narrative about police officers systematically hunting and killing blacks is not supported by the evidence. “For instance, in 2020 there were 457 whites shot and killed by police, compared to 243 blacks. Of those, 24 of the whites killed were unarmed compared to 18 blacks,” he writes, citing the Washington Post database of police shootings. And though the number of blacks killed might be disproportionate compared with the percentage of blacks in the overall population, it is not disproportionate to the level of violent crime committed by black citizens. {snip}

Next, Kriegman takes up “over-policing.” Black Lives Matter activists and Reuters reporters had pushed the idea that police officers focus disproportionate attention on black neighborhoods and, because of deep-seated “racial bias,” are more likely to stop, search, and arrest black Americans “than their white compatriots.” While this might be true on its face, Kriegman writes, it misses the appropriate context: black neighborhoods are significantly more violent than white neighborhoods. {snip}

Finally, Kriegman addresses the policy implications of “de-policing.” Contrary to Reuters’s sometimes glowing coverage of the “defund the police” movement, Kriegman makes the case that de-policing, whether it occurs because of the “Ferguson Effect” or because of deliberate policy choices, has led to disaster for black communities. His argument, building on the work of City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald, follows this logic: after high-profile police-involved killings, such as those involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Black Lives Matter movement and the media have demonized police departments and caused many officers to reduce proactive policing measures and to pull back from situations out of fear that they might need to use force. The result, according to data from a range of academic literature, is an increase in crime and violence. {snip}

{snip} The essay dropped like a bomb on Reuters’s internal discussion forum, called The Hub. According to Kriegman, content moderators immediately took down the post and called in a “team of HR and communications professionals” to manage the situation. They told Kriegman that they were “reviewing” the document but, according to Kriegman, failed to provide specific objections to what he wrote. {snip}


On May 28, after incorporating some of the feedback on tone from human resources, Kriegman reposted his essay under a new title: “BLM Spreads Falsehoods That Have Led to the Murders of Thousands of Black People in the Most Disadvantaged Communities.” This time, the moderators at The Hub let it stay up. Kriegman considered this a victory—and then the comments started flooding in. They began politely, but soon descended into open hostility. “Wow, this is incredibly inappropriate for a professional website,” wrote commercial transactions intern Kasia Guzior. “Your premise in the ‘what about both sides’ sort of question you’re asking here is that it’s a political question. That premise is incorrect; it’s a human rights issue . . . ‘Statistics’ and ‘facts’ have been used to support racist actions for at least all of US history,” said tax analyst Abbie Gentry. “The FBI put out an article (look it up) a couple of years ago, stating that Law Enforcement organizations have been infiltrated by white supremacists the likes of the KKK. If some law enforcement officers are white supremacist Klan members, is it a surprise when they target and kill disadvantaged black people?” asked another commenter. “As a white person I am embarrassed and ashamed for you. We, as white folks, should NEVER presume to speak for people of color—which is what you’ve chosen to do,” concluded premier digital marketing strategist Joanne Fleming. “White folks trying to ‘help’ by whitesplaining how and why a movement that does not belong to us is harming people of color only does further harm.”

Five days later, Thomson Reuters made the decision permanently to remove the post from the company’s internal servers. Kriegman accused his colleagues of creating a hostile work environment and attempted to complain to that effect on the discussion board; he was then suspended from The Hub and locked out of email and other communications platforms. In a final, grand, and perhaps self-immolating gesture, Kriegman personally emailed Thomson Reuters’s top executives, complaining about the company’s bias and hostility toward his criticism of Black Lives Matter. “And then they went ahead and fired me,” Kriegman told me. {snip}