Netflix fires chief communications officer over use of racial slur

Netflix spokesman Jonathan Friedland, at left with CEO Reed Hastings, was fired after two incidents in which he used the N-word. Friedland apologized Friday on Twitter.
(Berenice Bautista / Associated Press)

Netflix has fired its chief communications officer after determining that he had used a racial slur on at least two occasions in the workplace.

Company CEO Reed Hastings said in a memo to employees Friday that he dismissed Jonathan Friedland after deciding that what he said wasn’t “in line with our values as a company.”

In the memo, which was obtained by the Times, Hastings said Friedland had used the N-word during an incident several months ago in a public relations meeting about sensitive words.


“Several people afterwards told how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the N-word was, and Jonathan apologized to those that had been in the meeting,” Hastings wrote. “We hoped this was an awful anomaly never to be repeated.”

Hastings said he was made aware this week of a second incident, which took place a few days after the first occurrence.

“This time Jonathan said the N-word again to two of our Black employees in HR who were trying to help him deal with the original offense,” he said. “The second incident confirmed a deep lack of understanding and convinced me to let Jonathan go.”

Friedland had served as Netflix’s top spokesperson for the past seven years, a period in which the Los Gatos, Calif.-based streaming media company saw tremendous growth and transformed itself into a major Hollywood studio producing original TV series and movies.

He previously served as a communications officer at Walt Disney Co. and was a journalist at the Wall Street Journal.

In his staff memo, Hastings said he should have been more proactive.

“As I reflect on this, at this first incident, I should have done more to use it as a learning moment for everyone at Netflix about how painful and ugly that word is, and that it should not be used,” he wrote. “I realize that my privilege has made me intellectualize or otherwise minimize race issues like this. I need to set a better example by learning and listening more so I can be the leader we need.”


Hastings said that “for non-Black people, the word should not be spoken as there is almost no context in which it is appropriate or constructive (even when singing a song or reading a script).”

On Twitter, Friedland acknowledged that he had spoken in an “insensitive” way.

“I’m leaving Netflix after seven years. Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy,” he wrote on Friday afternoon.

“I feel awful about the distress this lapse caused to people at a company I love and where I want everyone to feel included and appreciated. I feel honored to have built a brilliant and diverse global team and to have been part of our collective adventure.”