New York Times Boldly Replaces Op-Ed Editor With Someone Who’ll Actually Read Its Garbage Takes

Journalism

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet resigned Sunday from the job he's done so poorly over the years. Here's why: Last week, the Times ran an op-ed by wannabe despot Tom Cotton or Trisha Yearwood's recipe for sweet potato soufflé. Bennet wouldn't have known either way because he didn't read the damn thing. Yes, we're sure he is (or was) very busy and important, but I think a piece from a sitting senator urging the president to go all Tiananmen Square on protesters -- the day before the anniversary of Tiananmen Square too! -- was worth a quick peek before publication. It would've provided Bennet the perfect opportunity to shout, “Stop the presses!"

Cotton's op-ed resulted in a so-called "open revolt" within the Times, which opinion writer Bari Weiss (another gift from Bennet) snidely described as a battle between the “wokes" and true “civil libertarians" who believe you should provide a respected (more or less) platform for any idiot's ramblings so long as they're white and male. Cotton's essay, titled “Send in the Troops," was filled with factual errors, outright lies, and actual fascism.

Genius Harvard Professor Juliette Kayyem dismantled Cotton's flimsy-ass constitutional argument for the military attacking civilians who annoy him.



The Times released a statement Thursday admitting it fucked up good. It was clear, upon actual review, that the Arkansas Republican's diatribe didn't meet the vaunted standards of an editorial page that regularly features David Brooks.

"We've examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication," Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, said in a statement. "This review made clear that a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards. As a result, we're planning to examine both short-term and long-term changes, to include expanding our fact-checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish."

Cotton was invited to expand his fascist Twitter rant into an op-ed. Bennet defended this questionable decision with another tired reprise of “Both Sides Now": The Times "owes it to [their] readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy." That's swell, but the counter-argument needs to make sense. Not all ideas are equal. The Times constantly pulls a "Harrison Bergeron" on policy (Bennet hired a climate denier, after all), and the only ones who benefit are dolts like Cotton.

Yesterday we also published a piece by Jonathan Stevenson, a former staff member of the National Security Council, arguing that the legal basis for calling out the troops is shaky. He also argued that Donald Trump wants to use the military as "the ultimate martial prop," and I suspect he's right about that, too.

Jonathan Stevenson is actually qualified to speak on this subject and his argument wasn't just, like, his opinion, man. It was well-reasoned and supported by facts. An appropriate “counter-argument" isn't what Cotton dreamed up on the toilet while reading the latest “Soldier of Fortune."

We saw this same crap during the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump would respond to a serious issue with a batshit idea such as “BAN ALL MUSLIMS" and “BUILD WALL." It would get as much space and far less scrutiny than any reasonable argument from politicians who at least posed as mammals. The Times, to my knowledge, existed in 2016, so it should recall that Trump's deranged proposals weren't just pro wrestling hype. He moved forward on each one as president, so anyone with the sense to have learned anything from our most recent long national nightmare might treat Cotton's desired crackdown on protesters by the military as more than just “thinking out loud."

Minority staffers at the Times and across America have suffered through a white supremacist presidency, and it's insulting when white guys with important jobs keep giving equal time to racists, as if there's a legitimate debate over whether Nazis are “very fine people."

Bennet didn't just offend Times staffers. Readers cancelled subscriptions at a record rate. Sources cut off reporters. Freelance journalist Kara Brown turned down a potential assignment. Meanwhile, Cotton ghoulishly trolled the Times on Twitter, delighted that he'd punched the paper in the face with its own fist.

Bennet screwed up seven ways to Sunday. It was obviously time for him to go. A.G. Sulzberger, the thirteenth Earl of Times, announced the departure in a note to the staff.

Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we've experienced in recent years ... James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change.

Deputy Editorial Page Editor Katie Kingsbury will serve as acting editorial page editor though the November election.

Let's hope she at least reads the crazier op-eds.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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