New York Times Opinion Editor Resigns Following Backlash Over Tom Cotton Op-Ed

Bruce Haring
·6 mins read

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UPDATE, JUNE 7: James Bennet, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, has resigned in the wake of a controversy over an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The op-ed by Cotton was titled “Send In The Troops.” Times staffers immediately bashed running it, and although Publisher A.G. Sulzberger initially defended it, he backed down hours later. Sulzberger blamed it on “a significant breakdown in our editing processes.”

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As a result, “James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change.”

Also on the move was Jim Dao, the deputy editorial page editor who oversees Op-Eds. He will be taking an unspecified job in the newsroom, the Times said. Sulzberger said. Katie Kingsbury, a deputy editorial page editor, will be the acting editorial page editor though the November election.

Meanwhile, Cotton appeared this morning on Fox News Channel’s Sunday Morning Futures, claiming that his op-ed “said simply last Monday that, if the local police are overwhelmed by the numbers of these insurrectionists, if they need support from the National Guard, or, if necessary, as a last resort, federal troops, under the Insurrection Act, then that’s exactly what has to happen.”

Cotton noted that the op-ed was initially defended, but that the Times leaders backed down “after this woke mob began to rise up.”

“They still haven’t identified any facts that are wrong in the op-ed,” Cotton said. “They haven’t identified what was so rushed about this process. They have only prostrated themselves in front of their young children who are…acting like kids in a social justice seminar, as opposed to acting like grownups in the workplace.”

UPDATE: The New York Times issued a statement today admitting that a controversial op-ed it published on Wednesday did not meet its standards.

More than 800 staff members signed a letter protesting the publication of an op-ed Wednesday from Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton headlined “Send in the Troops.” After initially defending its publication choice, the NYT issued a letter today addressed to high-ranking editors in the opinion and news divisions, as well as New York Times Company executives.

“We’ve examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication,” said a statemet from Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman. “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.”

The letter backing down came after Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger emailed the staff and backed the op-ed’s publication.

“I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit,” he wrote. “But it’s essential that we listen to and reflect on the concerns we’re hearing, as we would with any piece that is the subject of significant criticism. I will do so with an open mind.”

He added, “We don’t publish just any argument — they need to be accurate, good faith explorations of the issues of the day.”

EARLIER: New York Times staffers bitterly complained on social media today after the newspaper’s opinion section ran a column from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton that called on President Donald Trump to “Send in the troops.”

Cotton, a notoriously pro-Trump supporter, asked the President to mobilize the military to quell civil unrest in many major US cities. The column was titled Tom Cotton: Send in the Troops.

While Los Angeles and Washington, DC, among other cities, have brought in the National Guard, there are some holdouts resisting troop insertion, including New York City.

Many NY Times staffers began tweeting a similar message in response to Cotton’s column alongside an image of the headline (see below): Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.

The Times staffers were a mix of editorial and production, including restaurant critics, graphics producers, culture reporters, tech writers and opinion writer Roxane Gay.

“Surreal and horrifying to wake up on the morning of June 4 – the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown – to this headline,” wrote Times China correspondent Amy Qin.

The newspaper had no official immediate comment. However, editorial page editor James Bennet said in a Twitter post that “The Times editorial board has forcefully defended the protests as patriotic and criticized the use of force, saying earlier today that police too often have ‘responded with more violence — against protesters, journalists and bystanders. We’ve also crusaded for years against the underlying, systemic cruelties that led to these protests.

“As part of our explorations of these issues, Times Opinion has published powerful arguments supporting protests, advocating fundamental change, and criticizing police abuses. Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy. We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton’s argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.”

Times film critic Manohla Dargis dissented. “No and no and no – you’ve made one too many bad decisions and clearly should not have run this.”

The Times also published a blistering letter from a reader that said, in part, “I strongly disagree with Mr. Cotton’s suggestion to use U.S. troops to suppress the protests occurring throughout the country. I disagree even more strongly with The New York Times’s giving Mr. Cotton a platform to express his views. His extremist rhetoric only serves to fan the flames of division and suppression.”

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