[guest post by Dana]
Many readers and New York Times staff members denounced The Times's publication of an opinion essay by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, that called for a military response to protests. The Times union said that the Op-Ed "promotes hate." https://t.co/yG7CXoUz3c
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 4, 2020
Here is what Trish Hall, the former Op-Ed and Sunday Review editor, has said about submitting an op-ed to the NYT at the paper’s How to submit an Op-Ed essay page here:
Anything can be an Op-Ed. Personal or explanatory essays, commentary on news events, reflections on cultural trends and more are all welcome. We’re interested in anything well-written with a fact-based viewpoint we believe readers will find worthwhile.
The Editorial page editor also responded to the outcry, and justified the decision to publish the essay. [Ed. The opening sentence comes as no surprise...]:
*It is not unusual for right-leaning opinion articles in The Times to attract criticism. This time, the outcry from readers, Times staff members and alumni of the paper was strong enough to draw an online defense of the essay’s publication from James Bennet, the editorial page editor.
“Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” Mr. Bennet wrote in a thread on Twitter. “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.”
Don’t we want to know what our elected officials think? I certainly do! How else do we hold them accountable?
Certainly everyone has a right to voice their disapproval of anything in the NYT. But if staffers (and readers are so offended), then maybe sit down and put all of that thought and passion into writing a robust and persuasive rebuttal for publication. This is the beauty of an Op-Ed page. Protest Cotton’s essay all you want, but do not demand that the paper refuse to publish an “opinion” piece about which you strenuously disagree. If a publication claims to be committed to publishing “anything” that is well-written, then have at it. More speech is the correct answer, not less, and certainly not less because it offends you.
[Ed. Was there this same level of staff outrage when the New York Times ran an op-ed in February by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban?]
Consider this a thread to also discuss the substance of Cotton’s essay linked above.
JVW pointed me to this thread by NYT op-ed writer Bari Weiss responding to the Cotton op-ed kerfuffle: full here. (Note: JVW disagreed with her last comment below, and responded to her on Twitter:
The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country. The dynamic is always the same.
The Old Guard lives by a set of principles we can broadly call civil libertarianism. They assumed they shared that worldview with the young people they hired who called themselves liberals and progressives. But it was an incorrect assumption.
The New Guard has a different worldview, one articulated best by @JonHaidt and @glukianoff. They call it “safetyism,” in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.
Perhaps the cleanest example of this dynamic was in 2018, when David Remnick, under tremendous public pressure from his staffers, disinvited Steve Bannon from appearing on stage at the New Yorker Ideas Festival. But there are dozens and dozens of examples.
I’ve been mocked by many people over the past few years for writing about the campus culture wars. They told me it was a sideshow. But this was always why it mattered: The people who graduated from those campuses would rise to power inside key institutions and transform them.
I’m in no way surprised by what has now exploded into public view. In a way, it’s oddly comforting: I feel less alone and less crazy trying to explain the dynamic to people. What I am shocked by is the speed. I thought it would take a few years, not a few weeks.
Here’s one way to think about what’s at stake: The New York Times motto is “all the news that’s fit to print.” One group emphasizes the word “all.” The other, the word “fit.”
W/r/t Tom Cotton’s oped and the choice to run it: I agree with our critics that it’s a dodge to say “we want a totally open marketplace of ideas!” There are limits. Obviously. The question is: does his view fall outside those limits? Maybe the answer is yes.
If the answer is yes, it means that the view of more than half of Americans are unacceptable. And perhaps they are.
(Weiss then links to this: A plurality of Democrats would support calling in the U.S. military to aid police during protests, poll shows
UPDATE: The New York Times caves:
NEW: Times spokeswoman sends mea culpa pic.twitter.com/phBVjA21AT
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) June 4, 2020
While I understand that the NYT makes necessary editorial decisions on a regular basis, readers deserve to know the standards that Cotton’s op-ed did not meet. Also, we need to know who was responsible for the alleged “rushed editorial process”. It’s a bit odd that, all of a sudden management decided that it was rushed. If management cannot provide these details, readers can only assume that they have caved to pressure from offended readers and staffers. This isn’t a good message for a major media outlet to send, especially after making the lofty assertion that the “Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy.” How foolish to back pedal, but how much more foolish to withhold op-eds by those wielding power in the nation. If we do not have access to their thoughts and arguments via an essay explaining in detail where they are at on a specific issue at any particular time, how are we to hold them accountable? How do we hold their feet to the fire, or demonstrate our support? If the Cotton essay hadn’t run, would it have run elsewhere? Would that outlet have the reach that the NYT does? Would we know in such detail, his view that we need for some kind of military intervention? Are Americans so deathly afraid of a countering view that one of the most powerful media outlets on the planet is deferring to them, and opting out of giving us the opportunity to judge for ourselves? If I can’t know the specifics of how Cotton’s essay did not meet already established standards, and judge for myself, I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt in this.
Further, expanding fact-checking can be a good move. But it is not good to curtail the number of opinion pieces because of fear of offending staffers and readers. It is not good to refrain from publishing pieces because they go against the politics of the majority of readers and staffers, who obviously skew left*. More speech, not less speech. Given the scope of reach of the NYT, it’s just a shame that they have chosen to limit what we can read, and what we can learn from those in positions of power. Of course they are free to do what they want with the publication. I just wish they would stick to a consistent message.
NYT has appended an editor's note to the Tom Cotton essay, finally explaining to the public why it found it to not meet its standards. Note cites questions about factual assertions made and the overall tone of the essay. Also says headline was written by NYT, not Cotton. pic.twitter.com/pzKxL063RP
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) June 5, 2020