The New York Times was reeling on Monday after its Opinion section fumbled a high-profile story about an allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, drawing widespread criticism and condemnation of the newspaper.
It was the latest in a series of high-profile blunders that has caused embarrassment to James Bennet since he was appointed in 2016 as the editor overseeing The Times’ Opinion section.
Bennet’s tenure has been marked with several mishaps that have generated controversy, drawn criticism, and spurred at least one lawsuit.
A spokesperson for The Times declined to make Bennet available for an interview for this story, but defended the Opinion section by pointing to its talented writers and the good work they have produced.
“Opinion produces powerful journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives from the ground-breaking, on-going Privacy Project to an editorial series on laws that value a fetus over the life of the mother, to an on-camera essay by Alysia Montaño that resulted in a number of companies changing their contracts with female athletes to protect women during and after pregnancy,” the spokesperson for The Times said in a statement to CNN Business. “The diversity and quality of this work is being embraced not just by readers but by professional peers.”
But while the Opinion section has unquestionably produced strong work in the years since Bennet took over, it has also been culpable for some of the biggest journalistic black eyes at The Times during that period.
The latter happened again over the weekend when The Times’ Sunday Review, which falls under Opinion, published an essay based on a forthcoming book written by two Times reporters, detailing a previously unreported allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, which he denied.
The allegation in the book hinged on the recollection of a Yale classmate who The Times reported contacted the FBI and lawmakers during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. The Yale classmate, who is now a prominent lawyer, has declined to comment publicly, according to The Times.
But the book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” included a key detail that the essay published by the Times was lacking: The woman at the center of it, who’d been a student at the time of the incident, declined to be interviewed. Moreover, her friends said she did not recall the incident.
In addition to that omission of vital information, The Times’ Opinion desk also came under fire over a tweet it had published promoting the story. The tweet said that “having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun.”
By Sunday night, The Times had not only apologized for the “offensive” tweet, but also appended to the essay an editor’s note addressing the glaring omission in its original story.
“The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident,” the editor’s note read, in part. “That information has been added to the article.”
The weekend flub was one in a series of botched stories.
In 2017, the Opinion section published an editorial that drew a link between an advertisement from Sarah Palin’s political action committee and a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed and then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was severely wounded. There is, in fact, no evidence that the shooter saw the advertisement, much less that he was motivated by it. The Times issued a correction, but Palin filed a lawsuit against the newspaper. Palin’s suit was initially dismissed but an appeals court revived it in August.
In April of this year, the Opinion section of The Times’ international edition published an anti-Semitic cartoon. The Opinion section issued an apology and The Times’ publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, said the newspaper was “taking disciplinary” measures regarding the editor involved.
And most recently, The Times faced a barrage of criticism and mockery over the actions of columnist Bret Stephens. After being jokingly referred to as a “bedbug” on Twitter by a George Washington University professor, Stephens sent an email to the professor and his provost to complain. Stephens later wrote an op-ed likening being referred to as a bedbug to the dehumanizing language Jewish people faced under Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.
Sprinkled in between have been other mishaps, including a Twitter poll related to the Kavanaugh hearings. The poll asked whether readers found the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, to be “credible.” The Times later deleted it, saying it was “insensitive in light of the gravity of the hearing.”