New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens is defending the newspaper’s controversial op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton that has drawn criticism from dozens of the paper’s own staff and from corners of the internet.
In a Friday op-ed titled, “What the Times Got Wrong,” Stephens argued that a free press should be allowed to air views expressed by half the country.
“Last week’s decision by this newspaper to disavow an Op-Ed by Senator Tom Cotton is a gift to the enemies of a free press — free in the sense of one that doesn’t quiver and cave in the face of an outrage mob,” Stephens wrote. “What kind of paper will The Times be if half the nation doesn’t get to be even an occasional part of that conversation?”
Stephens, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for columns written when he worked at The Wall Street Journal, was one of two conservative writers who on Friday wrote in defense of the Cotton op-ed. Ross Douthat wrote about how the liberal left is shifting more to the left, as evidenced by New York Times staff’s outrage with the Cotton article and subsequent walkout.
When reached for comment, The New York Times directed CNN Business to acting editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury’s note about the paper’s decision to publish multiple responses to the Tom Cotton op-ed.
“Why all this discussion? The upheaval that followed Senator Cotton’s Op-Ed has generated a necessary dialogue about the dangers and merits of creating a forum for debate in a time of political division and misinformation,” Kingsbury wrote.
Cotton’s op-ed, published on June 3 with the title “Send In the Troops,” argued that the Insurrection Act could be invoked to deploy the military across the country to assist local law enforcement with unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd.
The op-ed was published in The Times’ opinion section, but staffers from both opinion and the newsroom — which operate separately from one another — publicly dissented. On Twitter, dozens of staff tweeted that the op-ed endangered the lives of black staffers.
A lengthy editor’s note was added on June 5, responding to the criticism, “Based on that review, we have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”
New York Times’ editorial page editor James Bennet resigned, publisher A.G. Sulzberger announced Sunday. Sulzberger also said that Jim Dao, a deputy editorial page editor who had publicly taken responsibility as overseeing the editing of the piece, would be stepping off the masthead and reassigned to the newsroom.
Both Stephens and Douthat argued against the claim that the essay should not have been published because it endangered black lives. Douthat deemed the argument not “persuasive.” Stephens wrote: “Even if one concedes that Cotton’s call to send in the troops poses potential risks, it poses those risks whether his call appears in these pages or not. To know Cotton’s views is, if nothing else, to be better armed against them.”
Last week, Cotton sharply criticized The Times for saying his op-ed didn’t meet its standards, noting that Bennet had initially defended the op-ed. Cotton told Fox News the newspaper had caved to a “mob of woke kids.”
“My op-ed doesn’t meet the New York Times standards,” Cotton said. “It far exceed their standards which are normally full of left-wing, sophomoric drivel.”
Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.