The New York Times Opinion editor, James Bennet, resigned yesterday after a controversy over a Tom "Tommy Polyester" Cotton op-ed calling for Trump to sic the military on protests caused an uproar among his staff and colleagues.
First there were a lot of explanations and alternative realities about an editor not reading it before it ran, etc. Then it turned out that Bennet actually solicited a piece from Cotton on the topic, and the resulting uproar meant his resignation (or firing) was only a matter of time.
And then he admitted he never read the piece before it ran -- while noting publicly what a "brave" piece it was.
Bennet is also the brother of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and according to a former Atlantic Monthly editor, there was some unethical interference by James Bennet with this Washington Post piece about the senator.
Now, here's the thing. For better or for worse, the New York Times holds a unique place in the body politic. They are expected to set the standard to which news organizations are held. But they often fail.
And letting Cotton run his fascist-lite manifesto in the Times was the same as giving it their imprimatur. Which opens another whole can of worms in a volatile time.
The Post story revealed the problem in a nutshell:
“He’s trying to create a politics that doesn’t really exist, with civil debate among Democrats and a kind of respectable conservative that only exists on an op-ed page,” said Alex Pareene, a staff writer at the New Republic. “It’s comforting, but it’s a fantasy.” His boss, Sulzberger, on the other hand, seems to appreciate the mission.
“It’s increasingly hard to find places where diverse voices debate ideas respectfully and thoughtfully. But that’s exactly what James believes is needed and it’s what he’s building,” Sulzberger said.
And how he did that? By hiring Bret Stephens, the unctuous conservative who poo-poohed climate change. And by inviting Tom Cotton to submit a piece in which he advocates suspending the civil rights of protesters, and using the U.S. military to beat them down.
People rightly praise Bennet for having made great hires like Ta-Nahisi Coates, Michelle Goldberg, Kara Swisher, and Jamelle Bouie.
But carelessly letting a U.S. senator advocate what is basically fascism-lite? Letting Bennet resign seems like a gift. Still, it's the "civil" way to handle it, and we know how the Times loves civility.
Don't worry, I'm sure they'll find some other prep school, Ivy League clone to take his place.
Personally, I thought this was the best comment on Twitter:
Democrats Say James Bennet Has Resigned. In This Ohio Diner, Many Aren’t So Sure.
— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) June 7, 2020