Media

Mob Rule at the New York Times

New York Times
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Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) made a compelling argument on Wednesday for deploying federal troops to quell the rioting and looting that has afflicted cities across the country. But instead of bringing order to the streets, Cotton's column has hurled a Molotov cocktail into the New York Times.

The still-raging fire has revealed a near-total breakdown of leadership and discipline at the paper and put the lie to long-running claims by Times brass about the distinction between the paper's news and editorial arms. The wokest cub reporters and graphic designers have led a successful coup and are now liquidating dissenters.

"The buck stops here" is a worthy precept for managers. It is not one that the Times‘s editorial page editor, James Bennet, seems willing to adhere to under threat of mob justice for the accomplices to Cotton's thought crimes.

His response to the backlash was to disclaim any involvement in the column's publication. Instead, Bennet told staffers that he hadn't actually read the piece before publication and declined an interview request with his own paper on the subject, as did his deputy, James Dao. The Times‘s news report on the controversy blamed a 25-year-old editor whose use of emojis on an internal Slack channel has now been leaked and dissected.

That Bennet, a former White House correspondent and Jerusalem bureau chief at the paper, is among the handful of executives contending to succeed Times executive editor Dean Baquet tells you everything you need to know about the state of leadership at the Times.

Compare Bennet's response with the Wall Street Journal‘s handling of protests from reporters on its news side over a recent opinion section headline they argued was offensive to China. The powers that be at Dow Jones expressed regret for causing offense but remained unmoved, even when the Chinese revoked the credentials of its news reporters operating in their country. Unlike at the Times, the news and opinion sections have no revolving door or cross-pollination.

Bennet's underlings have comported themselves with the same childishness as their boss. When opinion contributor Bari Weiss shared her analysis of the "civil war" convulsing the paper, her colleagues didn’t just assail her views, they accused her of willful dishonesty and of acting in bad faith, the new catchall for any argument suddenly beyond the pale of woke discourse. A member of the Times editorial board, Carol Giacomo, retweeted the following sentiment about Weiss: "Anyone who has participated in this person's rise in the journalism world should be ashamed."

As the members of the opinion pages treated each other, so were they treated by Times brass. Just hours after Bennet issued a statement defending the decision (was it his?) to publish Cotton's op-ed, a spokeswoman for the paper announced that, actually, the piece did not meet unidentified editorial standards. Cotton's office has said it received no advance notice that the paper would denounce what it had previously sanctioned and no explanation for what standards the senator's work had failed to meet.

The entire incident has confirmed the cynical view of many on the right that there is no meaningful distinction between the Times‘s editorial and news operations. Consider the fact that the deeply partisan Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project is, ostensibly, a news project, and that Baquet, the paper's news chief, has called his hiring of Hannah-Jones "one of the proudest moments" of his career. The paper's newly anointed newsletter scribe, David Leonhardt, has moved seamlessly between the paper's news and editorial sides. (Baquet reportedly expressed his pride at the solidarity Times staffers showed in the face of dissenting opinion. It is unclear whether he praised their collegiality.)

Six of the 15 members of the Times editorial board are former news-side reporters, with most of the rest coming from likeminded publications like the Boston Globe, which was previously owned by the Times. Both Bennet and Dao, his deputy, are former Times reporters, with Bennet enmeshed in the Medici-like intrigue surrounding the succession of the news throne. That makes it easier to understand their spinelessness in the face of an uproar from the paper's newsroom, of which they were once members.

It is unclear how the Times retroactively concluded that Cotton's piece, which appears to have no factual issues, did not meet its editorial standards. The mystery and, indeed, the entire sordid episode, is a sign of the rot at the Times, where internal politics and nastiness are trumping any effort at making the country's leading journalistic institution a hospitable place for ideas that don't sit in the coffee shops of Park Slope and Montclair.