NYT Editorial Page Editor Resigns Over Cotton Op-Ed

Deputy who approved Cotton essay reassigned to newsroom

The New York Times building is seen on September 6, 2018 in New York / ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images
June 7, 2020

The New York Times announced on Sunday the resignation of editorial page editor James Bennet in the wake of staff uproar over the paper’s publication of an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) calling for the use of military force against rioters.

The Times also announced the reassignment of Bennet’s deputy, James Dao, to its newsroom from the editorial side. Dao on Saturday claimed responsibility for the publication of the op-ed.

Dozens of Times reporters, editors, and columnists revolted over the publication of Cotton’s op-ed on Wednesday, tweeting a version of the phrase, "Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger."

Bennet initially defended publishing Cotton's op-ed, saying it "would undermine the integrity and independence of The New York Times if we only published views that editors like me agreed with." As the uproar grew, he later said he had not read Cotton's piece prior to publication and apologized at a staff meeting for the "pain" it caused. The Times has since added an editor's note to his essay that it should not have been published and contains dubious statements about the role of the far-left group antifa in the unrest.

Bennet acknowledged the Times invited Cotton to submit the op-ed, which argued President Donald Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act and supplement local law enforcement with the military to quell riots. A recent poll found 58 percent of registered voters support Cotton's view.

Katie Kingsbury, currently deputy editorial page editor, will serve as acting opinion editor through November, the Times said.

"Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years," publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote in a note to staffers. "James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change.... Because we have faced questions in recent days about our core values, I want to say this plainly: As an institution we are opposed to racism in every corner of our society."

Bennet, who previously edited the Atlantic, is the younger brother of Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), one of dozens of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

While the Times described Cotton's op-ed as a call for military force against "protesters" in a news story on Bennet's resignation, his piece distinguished between "peaceful, law-abiding protesters" and individuals perpetrating looting and violence. Cotton tweeted the description of his essay was "false and offensive."

"Some elites have excused this orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd," Cotton wrote. "Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters. A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants."

Cotton initially praised the Times leadership for standing by the decision to publish his argument, but he has since mocked it for kowtowing to angry staffers.

"I can tell you my op-ed doesn't meet the New York Times standards," Cotton told Fox News on Thursday. "It far exceeds their standards, which are normally full of left-wing sophomoric drivel. And I find it amazing that in the last 24 hours, the editor of the New York Times and the publisher of the New York Times have both defended their decision to publish this op-ed, but in the face of the 'woke' mob, of 'woke' kids that are in their newsroom, they tucked tail and they ran."