We’ve all heard the disturbing story of the New York Times editor who was forced out of his job by newsroom reporters for publishing an opinion that the newsroom reporters did not like. The now-former editor is James Bennet. Newsroom reporters raised a major internal struggle when Bennet published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, in which Cotton argued that it was time to use the military to quash antifa violence engulfing several American cities, endangering lives and damaging property nationwide.
The Times announcement of Bennet’s forced departure goes full Orwellian, calling the Cotton op-ed a “breakdown” in its editorial process. Bennet was not the only editor defenestrated in the wake of the Cotton op-ed. CNN reported that Jim Dao, Bennet’s deputy editorial page editor, also stepped down off the masthead and was reassigned to the newsroom — a major demotion.
Dao has taken to Twitter to accept responsibility for the Cotton oped.
I oversaw the acceptance and review of the Cotton Op-Ed. None of this is on @rubensteinadam. The fault here should be directed at the @nytopinion leadership team and not at an intrepid and highly competent junior staffer.
— Jim Dao (@jimdao) June 7, 2020
Dao’s tweet shielding junior staff can be seen as analogous to the public confessions communist governments force citizens to perform when they transgress the party line, such as the confession China’s communist government forced Dr. Li Wenliang to perform when he was caught telling the truth about the coronavirus outbreak. Going by the available evidence, Dao’s choice is either atone in public or lose his job entirely, knowing no other newspaper in the country will buck the current environment and hire him. He’s stuck in a paper that did not want to outright fire him, but which has effectively ended his career, both there and anywhere else the Times’ values are shared.
Dao’s apology wasn’t enough. Tweeters kept tearing him apart for the sin of publishing an opinion they oppose. They have also gone after Adam Rubenstein because he once worked at conservative outlets. The anti-op-ed argument boils down to Cotton calling on the president to use the military to “kill unarmed or innocent Americans.” But the context is that rioters are already killing innocent and unarmed Americans, all over the country.
But none of them, and no one in the New York Times newsroom, objected to an op-ed the paper published in February, from a leader of the Taliban. The Taliban has been killing Americans and others for decades. They gave succor to al Qaeda as it planned and executed the 9/11 attack, killing thousands of Americans in New York.
The Taliban also set about destroying the centuries-old Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001.
The Taliban op-ed appeared in the New York Times on February 20. In it, Taliban second in command Sirajuddin Haqanni paints a rosy picture of the Taliban just wanting peace and tranquility in Afghanistan.
CNN’s Peter Jergen took the Times to task for leaving out important context. Haqanni is no peacemaker, Jergen writes, but a career terrorist with blood on his hands.
The Times described Haqqani as “the deputy leader of the Taliban.” But this bland descriptor doesn’t capture who Haqqani really is. According to the FBI, Haqqani is a “specially designated global terrorist.” The FBI is offering $5 million for information leading directly to his arrest.
The US State Department is also offering a reward of up to $10 million for information that brings Haqqani to justice. The only terrorist who has a higher reward is the current leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Will the Times be offering Zawahiri an op-ed spot next?
The FBI also notes that Haqqani “is wanted for questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including an American citizen. He is believed to have coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Haqqani also allegedly was involved in the planning of the assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.”
There’s much more in Jergen’s piece. The one thing not included is a call to fire anyone at the Times for publishing Haqqani’s terrorist propaganda. Jergen did question the Times‘ decision to publish without including context, and received this response:
[O]ur mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We’ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment.
But let’s take the Times at its word and use its own standards. Sen. Cotton is a sitting senator. In his op-ed, he called for invocation of the Insurrection Act, which has been American law since 1807. It has not been used often in American history, but it has been used. Its most recent use was to quell the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Sixty-three people were killed in those riots, and rioters perpetrated about $775 million in damage. The Insurrection Act was invoked to save American lives and restore order.
Had it been invoked in the recent riots, the goal would have been the same. Lives may have been saved. Or not. Cotton’s opinion is just that. It also happened to have been shared by a majority of Americans when the Times published it. Sending in the troops to quell domestic unrest is a grave decision, never to be taken lightly. So is allowing the violence to continue, as so many Democrat governors and mayors have chosen to do.
This Philadelphia woman was among the majority who wanted order restored.
The president has not invoked the Insurrection Act, the protests have continued, and while violence has abated some, it has continued. As of three days ago, more than 20 Americans have been killed in the riots. Most of them are minorities. Millions, maybe billions, of dollars in damage have been done so far. The affected neighborhoods will take decades to recover. A slice of Seattle, Wash., could be considered to be in a state of insurrection right now.
Property damage has continued nationwide, with statues and monuments suffering damage, defacement, and even total removal by “activists.” The campaign to destroy and deface monuments has been indiscriminate, even hitting the monument to the first black all-volunteer military unit to fight against slavery in the Civil War. In this defacement of monuments, the shadow of Taliban-like intolerance for others’ opinions and beliefs appears among “activists.”
Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz describes Bennet’s ouster over the Cotton oped as a “surrender” and “betrayal.”
“For James Bennet to be forced out as editorial page editor is not only a surrender by The New York Times to the staff revolt, but it was a betrayal of the very things that Bennet and the publisher A.G. Sulzberger had eloquently argued for when they initially defended the Tom Cotton op-ed, which is the willingness to publish views that go against the paper’s liberal philosophy.”
Kurtz is right but in this quote doesn’t go far enough.
The newsroom led the revolt against Bennet after Cotton’s op-ed. No one in the newsroom batted an eye at publishing the Taliban terrorist’s op-ed. There was no revolt. If silence equals acceptance, as the left is fond of saying, then their silence equals acceptance of publishing the Taliban’s propaganda without necessary context.
It’s not just that the Times’ leadership failed to lead and put down its newsroom revolt. It had the opportunity to teach its reporters that the Times truly stands for what it claims in its response regarding the Taliban op-ed. But instead, it sent a very different message. Its systemic biases could not be clearer now. The newsroom, never mind the opinion editors, no longer stand for American values of free speech at all.
This fact should be understood as context in every single story and op-ed the Times publishes from now on.
Whoever replaces Bennet permanently, we can be assured that Republicans need not apply. The newsroom and Twitter would revolt.
James Bennet is the brother of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Unfortunately in our politics and media, too often when one is connected, one is protected. But there is now no protection from the anti-liberal, First Amendment-hating, Taliban-publishing mob within the New York Times — or increasingly, anywhere else. If you’re on the left, the crocodile may eat you last, but it will still eat you.