Jun 4, 2020 - Economy

New York Times says Tom Cotton op-ed did not meet standards

The NYT building

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A New York Times spokesperson said in a statement Thursday that the paper will be changing its editorial board processes after a Wednesday op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which called for President Trump to "send in the troops" in order to quell violent protests, failed to meet its standards.

Why it matters: The shift comes after Times employees began a coordinated movement on social media on Wednesday and Thursday that argued that publishing the op-ed put black staff in danger. Cotton wrote that Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act in order to deploy the U.S. military against rioters that have overwhelmed police forces in cities across the country.

  • "One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers," Cotton wrote.

The big picture: The saga surrounding the op-ed comes in the context of a wider conversation about how free speech principles should be applied to big media companies.

  • The Times has in the past faced criticism from its mostly left-leaning constituency of readers and stakeholders when it published op-eds authored by right-wing or right-of-center opinion columnists, including Bret Stephens.

What they're saying: "We've examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication," a spokesperson for the Times said. "This review made clear that a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards."

  • "As a result, we're planning to examine both short term and long term changes, to include expanding our fact checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish."
  • A spokesperson for Cotton said: "We weren’t contacted by the New York Times in advance of this statement and our editorial process was similar to our past experiences at the New York Times and other publications. We’re curious to know what part of that process and this piece didn’t meet their standards."

Between the lines: The statement doesn't address where the process failed to meet company standards or who is responsible. Earlier Thursday, the Times' opinion editor James Bennet penned a piece in defense of publishing the op-ed.

  • "Readers who might be inclined to oppose Cotton’s position need to be fully aware of it, and reckon with it, if they hope to defeat it," Bennet wrote. "To me, debating influential ideas openly, rather than letting them go unchallenged, is far more likely to help society reach the right answers. But it is impossible to feel righteous about any of this. I know that my own view may be wrong."
  • The blowback was so big that the saga warranted a response from the Times' publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who said the company would be having conversations with black employees in the coming days and that the paper's leadership would hold a town hall with employees Friday to discuss the issue.

What's next: The big question in media circles is whether the Times' mea culpa will impact James Bennet's chances at getting the top editor job at the Times when its current executive editor Dean Baquet exits.

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