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Tags: james bennet | new york times | bias | illiberal

Former NY Times Editor: Paper Shuts Down All Debate

By    |   Friday, 15 December 2023 09:19 AM EST

Former New York Times editorial page Editor James Bennet, who was forced to resign in 2020 after the publication of an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is accusing the newspaper of shifting from a liberal bias to an "illiberal bias," that causes it to shut down all debate. 

Bennet, in a cover story for The Economist, where he is now a columnist and senior editor, also wrote in his 17,000-word cover story, "When The New York Times Lost Its Way," that as the newspaper's shift to the left grew more pronounced, he was urged to attach "trigger warnings" to opinion pieces written by conservatives. 

"The bias had become so pervasive, even in the senior editing ranks of the newsroom, as to be unconscious," Bennet said. "Trying to be helpful, one of the top newsroom editors urged me to start attaching trigger warnings to pieces by conservatives. It had not occurred to him how this would stigmatize certain colleagues, or what it would say to the world about the Times’s own bias."

Bennet started his career at The New York Times before leaving in 2006, after 15 years at the newspaper, to become the editor of The Atlantic. He returned to the Times in May 2016 as editorial page editor, where he remained until June 2020 before being pushed to resign over the Cotton article. 

In it, Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran, called for the use of troops to protect businesses and lives from Black Lives Matter rioters in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after being held under the knees of a white police officer. 

"It was a frenzied time in America, assaulted by COVID-19, scalded by police barbarism," Bennet recalled. "It was the kind of crisis in which journalism could fulfill its highest ambitions of helping readers understand the world, in order to fix it, and in the Times’s Opinion section, which I oversaw, we were pursuing our role of presenting debate from all sides."

But Cotton's argument led not only to complaints from outside the newspaper but inside as well, with Times reporters using social media to attack the decision to publish the piece, said Bennet. 

"The next day the Times’s union — its unit of the NewsGuild-CWA — would issue a statement calling the op-ed 'a clear threat to the health and safety of the journalists we represent'," he said.

Bennet blamed publisher A.G. Sulzberger for buckling under pressure from angry staffers and pushing him out, reports the New York Post on Bennet's article.

Sulzberger, in a statement to the Post, said that he and Bennet have "always agreed on the importance of independent journalism, the challenges it faces in today’s more polarized world, and the mission of The Times to pursue independence even when the path of less resistance might be to give into partisan passions."

But, he said, "I could not disagree more strongly with the false narrative he has constructed about The Times."

Bennet said that he and then Times Editor-in-Chief Dean Baquet believed that Times readers should hear Cotton’s views and that Sulzberger "understood" why the piece was published.

As the anger grew over the Cotton article, Baquet and Sulzberger also changed their minds, Bennet wrote.

He said Sulzberger pressured him into posting an "editor's note" about what was wrong with Cotton's opinion piece, but that when that note was published, it ended up going "far further in repudiating the piece than I anticipated, saying it should never have been published at all."

Bennet said the day after the note was published, Sulzberger called him at home, "and with an icy anger that still puzzles and saddens me," told him to resign. 

He recalled his earlier days as a reporter, and said that journalists now at the Times "may know a lot about television, or real estate, or how to edit audio files ... many Times staff have little idea how closed their world has become, or how far they are from fulfilling their compact with readers to show the world 'without fear or favor,'" he wrote.

Bennet also criticized the Times' coverage of former President Donald Trump, including that it did not take his 2016 campaign seriously and was "slow to break it to its reader that there was less to Trump’s ties to Russia than they were hoping, and more to Hunter Biden’s laptop, that Trump might be right that COVID came from a Chinese lab."

He concluded his article by suggesting the Times could "learn something" from a rival publication, The Wall Street Journal.

"It has maintained a stricter separation between its news and opinion journalism, including its cultural criticism, and that has protected the integrity of its work," Bennet said.

Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics. 

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet, who was forced to resign in 2020 after the publication of an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is accusing the newspaper of shifting from a liberal bias to an "illiberal bias," that causes it to shut down all...
james bennet, new york times, bias, illiberal
Friday, 15 December 2023 09:19 AM
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