Imbroglio Over Tom Cotton's Op-Ed For 'NYT' Should Spur Healthy Debate

  • by June 8, 2020
The New York Times last week caved to critics of an opinion column the newspaper published by Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-Arkansas) and pledged to cut the number of op-eds that appear in its pages in the future.

If reducing the workload for its op-ed team improves fact-checking and other parts of its editorial review, that's great. However, the cuts shouldn't be used as a flimsy excuse for censorship advocated by the newspaper's critics. And yet the NYT debased itself by kowtowing to them. 

The controversy followed Cotton's op-ed titled "Send in the Troops" that argued the federal government should send in the military to quell rioting and restore public order with "an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers." Unfortunately, many peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd have deteriorated into violence and looting, undermining pleas to end racism and police brutality.



Cotton's op-ed appeared on June 3 — after eight days of rioting ripped apart dozens of communities that will suffer the aftereffects for months and years to come. The NYT's editorial page can be forgiven for publishing the opinion of a lawmaker who is under public pressure to do something — anything — about an unabated crime wave.

News flash to NYT reporters who aren't aware of anything on the other side of the Hudson River: The military occupation of U.S. cities is already here. Governors in almost a dozen states, including progressive bastions like California and Minnesota, have activated the National Guard, a reserve force for the U.S. military, amid the unrest that's scaring a lot of people.

New York City doesn't have a National Guard presence, leading retailers like Saks Fifth Ave. to wrap its flagship store in razor wire and surround it with private security guards -- another sign of the city's failure.

Reaction to Cotton's op-ed included a "virtual walkout" among hundreds of NYT employees and accusations that the newspaper had jeopardized the lives of its black and brown employees. The NewsGuild of New York, a union representing many journalists at the newspaper, said Cotton's message "promotes hate," a vague characterization that doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Others chided Cotton for not providing evidence to support his claim that protest group Antifa was behind the violence. I agree that more evidence is needed to claim that Antifa was responsible, perhaps with an FBI investigation. The NYT's recent report on Antifa misinformation on social media is superficial and inadequate. 

James Bennet, the NYT's editorial page editor who later resigned, had defended the decision to publish Cotton's op-ed in a series of tweets that received 4,000 likes on Twitter.

“Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy," he said. "We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton's argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.”

Bennet subsequently admitted he hadn't read Cotton's essay before its was published, effectively scapegoating editor Adam Rubenstein for not properly vetting the piece, the NYT reported in its own pages. The story included some of Rubenstein's comments about the essay from the company's internal messaging system. Next time, he'll have to keep those thoughts to himself.

I agree with Bennet's earlier reasoning -- Cotton's ideas deserve greater scrutiny and debate that aren't possible at the NYT. It's not to say I agree with Cotton, although I have lived in cities occupied by the National Guard, such as Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots and New York after 9/11. The military presence was welcome among terrified people, and fortunately was short-lived.

I'm more dismayed that in the ongoing debate between freedom and security, freedom keeps losing, including freedom of the press.

NYT management threw Bennet under the bus and sandbagged Cotton with a statement saying his op-ed "did not meet our standards" amid a "rushed editorial process." It's not clear what those supposed standards are, nor why anyone should write for the NYT's op-ed page ever again. Diverse thought isn't welcome there.

3 comments about "Imbroglio Over Tom Cotton's Op-Ed For 'NYT' Should Spur Healthy Debate".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, June 8, 2020 at 9:54 a.m.

    The Times, of which I'm a subscriber, blew it with this one, bowing to the twitter crowd and the millenial left's tendency to suppress speech it doesn't like (a mirror image of the hard or alt right, btw). While I totally disagree with Cotton's op-ed, it fulfills the function of what an op-ed is supposed to be as have NYT op-ed pieces by Taliban sympathizers and other extremists. What a shame! And shame on the Times as well.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 8, 2020 at 10:16 a.m.

    Cotton is someone who should be relegated to pick it for the next few years and live in one of those trailers on the income it provides instead of being a law maker. However, unless we know the specifics of what shouldn't be, we have to hear it and from whom including Cotton. Considering if this is one article among the rest, then this millenial push back is not using its talent where it is needed. They can be replaced with other very talented people who know how to answer Cotton's fascist type of opinions of which he has many, not just this one. 

  3. PJ Lehrer from NYU, June 10, 2020 at 11:51 a.m.

    I'm all for a healthy debate -- but ignoring the consitution and promoting violence isn't healthy or right...

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