Commentary

James Bennet Resurfaces At 'Politico' Months After 'NYT' Departure

Former New York Times Opinion editor James Bennet resurfaced last week as a guest writer at Politico, about seven months after the newspaper fired him. He returned to the commentariat as he had left -- during a public debate over how to respond to civic unrest.
"You may have last seen me getting bounced out of The New York Times," Bennet said in the Politico newsletter. He recounted that his fireable offense was running an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who argued that the U.S. military should quell rioting that coincided with some of last year's protest marches.
The op-ed spurred outrage among NYT staffers, hundreds of whom staged a "virtual walkout" amid accusations 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." Amid the controversy, Bennet submitted his resignation.
His return in Politico last week came amid debates over how to respond to another violent flare-up: the Capitol Hill riot. President Trump incited his supporters to march on the legislative branch to demand that Congress and Vice President Mike Pence reject electors and deny an Electoral College victory to Joe Biden. Some of the mob turned violent, allegedly harming a Capital Police officer who later died from his injuries.
Bennet contrasted the periods of unrest, recalling his work as an editor at the NYT and the decision to publish Cotton's op-ed.
“As our editorials made clear, I disagreed with Cotton then (that’s one reason I supported running the piece)," he wrote last week. "And so I hope it doesn’t make me a hypocrite now to say that I wish the military had been out in force Wednesday to stop the rioting and protect what Biden called the ‘citadel of liberty.’”

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I didn't agree with the NYT's decision to fire Bennet — and would have liked to see more debate about Cotton's opinion. Let people read the ideas and make up their own minds.  I disagreed with Cotton, because I don't like the idea of deploying active-duty troops against American citizens, which is legally permissible under the Insurrection Act of 1807.
The military is trained for combat, and its presence on American streets could feed an escalating cycle of violence in clashes with protestors. The National Guard, a military force that President George W. Bush deployed in Los Angeles in 1992 to stop the violence after the Rodney King verdict, is better equipped to support police. Last summer, the National Guard helped to restore order in Minneapolis, where protests turned violent.
However, Bennet is a hypocrite in wishing the military had been out in force on Capitol Hill. Their presence would have increased the likelihood of more people getting shot to death. It also would fuel criticism that U.S. democracy is illegitimate and oppressive. It's hypocritical for anyone who supports defunding the police to now beg law enforcement to take action against people who stormed the Capitol. You can't have it both ways.

That said, I'm glad that Bennet is back in the public fray after laying low since leaving the NYT.


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