Count us among those who are extremely disappointed to see James Bennet resign from his post as editorial page editor of The New York Times.
Bennet resigned Sunday after doing something that we do often here on The Mercury’s Opinion page: He published an opinion that he didn’t agree with.
We call that balance. We call it informing readers and letting them decide where they stand among conflicting points of view. If The Mercury — or any newspaper — only published views its editorial board agreed with, it would cease to be a community forum where opinions are expected to survive the marketplace of ideas.
The piece that led to Bennet’s resignation was by Tom Cotton, a U.S. senator from Arkansas, a leader within the national GOP and someone who has President Trump’s ear.
On June 3, the Times published Cotton’s piece under the headline, “Send in the troops,” which made the case for stamping out violent protests over the death of George Floyd by mobilizing federal military personnel.
As Bennet pointed out in his defense of printing the op-ed, Cotton’s position is 180 degrees at odds with the Times’s editorial board, “which has criticized the president’s use of federal forces in Washington, D.C., fiercely defended the protesters as patriots, and condemned police brutality” and called for reforms.
“Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” Bennet wrote in a thread on Twitter. “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.”
We couldn’t agree more. Allowing Cotton’s views to be published also allowed for them to be rebuked, which they were, most notably by Times staff.
Times employees organized a protest on social media with the message that publishing the op-ed put black staff members in danger.
Shortly after, the Times released a statement saying that Cotton’s op-ed failed to meet company standards and that editorial-board processes would be changed as a result. The website version of Cotton’s op-ed now includes a five-paragraph explanation of how it shouldn’t have been published in its current form.
Bennet didn’t personally read the op-ed before publication, according to a Times follow-up story. But whether there were breakdowns in the editing process shouldn’t keep the Times from its fundamental mission to ventilate a wide range of opinions.
Let’s hope that tightening its “editorial board processes” isn’t double-speak for “avoiding opinions that don’t conform to the majority of our readers.”