The Cotton Controversy One Year Later: The Dark Anniversary of the Surrender of the New York Times

This week is the one-year anniversary of one of the lowest points in the history of modern American journalism. During the week of June 6, 2020, the New York Times forced out an opinion editor and apologized for publishing the editorial of Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) calling for the use of the troops to restore order in Washington after days of rioting around the White House.  While Congress would “call in the troops” six months later to quell the rioting at the Capitol on January 6th, New York Times reporters and columnists called the column historically inaccurate and politically inciteful. Reporters insisted that Cotton was even endangering them by suggesting the use of troops and insisted that the newspaper cannot feature people who advocate political violence. One year later, the New York Times published a column by an academic who has previously declared that there is nothing wrong with murdering conservatives and Republicans.

As I observed at the time of the Cotton column, I disagree with the basis or wisdom of invoking to the Insurrection Act to address the rioting in Washington.  (The Act was not invoked to deploy national guard to end the Capitol riot). However, I also noted that the column was historically accurate. Critics never explained what was historically false (or outside the range of permissible interpretation) in the column. Moreover, writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others said that such columns put black reporters in danger and condemned publishing Cotton’s viewpoint.

In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and not only promised an investigation in how such an opposing view could find itself on its pages but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future.  In a statement that will go done in journalistic infamy, the newspaper announced:

“We’ve examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication. 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 reduction the number of op-eds we publish.”

One of the writers who condemned the decision to publish Cotton was New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.  Hannah-Jones applauded the decision of the Times to apologize for publishing such an opposing viewpoint and denounced those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism. Opinion editor James Bennet reportedly made an apology to the staff.  That however was not enough. He was later compelled to resign for publishing a column that advocates an option used previously in history with rioting.

Notably, not long after Bennet was thrown under the bus, Hannah-Jones herself tweeted out a bizarre anti-police conspiracy theory that injuries and destruction caused by fireworks was not the fault of protesters but actually part of a weird police conspiracy. She later deleted the tweet but there was no hue and cry over accuracy or “both sideisms.”

Nor was there such calls for reexamining standards when Hannah-Jones’ famous “1619 project” (which earned her a Pulitzer Prize) was found to have fundamental historical flaws and researchers claimed the New York Times ignored them in raising the errors.  Hanna-Jones will soon be teaching journalism at the University of North Carolina.

The sacking of Bennet had its intended effect. Writers and columnists with opposing or critical views were soon forced off newspapers around the country, including at the New York Times.

Cotton and conservatives are also rarely seen on the pages of the New York Times unless it is to criticize the party or Trump. The writers have condemned the “both sideism” of allowing conservative viewpoints in the newspaper and insisted that Cotton and others must be banned as favoring potential violent actions against protesters. Yet, the newspaper has published people with anti-free speech and violent viewpoints in the last year. While the New York Times stands by its declaration that Cotton should never have been published, it had no problem in publishing “Beijing’s enforcer” in Hong Kong as Regina Ip mocked freedom protesters who were being beaten and arrested by the government.

Indeed, just before the anniversary of the Cotton controversy, the New York Times published a column by University of Rhode Island professor  Erik Loomis, who defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.  (Loomis has also been ridiculed for denouncing statistics, science, and technology as inherently racist).

Loomis’ article on “Why The Amazon Workers Never Stood A Chance” did not include his violent philosophy. It was in my view a worthy and interesting column for publication. So was Cotton’s column. However, NYT reporters and columnists have insisted that figures like Cotton should not be published because they have supported violence against protesters.  Yet, they have no apparent problem in publishing someone who has declared that there is nothing wrong with actually murdering conservatives.  The paper also has no problem with someone who is partially responsible for the systemic and violent suppression of democracy protesters.

As I said on the publication of Regina Ip, I would like to see all of these writers published. Even if I find some of their views wrong or even grotesque, newspapers should be forums where readers are exposed to different and even unsettling viewpoints. Self-censoring does not extinguish such views. It only fuels an appetite to control and censor opposing views.

I was hoping against experience that the media, and particularly the New York Times, would run a self-critique of its actions on the one-year anniversary of the Cotton controversy. Such a review would have allowed for a critical look at many of the assumptions of that week. For example, virtually every news outlet in the country ran stories that week on the clearing of Lafayette Park. Indeed, many justified the Cotton action in light of the Lafayette operation, which used an unnecessary level of force.  However, the media reported, as a fact, that Attorney General Bill Barr cleared the park to allow for Trump’s much-maligned photo op in front of St. John’s church.  That allegation was quickly refuted and there is now ample evidence that the clearing operation was ordered before any plans for the photo op. It was ordered due to the high level of violence and destruction over the weekend protests around the White House. Yet, news organizations have never corrected their reporting.  Indeed, legal experts like University of Texas professor and CNN contributor Steve Vladeck continue to claim that Barr ordered federal officers “to forcibly clear protestors in Lafayette Park to achieve a photo op for Trump.”

Likewise, much of the media lionized D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for her stance at the time. She received national acclaim for painting “Black Lives Matter” on the street next to the park and renaming it “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” Bowser denounced the force used by the Trump administration, including the use of tear gas. It now turns out (as revealed last week in court filings) that the District used tear gas a block away to enforce Bowser’s curfew. The debate over the denial of using tear gas by the federal operation raged for a year (the federal government insists that it used pepper balls, which has basically the same effect on protesters). Yet, over that year,, neither Bowser nor her government stepped forward to say that D.C.’s Metropolitan Police used tear gas in their operations a block or so from Lafayette Park. The District is now arguing that the use of tear gas was entirely reasonable and the BLM lawsuit should be dismissed.

In the meantime, the Biden administration agrees that the BLM case should be dismissed entirely. The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains that “Presidential security is a paramount government interest that weighs heavily in the Fourth Amendment balance.” The DOJ’s counsel, John Martin, added that “federal officers do not violate First Amendment rights by moving protesters a few blocks, even if the protesters are predominantly peaceful.”

The media has virtually blacked out coverage of the change in the position of Bowser, the admission of the District, or the position of the Biden Administration.  Over the last year, the media has instead plunged headlong into advocacy journalism. This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation.

Not surprisingly,  over this year, the faith in the media has continued to plummet. A survey by the global communications firm Edelman (via Axios) found only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media.  That mirrors polls by Gallup showing an even lower level of trust.  We are living in a new age of yellow journalism at a time when real journalism has never been more needed.

Once again, they would be wise to heed the words of Louis Brandeis in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927) when he declared “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

So, for what it is worth, happy anniversary to the staff and writers of The New York Times.



59 thoughts on “The Cotton Controversy One Year Later: The Dark Anniversary of the Surrender of the New York Times”

  1. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he will not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression and restore ethical controls on the presidency shattered by Donald Trump.’

  2. As usual Mr. Turley combines astute observations with anodyne conclusions. I commend all he does and read him religiously, but I think he ascribes more benign motives to these ” journalists” than what is true. A more accurate conclusion would be to state that the actions of the MSM led by the truly evil NYT are purposeful and designed to undermine American democracy. The NYT is particular has a very long history of covering up for totalitarian regimes (Stalin trials of 1937) and supporting foes of American policy. Up until say 15 years ago they did actually include some opposing views on the editorial page and showed some semblance of separating news from opinion. I was a long time subscriber but found the newspaper to becoming more odious by the month after Rosenthal left. Today the are nothing less than advocates for China and the likes of terrorist groups such as Hamas. Their coverage of the Gaza war could have been written by Goebbels. It is truly an evii instrument of propaganda that perniciously infiltrates all of our media and many of our educational institutions. The Washington Post is another propaganda instrument but with little of the influence of the NYT. Turkey needs to understand the true nature of these outlets

  3. I actually used to sell newspapers as part of a job years ago, and they came from all across the globe. I used to be delighted by the different viewpoints and the cultural exposure (what else are you going to do selling papers but read them?). What has happened to American media no longer requires any discussion: they are a propaganda arm of the Democratic party, period, and the modern Democratic party are pretty much the National Socialist Party of Germany circa the late 1930s. I stopped taking American mainstream media seriously long ago, and yet – this is new. It really is. We have never at any point in our history seen this in our country, not even during the Civil War. The dems are hell bent on an elitist globalization of the entire planet. That is all there is to it, and I know I need not educate the majority of posters on this site (minus the trolls, naturally) as to why that is likely the thing that will destroy the human race. Still not too late to stop it, but the clock is ticking.

  4. Cotton’s article did mention use of the National Guard, but it also specifically mentioned, ignored by the political bigots at the Times, that there is a difference between legitimate peaceful protest & rioting/looting. The Times seemed to have no concern for the criminal acts that Cotton wanted the Guard presence to minimize, acts which mostly harmed the very minorities the protests were supposedly to help.

  5. Did you know that in four years of a Trump presidency Vogue Magazine never once did a portrait of First Lady Melania Trump, or Second Lady Karen Pence?

    But now four months into a Biden presidency, Vogue has not only done portraits of Jill and Kamala, but even Kamala’s homely step daughter has gotten lucrative modeling contracts.

    And Vogue magazine sent famed photographer Annie Liebovitz to do actually do a portrait of Biden’s press secretary, Jen Pskai. The PRESS SECRETARY? Really Vogue? Pure Propaganda by Vogue.

    Glamorize Democrats from top to bottom plastering them all over your magazine covers while completely ignoring Republican administrations. Even with a former fashion model first lady in the White House, there was not one magazine cover with Melania.

  6. The MSM, particularly the New York Times, serve as the communications arm of the Democratic Party and as stenographers for the national security state. Democrats are using the MSM and Big Tech to censor information that might harm the Democratic Party or Democratic politicians; abolish 1st Amendment rights; interfere in U.S. elections; and advance Democrats’ agenda, which is Critical Race Theory and the criminalization of their political opposition.

    1. MSM is the communications arm of the DNC – Just the arm, and not attached to the hand on the steering wheel?

  7. “ New York Times published a column by an academic who has previously declared that there is nothing wrong with murdering conservatives and Republicans.”

    As usual Turley’s criticisms often involve putting statements out of context in order to falsely portray the intents of the people who he quotes. The quote’s context becomes more clear when you actually read the retire column instead of relying on one quote to mske his point.

    1. Svelaz: That is complete bull****. Physical attacks on conservatives and Republicans, including assassinations (Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson), attempted assassinations (U.S. Representative Steve Scalise by a virulently pro-Sanders supporter), vicious physical assaults (U.S. Senator Rand Paul by his Chomskyist now former neighbor) and threats of murder against political dissidents in leftwing controlled crapholes like Portland (Andy Ngo) have become accepted and acceptable to a large and probably increasing swath of the intolerant and totalitarian progressive Left. Only Democrat to be similarly victimized was Gabbie Giffords (which helped get her husband elected U.S. Senator) and that case had nothing to do with politics; a conservative federal judge was shot dead in the same incident, saving another person’s life.

  8. Turley sure loves to pile on the NYT for failing journalistic integrity. Waxing poetic about how journalism has lost its objectivity while being part of it at Fox News. Turley is being a hypocrite.

    He enables the very thing he despises about what he’s complaining with the NYT.

    He’s part of the problem and he cloaks himself under the blanket of freedom of speech.

    He’s also been proven to make false claims or dishonest claims. Just as many on his blog enable the very problems he writes about.

    1. This is just ONE example of a laughably biased ‘journalism’ tweet by The New York Times:

      ‘The New York Times

      Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he will not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression and restore ethical controls on the presidency shattered by Donald Trump.’

      This is not a ‘news headline’ this is pushing out pure propaganda for the Democrats.

    2. Svelaz, you are acting like a whacko. Turley provides commentary based on his legal skills. If you don’t like him why don’t you leave and permit the IQ of the blog to rise.


      1. Professor Turley is one of the most intellectually honest men of true scholarship. Period. I never miss his articles.

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