That cathartic moment seems to have escaped the editors of the New York Times in denouncing a cancel culture that they helped spread in the media. Many of us were both bemused and bothered by the editorial in the New York Times opposing cancel culture. The Times has not been some dedicated antagonist of this culture but rather one of its most unabashed ambassadors. Indeed, one of the most outrageous acts of cancellation by the media was the treatment of Sen. Tom Cotton over his 2020 Times editorial.
Given its history, the most striking aspect of the Times editorial was the utter lack of self-awareness. The editors wrote:
“In the course of their fight for tolerance, many progressives have become intolerant of those who disagree with them or express other opinions, and take on a kind of self-righteousness and censoriousness that the right long displayed and the left long abhorred.”
As with the recent admission of the Times that the Hunter Biden laptop and emails are authentic, there was no effort to address its own leading role in spreading viewpoint intolerance and censorship.
The treatment of the Cotton column shocked many of us. It was one of the lowest points in the history of modern American journalism. During the week of June 6, 2020, the Times forced out an opinion editor and apologized for publishing Cotton’s column 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 denounced the column as historically inaccurate and politically inciteful. The column was in fact historically accurate, even if you disagreed with the underlying proposal (as I did).
Reporters insisted that Cotton was endangering them by suggesting the use of troops and insisted that the newspaper should not feature people who advocate political violence. Writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others also said that such columns put black reporters in danger and condemned publishing Cotton’s viewpoint.
Critics never explained what was historically false (or outside the range of permissible interpretation) in the column.
In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and not only promised an investigation into how such an opposing view could find itself on its pages but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future:
“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. (Notably, Hannah-Jones herself later 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. There was no hue and cry over accuracy).
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.
What was particularly galling was the open hypocrisy of the editors as they continued to publish authors with violent viewpoints and anti-free speech agendas.
For example, the newspaper 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.
Likewise, 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).
In truth, there is a reason to publish all of these authors as part of a diverse set of viewpoints in a newspaper. The problem is that the Times only moved against one: Sen. Cotton.
When confronted by the very mob described in the recent editorial, the Times let them in and rushed to join them in cleansing its pages and editorial staff.
Everyone loves a redemptive sinner and I would be the first to applaud the New York Times in rescinding its earlier position on the Cotton editorial. However, absent that recognition, the Times is just another member of the mob haunted by its own lack of courage.
If the Times has decided to truly oppose the anti-free speech movement, it can start with an apology to Senator Tom Cotton.