NYT editorial page director resigns after Tom Cotton op-ed controversy

New York Times editorial page director James Bennet resigned Sunday, the newspaper announced, following the newspaper’s decision to publish a controversial op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) that sparked backlash. 

The Times said Bennet’s resignation is effective immediately. He had been in the position since May 2016. 

Jim Dao, the deputy editorial page editor, is stepping off the masthead and will be reassigned to the newsroom, the Times said. 

Katie Kingsbury, who joined the Times in 2017, will be named acting editorial page editor through the November election. 

“The journalism of Times Opinion has never mattered more than in this time of crisis at home and around the world, and I’ve been honored to be part of it,” Bennet said in a statement. “I’m so proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to focus attention on injustice and threats to freedom and to enrich debate about the right path forward by bringing new voices and ideas to Times readers.”

The newspaper’s announcement did not mention the controversy over the Cotton op-ed, titled “Send in the Troops.” But Bennet’s resignation comes after the publication of the op-ed, which called for the president to invoke the Insurrection Act in order to deploy the military to quell nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, sparked an internal revolt at the newspaper. 

On Thursday, The New York Times said in a statement that the senator’s op-ed “did not meet our standards” and that the newspaper is planning to “examine both short term and long term changes,” including expanding its fact-checking operation and reducing the number of op-eds it publishes. 

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger told staff in an email Sunday that he and Bennet agreed “it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change,” according to a copy of the email tweeted by Times media reporter Marc Tracy.

He added that the Times will “begin to reinvent the Op-Ed format so that readers understand why we choose to elevate the argument and where it fits in the national debate.”

“None of these changes mark a retreat from The Times’s responsibility to help people understand a range of voices across the breadth of public debate. That role is as important as it’s ever been,” Sulzberger wrote.

Numerous Times staffers criticized the newspaper’s decision to publish the op-ed, arguing such sentiments endangered the lives of black journalists.

“Supporting my colleagues, and particularly the black ones. if electeds want to make provocative arguments let them withstand the questions and context of a news story, not unvarnished and unchecked,” Times reporter Astead Herndon, one of many Times staffers who criticized the decision, tweeted.

Washington Post global opinions editor Karen Attiah also said the Times’s decision put black journalists in danger.

“The New York Times put black people and black journalists in danger with that Tom Cotton piece,” she tweeted. “This is not okay.”

In response to the decision, Times staff editor and opinion writer Bari Weiss said the “civil war” at the newspaper “between the (mostly young) wokes the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country.”

“Here’s one way to think about what’s at stake: The New York Times motto is ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’ One group emphasizes the word ‘all.’ The other, the word ‘fit,’” Weiss said in a series of tweets.

“I agree with our critics that it’s a dodge to say ‘we want a totally open marketplace of ideas!’ There are limits. Obviously. The question is: does his view fall outside those limits? Maybe the answer is yes,” she added. “If the answer is yes, it means that the view of more than half of Americans are unacceptable. And perhaps they are.”

Bennet’s resignation comes after the executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer reportedly stepped down Saturday after a controversial headline about the destruction of buildings amid the protests titled “Buildings Matter, Too,” a riff on the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

The Inquirer’s publisher, Lisa Hughes, said in a memo to staff on Saturday that the editor, Stan Wischnowski, would formally resign from his post on June 12, according to reports.

Tags James Bennet New York Times NYT op-ed The New York Times Tom Cotton

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