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Freedom of Speech

New York Times: Controversial commentary bears consequences

June 8, 2020

A guest commentary on the anti-racism protests in the USA caused an uproar and has now become James Bennet's undoing: the head of the opinion page of the New York Times has left the newspaper.

USA New York - New York Times Gebäude Pulitzer Preis
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Schuler

In the guest commentary entitled "Send in The Troops," Republican Senator Tom Cotton called for the military to be used against protesters in the United States. He wrote: "Above all, what will restore order on our streets is an overwhelming show of force to drive out, arrest and ultimately deter lawbreakers." 

Many readers demanded the newspaper, considered to be left-wing liberal, to explain why Cotton's contribution was published. Employees of the publishing house also expressed their indignation at Cotton's commentary appearing in the paper. Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote on Twitter: "As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we published this."

James Bennet | The New York Times
James Bennet, former New York Times head of opinionImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/File/L. Neumeister

Against NYT standards

On Thursday, the New York Times explained that a "hasty editorial process" led to the publication of the opinion piece and that the "Send in The Troops" text did not meet the newspaper's standards. James Bennet, head of the NYT opinion page, bore the consequences and quit his job with immediate effect. Bennet said he had not read the guest commentary before its publication. 

Publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger declared that the paper's board was "grateful" to Bennet for his achievements since May 2016. 

For almost two weeks, protests against police violence and racism have been taking place in many US cities. The protests were triggered by the death of the African-American George Floyd during a brutal police operation in Minneapolis at the end of May. Some of the protests escalated with riots and looting.