NY Times Adds Editors’ Note to Tom Cotton Op-Ed After Internal Uproar: ‘Should Not Have Been Published’
The New York Times has come under a great deal of scrutiny this week over its handling of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton that alarmed many Times employees enough to publicly speak out and criticize the paper.
To review: Cotton’s “Send in the Troops” op-ed on the protests and riots going on around the country after the killing of George Floyd resulted in many at the Times tweeting messages like “running this op-ed has put black people, including black @nytimes staff, in danger.”
Subsequent statements from the Times only garnered further criticism, and the paper finally said Thursday, “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 reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish.”
On Friday night, the paper added a lengthy editors’ note to the op-ed saying it “should not have been published.”
“The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton — however objectionable people may find them — represent a newsworthy part of the current debate,” the note reads. “But given the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny. Instead, the editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved.”
It also calls the tone “needlessly harsh” while acknowledging the headline (“written by The Times, not Senator Cotton”) was too “incendiary.”
You can read the full editors’ note here:
After publication, this essay met strong criticism from many readers (and many Times colleagues), prompting editors to review the piece and the editing process. Based on that review, we have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.
The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton — however objectionable people may find them — represent a newsworthy part of the current debate. But given the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny. Instead, the editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved. While Senator Cotton and his staff cooperated fully in our editing process, the Op-Ed should have been subject to further substantial revisions — as is frequently the case with such essays — or rejected.
For example, the published piece presents as facts assertions about the role of “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa”; in fact, those allegations have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned. Editors should have sought further corroboration of those assertions, or removed them from the piece. The assertion that police officers “bore the brunt” of the violence is an overstatement that should have been challenged. The essay also includes a reference to a “constitutional duty” that was intended as a paraphrase; it should not have been rendered as a quotation.
Beyond those factual questions, the tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate. Editors should have offered suggestions to address those problems. The headline — which was written by The Times, not Senator Cotton — was incendiary and should not have been used.
Finally, we failed to offer appropriate additional context — either in the text or the presentation — that could have helped readers place Senator Cotton’s views within a larger framework of debate.
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