This week marks the one year anniversary of one of the low points in the history of modern American journalism. On the week of June 6, 2020, the New York Times coerced an opinion editor and apologized for publishing the editorial by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) Calling for the use of troops to restore order in Washington days later of rioting in the White House. While Congress would “call in troops” six months later to quell the January 6 riots in the Capitol, reporters and columnists for the New York Times described the column as historically imprecise and politically inciting. Reporters insisted that Cotton even endangered them by suggesting the use of troops, and insisted that the newspaper should not show people advocating political violence. A year later, the New York Times published a column by a scientist who had previously stated that there was nothing wrong with murdering conservatives and Republicans.
As I noted at the time of the Cotton column, I disagree with the basis or wisdom of invoking the Insurrection Act to combat the riots in Washington. (The law was not used to use the National Guard to end the Capitol insurrection). However, I also found the column to be historically correct. Critics have never explained what was historically wrong (or out of bounds for interpretation) in the column. In addition, writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others said such columns put black reporters at risk and condemned Cotton’s point of view.
In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and promised not only an investigation into how such a conflicting opinion could be found on its pages, but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future. In a statement that will be made in journalistic disgrace, the newspaper announced:
“We studied the piece and the process up to publication. This review made it clear that a hasty editorial process resulted in the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards. Because of this, we plan to examine both short-term and long-term changes, including expanding our fact-checking and reducing the number of comments we publish. “
One of the authors condemning the decision to publish Cotton was New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones applauded the Times’ decision to apologize for publishing such a conflicting point of view and condemned those who grappled with what she called “equality, both sides.” Opinion editor James Bennet was thrown out to plead with his apologies. However, that was not enough. He was later forced to resign for publishing a column advocating an option previously used with rioting in history.
Not long after Bennet was thrown under the bus, Hannah-Jones herself tweeted a bizarre anti-police conspiracy theory that injuries and destruction from fireworks were not the fault of protesters, but actually part of a strange police conspiracy. She later deleted the tweet, but there was no shouting about accuracy or “both trivialities”.
There were also no such calls for a re-examination of the standards when Hannah-Jones’ famous “1619 Project” (which won her a Pulitzer Prize) had fundamental historical flaws and researchers claimed the New York Times identified them the error is ignored. Hanna-Jones will soon teach journalism at the University of North Carolina.
Bennet’s dismissal had its intended effect. Writers and columnists with opposing or critical views were soon ousted by newspapers across the country, including the New York Times.
Cotton and Conservatives are also rarely seen on the New York Times pages unless they criticize the party or Trump. The authors have condemned the “two-sidedism” of allowing conservative positions in the paper and insisted that Cotton and others must be banned as they encourage potential violent actions against demonstrators. Still, over the past year, the newspaper has published people with anti-free speech and violent views. While the New York Times stands by its statement that Cotton should never have been published, it had no problem publishing “Beijing’s Executor” in Hong Kong when Regina Ip mocked freedom demonstrators who were beaten and arrested by the government.
In fact, shortly before the anniversary of the Cotton Controversy, the New York Times published a column by Professor Erik Loomis of the University of Rhode Island, who defended the murder of a Conservative protester, and said he saw “nothing wrong with” such violence. (Loomis has also been ridiculed for denouncing statistics, science, and technology as inherently racist).
Loomis’ article on “Why Amazon Workers Never Had a Chance” did not include his violent philosophy. It was a worthy and interesting column to publish in my opinion. So did Cotton’s column. However, NYT reporters and columnists have insisted that numbers like Cotton shouldn’t be published for supporting violence against protesters. Still, they have no obvious problem with posting someone who has stated that there is nothing wrong with actually killing conservatives. Even with someone who is jointly responsible for the systemic and violent suppression of democracy demonstrators, the paper has no problem.
As I said about Regina Ip’s publication, I would like to see all of these authors published. While I find some of their views wrong or even grotesque, newspapers should be forums where readers are exposed to different and even worrying points of view. Self-censorship does not erase such views. It just whets the appetite to control and censor opposing views.
Against experience, I had hoped that the media, and especially the New York Times, would be self-critical of their actions on the one-year anniversary of the Cotton controversy. Such a review would have allowed a critical look at many of the week’s assumptions. For example, virtually every news agency in the country ran reports of the clearance of Lafayette Park this week. Indeed, many justified the Cotton action with reference to the Lafayette operation, which used unnecessary force. However, the media reported as a fact that Attorney General Bill Barr cleared the park to allow Trump’s much maligned photo op outside St. John’s Church. That allegation was quickly refuted and there is now ample evidence that the clearance operation was ordered ahead of the plans for the photo op. It was ordered due to the high levels of violence and destruction on the weekends of the protests around the White House. Yet news organizations have never corrected their reporting. In fact, legal experts like University of Texas professor and CNN staffer Steve Vladeck continue to claim that Barr ordered federal officials to “forcibly evict protesters in Lafayette Park in order to get a photo opportunity for Trump.”
Many media also praised DC Mayor Muriel Bowser for her attitude at the time. She received national recognition for painting “Black Lives Matter” on the street next to the park and renaming it “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. Bowser condemned the violence used by the Trump administration, including the use of tear gas. It now turns out (as revealed in court records last week) that the district used tear gas a block away to enforce Bowser’s curfew. The debate over the federal operation’s refusal to use tear gas raged for a year (the federal government insists it used pepperballs, which has basically the same effect on protesters). However, later that year, neither Bowser nor her government came forward to say that the DC 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 perfectly reasonable and that the BLM lawsuit should be dismissed.
In the meantime, the Biden administration agrees that the BLM case should be completely dismissed. The Justice Department (DOJ) claims that “the security of the president is a primary government concern that weighs heavily on the balance sheet of the Fourth Amendment.” DOJ attorney John Martin added that “Federal officials are not violating the rights of the First Amendment by moving protesters a few blocks, even if the protesters are mostly peaceful”.
The media has virtually blacked out coverage of Bowser’s change of position, the addition of the district, or the position of the Biden administration. Instead, over the past year, the media has plunged headlong into advocacy journalism. This also means that scientists reject the concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open lobbying. Columbia Journalism Dean and New York writer Steve Coll condemned that freedom of expression was given “arms” in the First Amendment to protect against disinformation.
Unsurprisingly, media confidence has continued to decline this year. A survey by global communications company Edelman (via Axios) found that only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media. This reflects Gallup polls, which show even lower levels of trust. We are living in a new age of yellow journalism at a time when real journalism was never needed.
Here, too, it would be advisable to read the words of Louis Brandeis in his unanimous opinion in Whitney v. Note California (1927) when he stated, “When there is time to expose falsehood and fallacies through discussion, in order to avert evil through process”. of education, the means that must be used is more speech, not enforced silence. “
So what it’s worth, happy anniversary to the staff and writers of the New York Times.