The offending piece is a comment by Arkansas’ far-right Senator, Tom Cotton, who appeared in the online version of the Times on the evening of last Wednesday and on that printed on the following day with the title of “Send in the Troops”. The politician near the White House left little doubt about his vision of the protests triggered by the assassination of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Cotton urged an army intervention to “disperse, arrest and, ultimately, discourage those who violate the law” through an “overwhelming show of force”. Echoing the positions expressed by Trump, the Arkansas senator called for the application of the so-called “Insurrection Act” of 1807 to order the deployment on US soil of military personnel serving on public order tasks, even in the absence of an explicit request from part of the governors of the states affected by the unrest.
Cotton’s piece of opinion was based on a consideration that does not correspond to the reality on the ground, namely that most of the protesters would be violent rioters. Even by the same admission of the official American media, the protests that are affecting hundreds of American cities are taking place in a largely peaceful manner and it is rather the police that often resort to violent methods. In his “op-ed” on Timesinstead, the Trumpian senator attributed the violence to “left-wing radicals”, such as the “antifa” group, carried out for certain “anarchist” objectives.
Even without going into the merits of Tom Cotton’s claims, which would involve considerations such as the largely informal character of “antifa” and the probable infiltration of the police and intelligence, the ultra-authoritarian tirade of the Republican senator in the midst of the House’s maneuvers Bianca, who let a glimpse of a shoulder to the US Constitution, caused a fuss first of all within the editorial staff of the New York Times. What immediately appeared as a revolt, fueled by readers and subscribers, against the decision to publish a comment more suitable for a network such as FoxNews, if not to neo-fascist niche publications, culminated on Sunday in the dismissal of the person in charge of the opinion page of the Times, James Bennet.
The decision was communicated to the editorial staff of the New York newspaper by its publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, who framed the provision in a plan to reorganize the most crucial of the sections of the most influential American newspaper. Sulzberger, above all, has tried to confuse the waters about the management of an affair that has made perfectly clear the trends of the decision-making bodies of what should in theory be a bulwark of the progressive overseas press.
From the editorial staff of the Times A letter of protest immediately started, which collected 800 signatures, while on Thursday dozens of journalists did not show up for work and many others denounced the decisions of their superiors on social media, despite the ban on publicly commenting on the pieces of opinion. Bennet and Sulzberger had first defended the publication of Senator Cotton’s article, because they said it would be necessary to give space to opinions of any kind.
However, it later emerged that Bennet had not even read the article, so that the editor of the Times he was forced to intervene again to throw water on the fire. Sulzberger then brought up a “hasty and inadequate editorial process” that would end up tolerating “inaccuracies” and “unnecessarily harsh tones” by the far-right senator. The my fault he had also included the publication in a hurry on Friday of an article by the “columnist” Michelle Goldberg who called the intervention of Cotton “fascist” and openly criticized the choice of the leaders of the newspaper.
The attempt of the editorial leadership of the Times to minimize their responsibilities and to lead the episode to neglect and poor organization of the page supervised by James Bennet, in any case, it failed. The top of the newspaper were not innocent bystanders, as various facts demonstrate. First, the title that unequivocally anticipated the content of the piece was chosen by Times and not by the author. Even worse, it was not the latter who asked the “liberal” newspaper to have a space on the opinion page, but it is the editorial direction of the Times to have invited the Senator of Arkansas to write about the ongoing protests.
The claim of Bennet and his publisher not to have read the piece in advance, even if this should correspond to reality, also does not justify what happened. Tom Cotton, who entered the Washington Senate in 2015, is well known as one of the most reactionary Republican politicians in the United States. As anticipated, the senator is a staunch supporter of President Trump and, if ever necessary, before writing the article for the Times he had unequivocally clarified his positions on demonstrations against police brutality. Like Trump, Cotton had called for military repression of protests, equating demonstrators with terrorists and enemies of America.
Therefore, when James Bennet offered Cotton a space on the page he directed, the expectations could not have been different. This reality shows once again how at the top of the New York Times there is very little democratic and progressive. This newspaper has long since become and for the most part the spokesman for certain circles of the United States apparatus of power and it is legitimate to hypothesize that the presence of an invocation of military repression against the American population on its pages could represent an opening message to the White House in the event of extreme decisions, such as recourse to martial law or any other coup d’etat in an authoritarian sense.
The fact that an “op-ed” of this mold appeared on the New York Times it is therefore not a simple invitation to discuss and exchange ideas. The Times and, in particular, the opinion page actually dictates the orientations of the political debate in the United States, influencing the point of view of a huge portion of the media and, consequently, the content of what ends up reading and watching on TV dozens of millions of Americans. The clearance of a piece of fascist propaganda by the “liberal” newspaper par excellence therefore speaks volumes about the inclinations and objectives of the US ruling class in this crisis.
On the other hand, the newly fired James Bennet boasts a curriculum and family ties that make him perfectly suited to this reality. At the same time, the fact that his influence did not prevent him from a summary removal testifies to the enormous level of anger and repulsion that exploded between the editorial staff and the readers not only for Senator Cotton’s article, but more generally for the drift of the Times. Under the Bennet management, the editorial page has in fact hosted a growing number of conservative commentators and has repeatedly ended up in the center of harsh criticism, for example after the publication of articles with clear racist and anti-Semitic references.
The now former director of the opinion page of the Times he is the brother of the Democratic Senator of Colorado, Michael Bennet, a member, like Tom Cotton himself, of the Intelligence Committee of the upper house of Congress. His father is the late Douglas Bennet, a long-time state department official and, during the Carter presidency, for three years at the helm of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an organization known to be used by the CIA as a cover to finance coups. and destabilization operations abroad.