The New York Times Says Tom Cotton's Essay 'Fell Short of Our Standards.' What Standards?

The paper's editors are blind to the sins of writers whose conclusions they like.


The op-ed piece that ended now-former Editorial Page Editor James Bennet's career at The New York Times raised the hackles of black staff members who portrayed its central argument as a clear and imminent threat to their personal safety. They claimed the essay, in which Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) urged President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and call up active-duty troops in response to the urban unrest that followed George Floyd's deadly May 25 encounter with Minneapolis police, "puts our Black staff members in danger," because "invoking state violence disproportionately hurts Black and brown people."

Officially, however, the problem with Cotton's op-ed—the problem that led Bennet and the Times to part ways—was not the senator's message but the way he communicated it. "The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton—however objectionable people may find them—represent a newsworthy part of the current debate," says a five-paragraph apology that was added to the top of the piece two days after it appeared. Regrettably, however, "the essay fell short of our standards."

Regular readers of the New York Times op-ed page could be forgiven for wondering: What standards? Every sin Cotton supposedly committed—with the exception of the "basic arguments" that the Times still says were "a newsworthy part of the current debate"—has been a frequent feature of the paper's opinion pages for many years without generating such conspicuous internal controversy.

"The tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate," the Times says.

Unnecessary harshness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. When Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle danced on Joe Arpaio's political grave in a 2018 opinion piece, I'm sure she thought she was employing exactly the right amount of harshness. Cottle called the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff "a disgrace to law enforcement," "a sadist masquerading as a public servant," "the proto-Trumpian embodiment of fearmongering ethnonationalism," and "a true American villain" whose "24-year reign of terror" was "medieval in its brutality."

Although I tend to agree with Cottle's assessment, Arpaio, who sued her for libel, definitely did not, and neither did his supporters (including Trump, who used his very first pardon to clear Arapaio's criminal contempt conviction). And while I don't agree with Cotton's position on using soldiers to do police work, his harshness—condemning "bands of looters," "nihilist criminals," and the "feckless politicians" who "prefer to wring their hands while the country burns"—seems pretty mild by comparison. Cotton also decried "a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters," saying, "A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn't be confused with bands of miscreants."

While Cottle zeroed in on a deserving target, Times columnist Paul Krugman's harshness is less discriminating. "At this point," he declared in 2018, "good people can't be Republicans."

A writer's thoughtfulness, like his harshness, is contingent on the reader's perspective. Perhaps some left-leaning Times readers consider the abolition of capitalism a plausible solution to global warming, as proposed by a 2017 Times op-ed piece. But it is harder to understand how the routinely incoherent Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably demonstrates the intimate relationship between lazy writing and lazy thinking, meets the paper's standards. Here is Gene Healy on a 2011 Friedman column headlined "Are We Going to Roll Up Our Sleeves or Limp On?":

If you think about it, we can do both. But thinking through the images your words create is too pedestrian for the Maestro of Mixed Metaphors.

Here, Friedman argues that we need fiscal austerity and President Obama's $447 billion "jobs program," and closes the column by landing the rare double mixed metaphor with a triple axle and a twist of lemon.

If partisanship rules congressional budget fights, Friedman warns, "the rest of us will just sit here…hunkering down for a bad century." OK, no more limping—but what do we do with our sleeves?

Healy again on a Friedman column from the following year:

Friedman asks why, despite some "breathtaking chainsaw-nails-pounded-into-heads violence," post-Saddam Iraq didn't "explode outward like Syria"? Because: "For better and for worse, the United States in Iraq performed the geopolitical equivalent of falling on a grenade—that we triggered ourselves."

Barely leaving us time to ponder the "for better" upside of that move, what "chainsaw-nails" are and how something can "explode" any way but "outward," Friedman's off to the grenade races without his obstetrics textbook:

"[Nobody's] willing to fall on the Syrian grenade and midwife a new order. So the fire rages uncontrolled…and the Shiite-Sunni venom unleashed by the Syrian conflict" strains relations regionwide. Will venom-grenades give way to chainsaw-nails? It's a "breathtaking" performance that really makes your head pound.

More (so much more!) on Friedman from Matt Welch here.

The Times also says Cotton's essay included "allegations" about the role of left-wing activists in violent protests that "have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned."

What about the claim, frequently made in the Times opinion section, that arbitrarily defined "assault weapons" are uniquely suited to mass murder and have no legitimate uses? Surely those assertions qualify as allegations that "have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned."

The merits of banning so-called assault weapons may be too timely an issue for the Times to clearly see the erroneous factual assumptions underlying such laws. What about stuff that happened more than a century ago?

Katherine Stewart claimed in a 2017 Times op-ed piece that "attacks on 'government schools'…have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism." To support that claim, Stewart offered an 1887 quotation from "Presbyterian theologian A.A. Hodge."

But as Jesse Walker noted here, Hodge was not opposed to government schools, and he was not expressing anti-Catholic sentiment. Walker added that, contrary to Stewart's thesis that the rhetoric she decried can be traced to supporters of slavery and segregation, the abolitionist Gerrit Smith "used the phrase 'governmental schools' sneeringly," and "he did it in 1858, three decades before the lecture that Stewart called 'one of the first usages of the phrase 'government schools.'"

Then there was Kristen Ghodsee's risible claim in a 2017 Times op-ed piece (later expanded into a book) that "women had better sex under socialism." Cathy Young, who described Ghodsee's original essay as "one of the most mercilessly mocked New York Times op-eds of recent memory," spoke from experience in debunking her thesis: "As someone who lived in the Soviet Union until emigrating as a teen in 1980, I can say that Ghodsee must have a truly enormous pair of rose-colored glasses."

Finally, the Times says Cotton's "assertion that police officers 'bore the brunt' of the violence [by rioters] is an overstatement that should have been challenged." 

If the Times is keen to avoid overstatement on its opinion page, what are we to make of legal columnist Linda Greenhouse's assertion that a unanimous Supreme Court defeat for the Obama administration in a 2014 cases involving recess appointments was actually "a major victory for the president…by any objective view"? Or columnist Nicholas Kristof's unsubstantiated 2015 claim that "some 100,000 minors are trafficked into the sex trade each year in America," which echoed similarly dubious guesstimates? Or the 2019 op-ed piece in which former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and anti-smoking activist Matthew Myers averred that the e-cigarette flavors overwhelmingly preferred by adults are clearly designed for children, then falsely implied that vaping-related lung injuries were caused by products like Juul?

At the risk of making an unsubstantiated allegation and speaking hyperbolically with unnecessary harshness, I am going to suggest that the Times does not really care about its alleged "standards," except when they help rationalize a decision it has already made for other reasons. More charitably, the paper's editors are simply blind to violations of these rules when they are committed by writers whose conclusions they like.

NEXT: Cops Who Allegedly Assaulted and Arrested a Man for Standing Outside His Own House Are Protected by Qualified Immunity

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  1. 'Fell Short of Our Standards.' What Standards?

    Pure shameless unrepentant propaganda for the DNC with a dash of Marxism.

    1. And pedophilia if you remember that editorial.

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    2. The standards set by Walter Duranty when he was with the NYT.

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  2. This is the Fisk of Etiquette we've been needing.

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  3. always believed the NYT editorial page thinks more of itself than most do.

    1. As a regular reader of the NYT editorial page and reader comments, I can assure you there are a frighteningly large number of people who think that it’s the communicator of all that is righteous.

  4. This is the same NYT editorial page that hired the virulent racist Asian girl

  5. left-leaning Times readers

    Colloquially known as Times readers.

    1. Lol, yeah.
      Just like "Fox news" or "MSNBC news viewer", saying "Times readers" tells you all that you need to know about their politics.

    2. Not true. I occasionally enjoy reading the NYT for comedic purposes. And morbid curiosity.

      1. Same here. And to try to understand how other people think. But often it’s as enlightening as reading a Kafka novel.

  6. Good criticism of the New York Times, a former newspaper.

    1. the New York Times, a former overpriced birdcage liner.


      1. No it's still an overpriced birdcage liner. The question is "who are the idiots buying an online version of birdcage liner that can't actually line birdcages?'.

  7. Excellent take, Sullum.

    BTW, I knew Friedman was bad, but holy cow.

    1. Well, he is from Minnesota.

  8. We could go back to the Kitty Genovese story, the truth of which was not reported by the NYTimes because the ed. at that time declared that the full story would have ruined what had subsequently become mythic.

  9. The Op-Ed "raised the hackles of black staff members"? Horseshit. It raised the hackles of the white progressives who know Negroes are too stupid to know what's for their own good and therefore must depend on white folks to be offended on their behalf. There's a reason it's called "white" knighting, dumbass. It's all part of the white man's burden, to take care of, to uplift and to educate members of the inferior races who, through no fault of their own, are simply genetically and biologically and culturally incapable of meeting the standards of white people. You would have to be a malignant racist to believe that the blacks and the browns are as equally competent in their abilities to take care of themselves as white people. (We won't even get into why the kikes and the chinks are only occasionally considered to be honorary white people but are otherwise openly and freely discriminated against for their privileged positions. Nobody should be allowed to gain advantages due to being smart and hard-working like those bastards have.)

    1. They's why we Jews riot so much. When Jeffery Esptein was murdered in his cell, Ben Shapiro threw a copy of Black's Law Dictionary through a Best Buy window, boosted a flat screen and then torched a Starbucks. Then shit went crazy. He grabbed a brick and hurled it at a cop...

      1. Please, Jews control the weather to get back at the other races. DC councilman Trayon White Sr. told me all about.

        1. Misek wants a word with you.

          1. There's no scientific proof that Misek ever happened.

    2. Jerry Skids and I are in complete agreement here. And I love it.

      1. So you probably don’t agree with him at all? I say that because you are usually lying.

  10. This resembles a Pony League benchwarmer criticizing Roberto Clemente's fielding, Greg Maddux's pitching, and Willie Mays' hitting.

    Keep striving to leap high enough to nip at those ankles, guys.

    1. This from the Bob Uecker of the commentariat.

      1. Bob Uecker is a national treasure. Don't besmirch him.

        1. This from the Bob Uecker Wally Pipp of the commentariat.


          1. Has he met his water Lou?

    2. Well that was an irrelevant analogy.

    3. "This resembles a Pony League benchwarmer criticizing Roberto Clemente’s fielding, Greg Maddux’s pitching, and Willie Mays’ hitting."

      And this is all too clearly a failed effort by some bigoted asshole in the 'intelligent human look-alike' competition.

  11. They claimed the essay ... "puts our Black staff members in danger," because "invoking state violence disproportionately hurts Black and brown people."

    See?! The pen *is* mightier than the sword!

  12. I'm glad Sullum wrote this.

    After the fascist garbage ENB has been saying and writing regarding censorship here, this was needed.

    Earlier today in the Roundup she hailed Mike Masnick of Techdirt's slime-bag handwave of censorship, saying that as long as you dismiss the other’s opinion as trolling, it’s okay to censor them because it’s just “editorial” discretion then.
    And the other day on the podcast she said it only counts as censorship when it's the government doing the silencing.

    1. Give her a break. It must be tough going through life as a shallow thinker.

      1. What really bothered me, is that neither Gillespie, Welch or Suderman, who were also on the podcast, bothered to contradict her. They silently assented to her anti-libertarian, anti-speech gibbering.

        1. Which, if they had half a testicle between the three of them, they would've cut her off and man-splained to her exactly what censorship is/isn't.

      2. "shallow thinker"

        That's generous.

  13. The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton—however objectionable people may find them—represent a newsworthy part of the current debate...

    What? Cotton's views "newsworthy"??? They're giving credence to the Insurrection Act.

    The paper is apparently still just a stealth version of the fascist Times that mounted Gatling guns to its roof to protect itself against the draft riots. Cancel them!

  14. As a private newspaper, NYT can publish or not publish whatever the fuck they want. Doesn't mean they're not lying bastards. Just that they free to not-publish whatever they want.

    1. And everyone else is free to criticize them for their hypocrisy, or not.

    2. Did anyone say otherwise? There is nothing wrong with Reason calling out their bullshit since this grievance based culture does threaten to become government backed.

    3. Your right, legally they can. But it's still repugnant censorship and should be morally opposed by every libertarian and free-thinker.

      Libertarianism should be your personal philosophy, not just applicable only to Capitol Hill.
      If I pressure a library to ban Harry Potter, try to intimidate people for criticizing my religion, and create a chilling effect by having an editor fired for printing an opinion I dislike, then I'm a fascist piece of shit.

      Support for free speech doesn't begin and end with your American government.

  15. "I am going to suggest that the Times does not really care about its alleged "standards," except when they help rationalize a decision it has already made for other reasons."

    Well now look here; when you've got a cause and know that your position is just insurmountably superior, it really doesn't matter that you hedge and pad a bit here and there. It's for a good cause, you see. So go ahead and double, triple, and quadruple those sex trafficking guestimates. As for "assault rifles" don't even.

  16. I guess liberals prefer the NYT desperately trying to spackle some respectability on conservatism by employing op-ed writers with nuanced worldviews and whose heads would be just as soon shoved into a toilet by any real Murican GOP voter.

    Airing the fascist ridiculousness they actually believes seems to be more of a public service than employing pseudointellectual squishes to justify the Iraq War and such.

    1. I, too, am glad the NYT is airing the fascist ridiculousness they actually believe.

  17. The NYT has no standards. I wish Reason would acknowledge this and stop citing them on a nearly daily basis.

    1. Not so. The NYT has at least double, often more, standards. Sadly for Sen. Cotton, he adheres to a single standard, so he's not NYT material.

    2. So what else do they cite. Let's see, they use WaPo, Vox, Mother Jones, and The Atlantic? They probably see referencing the Times as their duty to ensure they're presenting a balanced set of viewspoints.

  18. "...What Standards?"

    Not a single word in the article accused Trump of being a Russki agent, therefore...

  19. The Left in the West has never convinced me that they have a better understanding of life under communism than those who escaped it.

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  20. Cotton neglected to assert that White people are "only fit to live underground like groveling goblins." That omission was unacceptable.


  22. What standards? The "Trash All Republicans All Of The Time" standard. The only exception to that rule is a Republican who hates Trump, and Cotton isn't one of them.

  23. Brutal, but a bullseye. Too bad Reason only has 300 readers.

  24. Why bother analyzing words that the NYT didn’t actually mean?

  25. Nobody mentioned before that the "journalists" complaining were young blacks who felt "unsafe". If that is the case, these people will never be journalists. Journalists used to risk their safety, Not these guys. If an oped makes them feel unsafe, there is no hope for them.

  26. It's obvious: it fell short of the NYT's double standards.

  27. Have you read the bios on some of those retards on the NYT editorial board?

    My ass has more standards than that shitty paper.

  28. Like everybody, by now, doesn't know that the Times, and the Washington Post, are just the DNC's newsletters.

  29. Everyone does this. I don’t like it, and I am glad none of you do either, but don’t act like Fox News, and other conservative outlets, don’t pull similar partisan tricks. It’s why I always thought the liberal arts were bogus majors, not because of the content, but because if you disagree with your professor, good luck on getting an A or even a B, even if you do an excellent job. There are few and far between professors, and few and far news outlets that value integrity over what they “know” is right. Society does not really criticize nor punish for lies, dishonesty, nor bias, as long as you agree with the overall agenda. And if you spurn the majority’s opinion, you are pilloried. Personally, I think the author of the New York Times op ed gave a bullshit argument, but it was in the opinion, and the way to address it is not to criticize the quality of the piece. Lame, the NYT using fallacy 1, ad hominem attack. Lazy journalism, the kind that further divides our nation. They felt it wasn’t worth a rebuttal, which was a big mistake.

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