Fired NY Times Editor Nukes Paper’s Path ‘From Liberal Bias to Illiberal Bias’

December 17th, 2023 4:04 PM

Media mavens may remember, from the early years of the Covid era, the blow the New York Times already crippled reputation for fairness took when James Bennet was forced out of his Editorial Page Editor slot at the paper.

It came in June 2020, days after the paper ran an op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that called upon President Donald Trump to use troops to quell violence connected to Black Lives Matter protests, after the death of George Floyd in police custody. The offending opinion piece, “Send In the Troops,” was quickly weighed down with a pathetic five-paragraph Editor’s Note, stuck at the front like a warning sign, emblematic of the paper's hyper-caffeinated ideological lurch even further to the left.

Bennet, now a columnist at The Economist, has just released a damning autopsy of his former paper, “When the New York Times lost its way,” coming in at a staggering 17,000 words, and its inside portrayal of a media outlet’s descent into left-wing intolerance pretty much vindicates everything the Media Research Center/NewsBusters does every week.

It’s a vindication for those who recognize the mainstream media’s liberal slant, and perhaps an embarrassment for those who made it that way. Writing it was surely cathartic for the unjustly removed Bennet.

Bennet was a White House reporter for the Times before becoming Jerusalem bureau chief, where he was a safely liberal voice (as documented at NewsBusters). He served a stint as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic then returning to the New York Times as Editorial Page Editor in May 2016, pre-Trump.

He described returning to a situation where news and opinion had become even more hopelessly intertwined, with writers engaging in “cultural criticism,” his new snotty wokester colleagues smuggling in their ideologies with no attempt at balance.

Times higher-ups were clearly caught off guard by the Cotton column controversy, emanating from outraged left-wing reporters inside the Times itself, aghast that their personal sandbox would run such a provocative conservative opinion. In a fit of hysteria, the paper’s union issued a statement calling Cotton’s op-ed “a clear threat to the health and safety of the journalists we represent.”

(Note: The Economist is a UK-based magazine; British spelling and grammar conventions are retained in quoted material.)

Bennet conjured a nifty phrase to summarize his former paper’s problem:

The Times’s problem has metastasised from liberal bias to illiberal bias, from an inclination to favour one side of the national debate to an impulse to shut debate down altogether….


Since Adolph Ochs bought the paper in 1896, one of the most inspiring things the Times has said about itself is that it does its work “without fear or favour”. That is not true of the institution today -- it cannot be, not when its journalists are afraid to trust readers with a mainstream conservative argument such as Cotton’s….

For now, to assert that the Times plays by the same rules it always has is to commit a hypocrisy that is transparent to conservatives, dangerous to liberals and bad for the country as a whole. It makes the Times too easy for conservatives to dismiss and too easy for progressives to believe. The reality is that the Times is becoming the publication through which America’s progressive elite talks to itself about an America that does not really exist.

Bennet recognized that his paper and journalism in general has long been left-of-center. But Bennet realized it had traveled far beyond the bounds of liberalism to embrace intolerant radical ideologies.

….The old liberal embrace of inclusive debate that reflected the country’s breadth of views had given way to a new intolerance for the opinions of roughly half of American voters. New progressive voices were celebrated within the Times. But in contrast to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, conservative voices – even eloquent anti-Trump conservative voices – were despised, regardless of how many leftists might surround them….

Bennet was depressed by the cowardice of publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who talked a good game about balance but forced Bennet out when he acted upon it by publishing Cotton’s conservative viewpoint and causing the paper’s woke staff to melt down. Bennet admitted that “Conservative arguments in the Opinion pages reliably started uproars within the Times,” while in his four years as Opinion editor, he “received just two complaints from newsroom staff about pieces we published from the left….” Squeaky wheels?

After Trump shocked the world by winning the presidency in 2016, Bennet noted that “Many Times staff members -- scared, angry -- assumed the Times was supposed to help lead the resistance. Anxious for growth, the Times’s marketing team implicitly endorsed that idea, too.”

Bennet unleashed another astounding inside stat:

….More than 95% of Times subscribers described themselves as Democrats or independents, and a vast majority of them believed the Times was also liberal. A similar majority applauded that bias; it had become “a selling point”, reported one internal marketing memo.

The Times certainly gave its demanding liberal readership what it wanted.

More to come from the Bennet bombshell soon.