HUMAN ASSESSMENTS: Tearful editor frog-marched away!

MONDAY, JUNE 8, 2020

Newspaper tells the untruth:
This morning, we were sorry to read that James Bennet has lost his job at the New York Times.

In this morning's Washington Post
, Andrews and Izadi offer a slightly fuller story. Tearfully, Bennet confessed to his guilt. Then he was frog-marched away.

As a general matter, we're always sorry to hear that someone has lost his job. In Bennet's case, it's widely said that he did a great job at The Atlantic, and as far we know that's true.

In the current instance, Bennet has lost his job at the New York Times, where, it now seems clear, an internal madness reigns. We've been noting this problem for many years now. We'd say that the problem's now clear.

Bennet has been forced to step down because of something he didn't do. He didn't read an opinion column by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton.

Cotton's column was published by the Times last Wednesday, though only online. In fairness, the Times publishes so much opinion bafflegab that no single person could humanely be asked to review all such submissions.

Presumably, though, Bennet should have read the column in question. The reasons: Cotton is a Republican senator, and Bennet was editor of the Times editorial page and oversaw the opinion section.

Just this once, we'll be honest. To this day, Cotton's column doesn't fill us with fury.

We aren't experts on policing here. We don't have well-developed views about what does and doesn't make good sense in that general area.

Nor were we scandalized, over the weekend, by the alleged factual errors allegedly lodged in Cotton's column. We'll attempt to evaluate those alleged errors as the week proceeds.

To this day, Cotton's column doesn't fill us with fury. We have been amazed by some of the ways our major journalists, possibly including Bennet himself, have characterized the column.

For today, consider one small but glaring example. Consider what Marc Tracy and/or some unnamed editor says in the New York Times news report which announces Bennet's departure.

Through the report bearing Tracy's name, the New York Times, not without skill, tells the untruth about Cotton's column, if only by omission. We refer to this early passage—paragraphs 4 and 5—in today's news report:
TRACY AND/OR HIS EDITOR (6/8/20): At an all-staff virtual meeting on Friday, Mr. Bennet, 54, apologized for the Op-Ed, saying that it should not have been published and that it had not been edited carefully enough. An editors’ note posted late Friday noted factual inaccuracies and a “needlessly harsh” tone. “The essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published,” the note said.

The Op-Ed, by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, had “Send In the Troops” as its headline. “One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers,” he wrote. The piece, published on Wednesday, drew anger from readers and Times journalists. Mr. Bennet declined to comment.
Just for the record, when did Bennet "decline to comment?" Did he decline to comment last Wednesday, after Cotton's column "drew anger?" Did he decline to comment to Tracy over the weekend?

For the record, we have no idea! But as we'll see in the next day or two, murky writing is par for the course at the Times, perhaps especially so with respect to a highly fraught topic like this one.

At any rate:

In the passage we've posted, Tracy and/or some editor refer to the five-paragraph "Editors' Note" which now sits atop the Cotton column.

The Editors' Note was appended to the column on June 5, two days after publication. You can read the Editors' Note, and the column itself, by just clicking here.

Tracy's editor quotes the part of the Note which says that Cotton's tone was "needlessly harsh." (More precisely, the Editors' Note says that Cotton's tone was needlessly harsh "in places.")

Tracy's report quotes that assessment while dropping the qualification. It then seems to offer the headline which sat atop Cotton's column as an example of that harsh tone.

In doing so, the news report disappears a basic fact—a basic fact which is included in the short Editors' Note. To show you what "telling the untruth" may look like at revolutionary times like these, we'll now show you the fuller passage from the Editors' Note:
Editors' Note, June 5, 2020:

[...]

Beyond [certain specific] 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.
There you see paragraph 4 of the short, five-paragraph Note. It specifically says that the headline, which it calls "incendiary," was written by the New York Times, not by Senator Cotton!

Somehow, that tiny small fact has in some way gone missing from today's news report. Nowhere in Tracy's full-length report does this small fact appear.

You're left to believe that it was Cotton who wrote that headline, which seems to have been "needlessly harsh." You're no longer encouraged to know that it was the Times itself which composed that offensive banner.

Perhaps this was just some sort of mistake—a mistake which Tracy and/or his editor will correct before they too are frog-marched away. But this is the way we humans may tend to behave in revolutionary times such as these.

Long ago and far away, in a different global context, the Beatles tried to warn us about this sort of thing! It was easy for them to say, some might want to object.

Having noted the Beatles' effort, let's offer a much wider context:

Over the weekend, we watched the rebroadcast of a three-part PBS documentary about the way the spy services of Elizabeth I protected her from overthrow during her lengthy reign as England's queen. (She reigned from 1558—she was 25—until 1603, when she died.)

Elizabeth and her men foiled many coup plotters. We were struck by the way one miscreant was executed:

For starters, the fellow was hung by the neck, though not until he was dead. Still alive, he was taken down from the gallows and subjected to disembowelment.

He was then cut into quarters while still alive. Eventually, he expired.

We also watched the first hour of an older, two-hour PBS documentary about Anne Frank. Each program touched upon a powerful aspect of our profoundly flawed human nature.

That miscreant was horribly executed by Queen Elizabeth's men. That happened a bit more than five hundred years ago, a mere eyeblink in historical or evolutionary terms.

Something more than a hundred years later, the witch trials occurred in Salem, with their various crazy means of execution. Skip ahead a few centuries more and we encounter the Holocaust.

Not much later, we have the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, then the killing fields of Rwanda. Along the way, we have the killing fields associated with other well-known revolutions, along with the brutal racial history of our own struggling nation.

Our human nature does have its minor flaws! Among those of us a bit more evolved, we've replaced these killing fields with the kinds of revolutionary frenzy which can sometimes be spotted within our upper-end press corps.

Our human assessments are highly flawed, especially at times like these. We're inclined to notice such flaws in others, to disappear them among us.

The amazingly foppish New York Times has been badly flawed for a long time now. Especially within our own blue tribe, its branding as our smartest newspaper may make this fact hard to discern.

According to that Editors' Note, the New York Times placed an incendiary headline atop the Cotton column. The headline was written by the Times, not by Senator Cotton.

This morning, in a news report, we're encouraged to think something different. You can't believe many things you read. Much more on this problem tomorrow.

Tomorrow: A review of that Editors' Note

29 comments:

  1. "Bennet has been forced to step down because of something he didn't do. He didn't read an opinion column by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton."

    Actually, dear Bob, he got kicked out because while he is indeed a loyal zombie, he apparently isn't goebbelsian enough.

    "Long ago and far away, in a different global context, the Beatles tried to warn us about this sort of thing! "

    Actually, dear Bob, it was George Orwell who warned us. Back in 1948, and in this exactly context. Learn to love your zombie cult, dear Bob, and you'll be fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meh. A Republican thinks people exercising their First Amendment rights should have the military sicced on them. How is that news, worth printing? Ho hum, "Dog bites man'.

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    4. Bennet is not "one of our own". He has deliberately sought conservative voices for the NY Times, ignoring the division on the left represented by Sanders followers, but hasn't given a voice to conservatism either, preferring contrarian and idiosyncratic controversial voices.

      https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/15/17113176/new-york-times-opinion-page-conservatism

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  2. At least once a year, the left consumes one of its own.

    It’s sad. but we must remember that it’s the circle of life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That'll teach him for giving a voice to a common criminal on the opinion pages of the Times.

      Delete
    2. “That'll teach him for giving a voice to a common criminal on the opinion pages of the Times.“

      Evidently.

      “But the shift in mainstream American media — driven by a journalism that is more personal, and reporters more willing to speak what they see as the truth without worrying about alienating conservatives — now feels irreversible.”

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/06/07/business/media/new-york-times-washington-post-protests.amp.html

      They sure as heck have to worry about you.

      According to this, they’re not taking any chances with Andrew Sullivan.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8396935/amp/New-York-magazine-faces-backlash-banning-conservative-columnist-writing-riots.html

      Delete
    3. Until Andrew Sullivan admits the Left have been right about the Right all along, he too can go fuck himself.

      Delete
    4. Also I gotta say it is hilarious to watch David Brooks react to this shitshow exactly as you would expect, by immediately leaping to kiss the boss' ass --




      A.G. Sulzberger just told the Newsroom that the Cotton oped was "contemptuous."
      "This piece should not have been published."
      — Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) June 5, 2020
      -- only to discover as he sailed right past it that he had missed the boss' ass by a mile.


      https://driftglass.blogspot.com/#!/2020/06/editors-boy-i-dont-know.html

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    ReplyDelete
  4. Saturday Somerby argued that the people at the top should be held accountable for the mistakes of their staff. Today he argues the opposite, that Bennet shouldn't be held responsible for the headline on Cotton's op-ed. Which is it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My guess is that the opinion section of a newspaper is something that might occasionally contain a piece that challenged or outraged its regular readership.

      Though Cotton is a senator and a conservative, Bennett claims to have not read the piece before publication.

      That may be the gospel truth, but it does seem improbably misguided. Either way, it’s incomprehensible how he misjudged the paper’s core readership.

      Delete
    2. Cotton is a US Senator and an authoritarian. There are no conservatives left.

      But as a US Senator - one of only 100 - in the most powerful country on the face of the planet, he really doesn't need the failing fake news NY Times. Or does he?

      The barbaric GOP has a parasitic relationship with mainstream media like the NY Times. And it's killing our country in addition to the NY Times, slowly but surely.

      Rush Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the Acting President. Orwell couldn't have made it up.

      Delete
    3. "...it’s incomprehensible how he misjudged the paper’s core readership."

      Seriously.
      "The NY Times" isn't "Stormfront" or "The National Review".

      Delete
    4. Dan Nexon: "I worry that the controversy over the
      NY Times's handling of the Cotton op-ed is overshadowing the fact that a sitting US Senator (and rising star in the GOP) called for the American military to do war crimes against US citizens based on outright disinformation."

      Delete
  5. "Bennet has been forced to step down because of something he didn't do. He didn't read an opinion column by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton."

    From what I've read elsewhere, Bennet solicited the op-ed from Cotton. His failure to read the submission was his second mistake, in my opinion.

    Somerby calls the internal atmosphere at the NY Times "insane." He has been calling a lot of people crazy lately, tossing around words that mental health professionals abhor, since they stigmatize those who have actual disorders.

    Bennet has always been out-of-step with the rest of the staff at the NY Times. I am not particularly leftist, but I don't read The Atlantic because so many of its articles are way distant from my own views. Bennet was recruited to bring greater balance to the Times, steering it to the right during Trump's presidency. He did that, but his courting of extremist writers has been intolerable to the predominantly liberal staff and readership in NYC. He didn't have to recruit the worst elements on the right.

    Somerby pretends that the NYTimes represents mainstream liberal views. I believe it strives for objectivity in its reporting, but has long done egregious things in attacking Democratic presidential candidates (especially the Clintons) and promoting conservative views.

    If Somerby were liberal, would he be objecting to Bennet's dismissal or would he be calling for a more fair replacement? Would he be calling staff liberals "insane"?

    Today, Somerby joins the right in objecting to the resignation of someone who brought the worst elements of the right into a supposedly mainstream publication. I am glad Bennet is gone. He shouldn't have been hired in the first place because his idea of balance is to print extreme and controversial viewpoints that do nothing to advance anyone's understanding of important issues.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I believe it strives for objectivity in its reporting

    Very recently, Peter Baker, Chief WH correspondent for the NY Times, explained his philosophy:

    As reporters, our job is to observe, not participate, and so to that end, I don’t belong to any political party, I don’t belong to any non-journalism organization, I don’t support any candidate, I don’t give money to interest groups and I don’t vote.

    I try hard not to take strong positions on public issues even in private, much to the frustration of friends and family. For me, it’s easier to stay out of the fray if I never make up my mind, even in the privacy of the kitchen or the voting booth, that one candidate is better than another, that one side is right and the other wrong.


    Yes, a grown man wrote that in the year 2020.

    That's how you make it to the top at the gray lady.

    Jay Rosen, journalism professor at NYU has dubbed this "he view from nowhere":


    Debate club democracy — where people of good will share a common world of fact but disagree on what should be done — is an expensive illusion to maintain during a presidency that tries to undermine every independent and factual check there is on the executive’s power, not just a free press and its journalism, but the intelligence community, the diplomatic corps, the civil service, government scientists, inspectors general, and Congress in its oversight function.

    Stories about the Trump government undermining all of these have appeared in the New York Times. They are ably reported. But at some point the light bulb has to flick on. This isn’t debate club. It’s an attack on the institutions of American democracy. Just as police work in our cities isn’t law enforcement constrained by the Constitution. It’s systemized suspicion of Black people, free of Constitutional constraint, and it frequently ends in violence.

    The idea that the New York Times can never reach conclusions like this, and build them into its core values, because it has to remain neutral in order to be trusted as a news source by the very people who reject those values — an idea I have called the view from nowhere — might have been a mistaken-but-survivable construct in the era of Battleship Newspaper. That is no longer the case.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even so, Somerby doesn't seem to differentiate between the reporting and the editorial pages (opinion) side of the paper. From what you are saying, there should be an obvious chasm between the two. Why does he so often blur the boundaries?

      Delete
  7. "The “abolition” language is important because it reminds us that policing has been the primary vehicle for using violence to perpetuate the unjustified white control over the bodies and lives of black people that has been with us since slavery. That aspect of policing must be literally abolished."

    Somerby says "do we ever say what we mean?" and claims that Lopez isn't using the word abolition to refer to actual abolition. She is. The passage above, which appear directly above Somerby's mistaken statement, clearly says that abolition means abolishing.

    And while we're at it, why doesn't deadrat ever accuse Somerby of lacking reading comprehension skills?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, this comment got attached to the wrong essay.

      Delete
  8. The NYT announcement about Bennett generated a lot of comments. The vast majority expressed opposition to the Times position.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Republicans can be very effective when they organize a call-in or write-in campaign funded by their generous donors. You don't think that is some kind of poll do you?

      Delete
    2. Ralph Benner: "The cause for Bennet’s “resignation” is that he didn’t adhere to the basic DPA in journalism—don’t publish anything until you’ve read it.

      Delete
  9. Sadly, but I have to accept because it is the law of life. basketball stars

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