...wish Bennet was still on the job: In this morning's hard-copy New York Times, three letter-writers aren't happy.
They weren't pleased to learn that editorial page editor James Bennet, having been forced to confess to his crimes, had been frogmarched away this past weekend.
Stated as a general matter, they didn't seem to care for the Maoism—or, perhaps, for the mau-mauing. One letter-writer even complains about the newspaper's "ludicrous" judgment:
"What The Times has done amounts to self-censorship, a dumbing-down of the contents of the paper and an insult to the critical faculties of The Times’s readers."Or so that reader says.
Online, the Times presents six letters concerning this topic. Five of the letters disagree with the idea that Bennet should be shipped for reeducation deep in the countryside.
That said, one reader's heart was made glad by Bennet's termination. This sixth letter was written in Cambridge, where the issue seemed quite clear:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (6/9/20): I was glad to see the resignation of James Bennet over the publication of “Send In the Troops,” by Tom Cotton. Senator Cotton has a right to his authoritarian, fascist, un-American views, although it is a shame that he holds them. But The Times need not lower its reputation and standing by publicizing those views.The writer was glad to see Bennet dispatched. He could see that the column is question was authoritarian and fascist, but un-American as well.
So it can go at deeply fraught times such as these. Five out of six letter-writers will fail to exercise suitable judgment. Up in Cambridge, a limited cadre, a type of elect, will see the world as it is.
Did Cotton express "fascist" views in his op-ed column? The essay didn't (and doesn't) strike us that way, or in any particular way at all, but any such assessment will in the end be subjective.
Today's sixth letter doesn't attempt to explain the claim that Cotton's column expressed fascist views. That said, name-calling is bracing at times like these, and a letter to the editor can contain only so many words.
Did the column express a fascist view? In fairness to today's letter writer, he doesn't stand alone.
On June 4, Michelle Goldberg's column for the Times bore this headline: "Tom Cotton's Fascist Op-Ed." (The column hasn't appeared in print editions.)
Goldberg headlined the column as fascist. In keeping with the spirit of the times, she confessed to her own crimes midway through her column:
GOLDBERG (6/4/20): [W]hen I first saw the Cotton Op-Ed I wasn’t as horrified as perhaps I should have been; I figured he’d helpfully revealed himself as a dangerous authoritarian. But as I’ve seen my colleagues’ anguished reaction, I’ve started to doubt my debating-club approach to the question of when to air proto-fascist opinions.Interesting! When she read the proto-fascist, dangerous column, Goldberg "wasn’t as horrified as perhaps [she] should have been." By June 4, she was seeing more clearly.
Up in Cambridge, that "perhaps" may register as yet another hint of crime. At another point, Goldberg says that she "could be wrong" in something she says, another troubling sign.
In her column, Goldberg offers some perfectly decent complaints about the opinion Cotton expressed in his column. She also picks several amazingly tiny nits, as may occur at such junctures as tribal fervor hardens.
She may not be sure what Cotton wants; at one point, she complains about an idea "which seems to be what Cotton is proposing" (our italics). That said, she does find a racist component to Cotton's column, although we're not sure if she ever explains why the column can be fairly described as "fascist."
Five out of six letter-writers weren't happy to see Bennet go. For some persons of a certain age, the sixth letter-writer may recall an earlier time, when various well-intentioned people were calling out the fascists and the running dogs, with members of the Weather Underground assembling their various bombs.
(Should they have assembled those bombs? In the end, such assessments are always subjective.)
For ourselves, we weren't happy to see Bennet go. As a general matter, we're never happy to hear that someone has lost his or her job, although we understand that such things must sometimes happen.
Concerning the column which laid Bennet low, we'll confess to one observation:
On June 5, a five-paragraph Editors' Note was appended to Cotton's column. In their short Note, the unnamed editors sought to explain why the column "should not have been published."
Should the column have been published? We have no huge view about that. Gigantic volumes of manifest foofaw are published in the Times opinion section on a daily basis. Given the newspaper's overall standards, we can't say that this column stood out.
But as we read that Editors' Note, a few points did stand out. We were struck by the wide array of errors to which the editors themselves confessed. We were also struck by the nit-picky errors the editors claimed that they had now found in the offending column.
Simply put, the New York Times just isn't a very sharp newspaper. It seems to us that the five-paragraph Editors' Note helps illustrate that point.
Tomorrow, we'll plan to examine that highly instructive Note. Beyond that, let's consider the unimpressive attempts at "truth-checking" other Times employees brought to this revolutionary moment.
In the street-fighting summer of '68, the Beatles warned their fans about this. That said, they were very rich and extremely famous, and they weren't being shipped off to Vietnam or being killed in the South.
Tomorrow: An underwhelming bunch