Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday criticized the New York Times over how it handled an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that promoted a view that, according to one poll, a majority of Americans share.
Backlash to the op-ed from younger staffers at the New York Times, as well as a number of activists, prompted publisher A.G. Sulzberger to oust James Bennet, who oversaw the paper’s opinion pages since 2016.
The paper “finally met her match,” McConnell told colleagues on the Senate floor, referring to previous op-eds the paper published by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Gehad El-Haddad, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also ran a piece arguing for the normalization of pedophilia.
McConnell noted that Cotton’s position is supported by a majority of voters, according to a recent poll (pdf).
“His view was controversial, no question, but there is also no question it was a legitimate view for a senator to express,” he continued, as looting and arson “were crippling cities nightly.”
“Rather than actually rebut speech, the far left instead tries to silence the speaker with a mixture of misrepresentation, sanctimonious moralizing, and bizarre, emotional word salads that nobody else could have standing to question,” the senator said. “This silencing tactic has escaped from the Ivory Tower and is spreading throughout American life.”
When “the left” tried banning Cotton “from polite society,” the New York Times “folded like a house of cards,” giving way to what McConnell described as an “angry mob,” McConnell said.
“Outside leftists blasted the paper for airing the argument,” he said, adding later: “The facts couldn’t hold a candle to the hurt feelings. The ‘New York Times’ had erred grievously by making people confront a different viewpoint.”
“Our republic can survive a pandemic. It can survive civil unrest. But ideas and deliberation are our very foundation. America cannot be America if civil disagreement becomes a contradiction in terms,” McConnell charged.
Cotton in his piece argued for using active-duty military to quell rioting after agitators at or near peaceful protests caused major destruction in multiple cities, including Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington.
Staffers at the paper claimed on social media that Cotton’s op-ed put the lives of black journalists in danger, with many alleging he wanted the military to act against protesters.
Protesters and rioters were upset at the treatment of George Floyd, a black man accused of forgery who died while in police custody on Memorial Day.
“These rioters, if not subdued, not only will destroy the livelihoods of law-abiding citizens but will also take more innocent lives. Many poor communities that still bear scars from past upheavals will be set back still further,” Cotton wrote.
He took pains to differentiate people protesting peacefully from rioters, which the New York Times admitted later when it conducted a so-called stealth edit to an article about the ideological clash within the newsroom.
Faced with harsh criticism, the paper added a lengthy editor’s note to Cotton’s op-ed, asserting the piece didn’t meet its standards and “should not have been published.” The paper stated that the role of “left-wing radicals like Antifa” members in riots “have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned.” Federal and state officials have arrested multiple Antifa members and anarchists for looting and rioting and are examining how the group and its affiliates are funded.
Cotton has said he stands by what he wrote.
Katie Kingsbury, a deputy editorial page editor, is now the acting editorial page editor through the November election.
In a memo to staffers over the weekend, she said that anyone who sees “any piece of Opinion journalism—including headlines or social posts or photos or you name it—that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”