New York Times staff members banded together and slammed the newspaper for publishing an essay by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that calls on the president to deploy troops to the racial justice protests happening around the country.
More than a dozen former and current Times staffers said that the paper’s decision to give Cotton a platform to promote using the military to shut down protests puts Black Americans’ lives at risk.
For nearly a week, anti-racist protesters across the U.S. have marched on the streets to protest the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man and father of three in Minneapolis, and the alarming cases of police brutality against Black people across the country.
Many staffers tweeted a screenshot of Cotton’s op-ed with a phrase similar to this: “Running this puts all black people in danger, including @nytimes staff members.”
In his op-ed, Cotton urged the federal government to use the Insurrection Act to deploy U.S. military personnel at protests to shut them down.
Cotton argued that using military force to address the protests wouldn’t “amount to ‘martial law’ or the end of democracy.”
He called for an “overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”
Cotton also pointed out several instances of violence that targeted police officers — including officers being shot in St. Louis and Las Vegas — but he didn’t mention instances of police using unnecessary force against protesters, including police driving cars into marchers.
Without proof, Cotton accused anti-fascist activists, which he referred to as a “cadre of left-wing radicals,” of causing the violence at the protests and using the marches “for their own anarchic purposes.”
A Times report published Monday showed that the theory that the so-called antifa led rioting was a part of protest misinformation, noting that it was “the biggest piece of protest misinformation tracked” by research company Zignal Labs.
Reporters for the Times called out their own paper for publishing the senator’s essay despite the false claims within it.
“White supremacy is not an opinion,” television critic Margaret Lyons tweeted.
Technology reporter Davey Alva, who covers online disinformation for the paper, flagged Cotton’s antifa claim and noted: “Our own newspaper has reported that this is misinformation.”
HuffPost reached out to the Times for further comment.
Astead Herndon, a Times national political reporter, criticized the paper for allowing Cotton to make unproven claims without fact-checking him.
“Supporting my colleagues, and particularly the black ones,” Herndon tweeted. “If electeds want to make provocative arguments let them withstand the questions and context of a news story, not unvarnished and unchecked.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine correspondent, said she was “deeply ashamed” of the paper as both a Black woman and a journalist.
Amy Qin, a China correspondent, said she was horrified to see Cotton’s headline, “Send in the Troops,” on June 4, the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square protest for democracy in 1989.
During that protest, China deployed the military to quell the student-led protests, and it is estimated that thousands of people were killed.
Margaret Sullivan, a former public editor for the Times, said she wouldn’t have published Cotton’s essay because “Black people already feel under siege & in danger.”
On Twitter, Sullivan listed four more reasons Cotton’s op-ed was unfit for publication.
Number three on her list: “US is a tinderbox now.”
The NewsGuild of New York, which represents the Times’ union, issued a statement denouncing the paper’s decision to run Cotton’s op-ed, saying that the senator’s message “undermines the journalistic work of our members, puts our Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence.”
“Cotton’s Op-Ed pours gasoline on the fire,” the union wrote. “Media organizations have a responsibility to hold power to account, not amplify voices of power without context and caution.”
In response to the backlash, James Bennet, the head of the Times opinions department, defended the op-ed’s publication by highlighting the section’s previous essays by people who support the protests and provide more context on the systematic racism in America.
“Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” Bennet said.
“We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton’s argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.”
Jazmine Hughes, an editor of the New York Times magazine, said she recognized that the paper’s opinion department has to publish diverse opinions but stated, “Cotton’s op-ed, however, clearly crosses a line.”
An estimated 5,000 National Guard troops have already been deployed to respond to protests in 15 states and Washington, D.C.
There are also 2,000 troops prepared to go if reinforcements are needed, a spokesperson for the National Guard told Military Times.
Cotton first suggested using the military to face off with “Antifa terrorists” earlier this week.
“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division. We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction,” Cotton tweeted.
“If necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry —whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
President George H.W. Bush invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807 during the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles after the acquittals of four white police officers who were filmed brutally beating Black motorist Rodney King.
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