‘Dark day’ at the New York Times after James Bennet departure, says former public editor

A former public editor at the New York Times tweeted Sunday that it was a “dark, dark day” for the paper after its editorial page editor announced his resignation following the fallout from running Sen. Tom Cotton's op-ed calling for the military to respond to the unrest over George Floyd’s death in police custody.

Daniel Okrent, who left his position at the paper 15 years ago, tweeted, “This is a dark, dark day for the NYTimes. I know no finer journalist than James Bennet."

COTTON CALLS OUT TWEET BY NYTIMES

Bennet, 54, tendered his resignation on Sunday.

A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher, wrote a note to the staff that he and Bennet “concluded that James would not be  able to lead the team through the  next leg of change that is required.” The paper reported that Sulzberger said there was a “significant breakdown” in the editing process.

Bennet’s position as the editorial page editor was one of the most powerful in journalism. Bennet was a rising star at the paper and there were rumors that he was possibly in line to be Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s successor, the paper reported. The Washington Post reported that Bennet broke down in tears during a meeting with a staffer after expressing that he let his team down.

Okrent’s tweet on Sunday was a remarkable defense for Bennet, who sparked a public revolt at the paper. Some said that running the Cotton piece put black employees at the paper in danger.

"The journalism of Times Opinion has never mattered more than in this time of crisis at home and around the world, and I’ve been honored to be part of it," Bennet said in a statement. "I'm so proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to focus attention on injustice and threats to freedom and to enrich debate about the right path forward by bringing new voices and ideas to Times readers."

Sulzberger's decision to accept the resignation opens the paper up to criticism from the right that the only opinion welcomed at the paper needs to fit in perfectly with the Democrat orthodoxy. An opinion page, at its best, is where ideas can be shared and debated.

Bennet, the brother of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, was declining requests for interviews, and  Sulzberger was unavailable, a spokeswoman from the paper told the Associated Press.

Cotton, for his part, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the paper capitulated to “a woke child mob from their own newsroom that apparently gets triggered if they're presented with any opinion contrary to their own, as opposed to telling the woke children in their newsroom this is the workplace, not a social-justice seminar on campus.”

Cotton insisted that his op-ed simply called for the military to be a backstop in the event that police are overwhelmed.

The Times was swift to respond to the piece’s fallout. The paper wrote a remarkable Editors’ Note that said based on a review of the editing process, “we have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”

The Times review criticized several aspects of Cotton’s piece, starting with the headline, “Send in the Troops,” which the newspaper said in an editor’s note Saturday was “incendiary and should not have been used.”

“The editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved. While Senator Cotton and his staff cooperated fully in our editing process, the Op-Ed should have been subject to further substantial revisions — as is frequently the case with such essays — or rejected.”

Katie Kingsbury, a Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial writing who joined the Times from the Boston Globe in 2017, will oversee the opinion pages through the November elections, the Times said. James Dao, Bennet’s former deputy, was reassigned.

Bennet was the second high-level journalism job lost because of mistakes made in the coverage of the nationwide protests about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement. The top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stan Wischnowsksi, resigned Saturday after uproar over a headline that said, “Buildings Matter, Too.”

Fox News’ Bradford Betz and the Associated Press contributed to this report