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NY Times publisher fires back at ex-editor who says paper 'lost its way': That's a 'false narrative'

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger slammed the "false narrative" he alleged was made by ex-opinion editor James Bennet, who wrote a scathing piece on how the paper "lost its way."

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger fired back at his former opinion editor who authored a scathing piece about how the paper has "lost its way" in recent years, declaring such criticism a "false narrative."

James Bennet was forced to resign in 2020 following the internal uproar over an op-ed he published that was authored by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who suggested the military should be deployed to quell the riots following the death of George Floyd. 

Bennet, now a columnist for The Economist, penned a lengthy essay outlining how liberal groupthink had taken over the newsroom at The Times, a characterization Sulzberger forcefully rejected. 

"James Bennet and I have always agreed on the importance of independent journalism, the challenges it faces in today's polarized world, and the mission of The Times to pursue independence even when the path of less resistance might be to give into partisan passions. But I could not disagree more strongly with the false narrative he has constructed about The Times," Sulzberger said in a statement to Fox News Digital. 


Sulzberger touted The Times' reporting, citing its recent coverage of the wars in Europe and the Middle East and the 2024 election cycle among examples, saying "our 2,000 journalists are breaking stories, holding the powerful to account, and seeking to shed light rather than heat on the most divisive issues of our time, regardless of whom our coverage might upset." He also praised his paper's opinion section for having "grown in size and ambition since 2020," insisting he's doubling down on The Times "commitment to exploring a wide range of viewpoints."

"James was a valued partner, but where I parted ways with him is on how to deliver on these values. Principles alone are not enough. Execution matters. Leadership matters," Sulzberger added. 


Bennet's piece largely focused on the events that led to his 2020 exit from The Times. The Cotton op-ed, titled "Send in the Troops," sparked intense backlash not just by liberals on Twitter but by Times employees. Many of them claimed Cotton's piece "puts Black @NYT staff in danger." After initially defending the op-ed, the Times published a lengthy editor's note expressing regret for running the piece, saying it "fell short of our standards." Bennet was later forced to resign in one of the most bizarre and controversial media scandals in recent memory.

"The publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, who was about two years into the job, understood why we’d published the op-ed. He had some criticisms about packaging; he said the editors should add links to other op-eds we’d published with a different view. But he’d emailed me that afternoon, saying: ‘I get and support the reason for including the piece,’ because, he thought, Cotton’s view had the support of the White House as well as a majority of the Senate. As the clamour grew, he asked me to call [Dean] Baquet, the paper’s most senior editor," Bennet wrote


"Like me, Baquet seemed taken aback by the criticism that Times readers shouldn’t hear what Cotton had to say. Cotton had a lot of influence with the White House, Baquet noted, and he could well be making his argument directly to the president, Donald Trump. Readers should know about it. Cotton was also a possible future contender for the White House himself, Baquet added," he continued. "And, besides, Cotton was far from alone: lots of Americans agreed with him—most of them, according to some polls. ‘Are we truly so precious?’ Baquet asked again, with a note of wonder and frustration."

Bennet continued:" The answer, it turned out, was yes. Less than three days later, on Saturday morning, Sulzberger called me at home and, with an icy anger that still puzzles and saddens me, demanded my resignation. I got mad, too, and said he’d have to fire me. I thought better of that later. I called him back and agreed to resign, flattering myself that I was being noble."

Prior to stepping down, Bennet explained that he was forced to apologize on a company-wide Zoom:

"The plan had been for the newsroom to talk about its coverage of the protests. Now the only subject was going to be the op-ed. Early that morning, I got an email from Sam Dolnick, a Sulzberger cousin and a top editor at the paper, who said he felt ‘we’ – he could have only meant me – owed the whole staff ‘an apology for appearing to place an abstract idea like open debate over the value of our colleagues’ lives, and their safety.’ He was worried that I and my colleagues had unintentionally sent a message to other people at the Times that: ‘We don’t care about their full humanity and their security as much as we care about our ideas,’" Bennet wrote, noting that he was contacted by a Sulzberger ally and advised to both apologize and acknowledge his "privilege."

Bennet ruefully wrote that a "Zoom call with a couple of thousand people is a disorienting experience." 

"I do not recommend it. As my first turn to speak came up, I was still struggling with what I should apologize for. I was not going to apologize for denying my colleagues’ humanity or endangering their lives. I had not done those things. I was not going to apologize for publishing the op-ed. Finally, I came up with something that felt true," he wrote. "I told the meeting that I was sorry for the pain that my leadership of Opinion had caused. What a pathetic thing to say. I did not think to add, because I’d lost track of this truth myself by then, that opinion journalism that never causes pain is not journalism. It can’t hope to move society forward."

He continued: "As I look back at my notes of that awful day, I don’t regret what I said. Even during that meeting, I was still hoping the blow-up might at last give me the chance either to win support for what I had been asked to do, or to clarify once and for all that the rules for journalism had changed at the Times."

Bennet said his remarks were immediately vilified on the company's internal Slack messaging system. 

"The next morning I was told to resign," he wrote. 

He added that the lengthy editor's note attached to the piece saying it should never have been published went further than he anticipated.

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