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NYT Publisher Calls Cotton Op-ed ‘Contemptuous’ in Staff Town Hall, Says It ‘Should Not Have Been Published’ after Initially Defending It

The headquarters of the New York Times is pictured on 8th Avenue in New York, February 5, 2008. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, told colleagues in a virtual town hall Friday that an op-ed written by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) was “contemptuous” in tone and “should not have been published.”

The comments come after Sulzberger wrote an email to his staff Thursday morning defending the publishing of Cotton’s op-ed, which called for the U.S. military to help deal with looting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit,” he wrote in the email.

Cotton responded to the reversal by tweeting that the paper “has officially surrendered to the woke mob.”

The op-ed, which was published Wednesday by the Times and was still live as of Friday afternoon, detailed Cotton’s argument for President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act — an 1807 law that gives the president the authority to use the military domestically to put down rebellion — to quell widespread rioting and looting. Cotton cited the use of the statute by President George H. W. Bush during the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles, and by presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower over the objections of governors to enforce federal desegregation law.

Cotton first raised the use of the act during a Fox News interview on Monday, and his office later told National Review that the senator originally pitched a package of proposals to the Times, only for the editors to say they were only interested in a piece about the Insurrection Act.

Cotton’s staff also said the fact-checking and editing process mirrored that of previous op-eds Cotton had published in the Times. “We were challenged on a couple of things,” a staffer explained, “and actually made changes.”

But following its release, over 800 staff members signed a letter protesting its publication —saying Cotton included “misinformation” and endangered black staff at the paper. Staffers additionally threatened to engage in a “virtual walkout” on Friday morning.

The Times ultimately released a statement apologizing for the op-ed, saying “a rushed editorial process” resulted in the piece not meeting the paper’s “standards.”

“As a result, we’re planning to examine both short term and long term changes, to include expanding our fact checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish,” a spokeswoman explained.

The Times has not identified any factual inaccuracies in the op-ed.

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