Politics & Policy

‘They Folded Like House of Cards’: McConnell Mocks NYT for Caving to Critics of Tom Cotton’s Op-ed

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell arrives for the first day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, January 21, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday accused the New York Times of lying about the substance of Senator Tom Cotton’s controversial op-ed for which the paper later apologized after an outcry from readers and Times journalists.

During a floor speech, McConnell mocked the Times for bowing to criticism of the paper’s decision to publish Cotton’s opinion op-ed, titled “Send in the Troops,” which called for military intervention to quell the rioting across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

“One of our nation’s most storied newspapers just had its intellectual independence challenged by an angry mob, and they folded like a house of cards,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “A jury of people on Twitter indicted them as accessories to a thought crime and instead of telling them to go take a hike, the paper pleaded guilty and begged for mercy.”

After the column’s publication, several Times staffers tweeted that, “running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” The backlash eventually resulted in the resignation of James Bennet, the Times editorial page editor, on Sunday.

The Times has since added a lengthy note editor’s note to the op-ed saying that “the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.” While Cotton’s “basic arguments” represent a “newsworthy part of the current debate,” the note reads, the “life-and-death importance of the topic” and the Arkansas Republican’s “influential position” warranted further substantial revisions.” Editors also lamented the “needlessly harsh” tone of the essay and singled out several claims Cotton makes which they said should have been fact-checked.

Cotton wrote that “nihilist criminals are simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction, with cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa infiltrating protest marches to exploit Floyd’s death for their own anarchic purposes.” The Times’s editor’s note takes issue with those assertions, saying Cotton’s claims are unsubstantiated and have been “widely questioned.”

McConnell acknowledged that Cotton’s view was “controversial” but said it remains a “legitimate” one.

Afterwards, the Times “began lying about what Senator Cotton had said,” saying he had “called for a crackdown on peaceful protests when he had specifically distinguished them from violent rioters,” McConnell said.

McConnell noted that in the past, the Times has published op-eds from Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Iranian foreign minister, and a leader of the Muslim brotherhood.

“Presumably it was understood that pushing the envelope and airing disagreements are necessary in a free market of ideas,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But one week ago, the Gray Lady finally met her match. Vladimir Putin? No problem. Iranian propaganda? Sure. But nothing, nothing could have prepared them for 800 words from the junior senator from Arkansas.”

“The New York Times had erred grievously by making people confront a different viewpoint,” McConnell said mockingly. “It hurt their feelings by making them confront a different point of view.”

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