On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times opinion section published an op-ed from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton entitled “Send in the Military.” It was exactly the kind of article you would expect from Cotton, who has the brains and demeanor of a white supremacist meerkat (he notably was once held up by the New Yorker as the heir apparent to Trumpism). The senator called for the U.S. military to be deployed against Americans, crushing the nationwide uprisings over police brutality and systemic racism.
Sounds like an awful, dangerous idea? Turns out legions of New York Times readers, staffers, and journalists across the industry thought so, too.
In an effort spearheaded by black New York Times staffers, dozens of Times employees shared their anger and disgust by sharing variations of the same message on Twitter on Wednesday night: “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” The text was accompanied by a screenshot of the op-ed’s headline.
By the end of the night, scores of their industry colleagues and readers joined in, sharing the same message and demanding James Bennet, the editor of the Times opinion pages, take down the piece. (You can read his defense of the piece on Twitter here but I warn you, the only thing worthwhile about it is the ratio.)
It was a stunning display of collective action on social media, especially considering the Times’ stringent social media policy. A 2017 version of their policy explicitly mandates journalists “must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments, or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”
The Newsguild of New York, a union representing the Times, followed up with a searing statement highlighting the op-ed as a labor and workplace safety issue that has specific detrimental effects on the paper’s black employees.
“Cotton calls to mobilize the military to ‘detain’ and ‘subdue’ Americans protesting racism and police brutality. His message undermines the journalistic work of our members, puts our Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence,” the statement reads.
The Guild further points out that the inflammatory op-ed compromises journalists’ ability to cover the protests, since it could inspire further use of force at the demonstrations.
“This is a particularly vulnerable moment in American history. Cotton’s Op-Ed pours gasoline on the fire,” it continues. “Media organizations have a responsibility to hold power to account, not amplify voices of power without context and caution.”