James Bennet, former editorial page editor for The New York Times, has publicly criticized the publication for what he describes as an “illiberal bias” in a detailed article for The Economist.
Bennet, who was forced to resign in 2020 after controversy surrounding an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton, accused the newspaper of a bias that has shifted from a liberal leaning to an inclination to suppress debate entirely.
In his extensive 17,000-word piece, Bennet shared his experiences and observations from his tenure at the Times, including being urged by senior newsroom editors to add trigger warnings to conservative op-eds. He expressed his concern about how such actions could stigmatize colleagues and reflect the Times’s own bias.
“The Times’s problem has metastasized from liberal bias to illiberal bias, from an inclination to favor one side of the national debate to an impulse to shut debate down altogether,” wrote Bennet, who now publishes with The Economist.
“The bias had become so pervasive, even in the senior editing ranks of the newsroom, as to be unconscious,” Bennet wrote. “Trying to be helpful, one of the top newsroom editors urged me to start attaching trigger warnings to pieces by conservatives. It had not occurred to him how this would stigmatize certain colleagues, or what it would say to the world about the Times’s own bias.”
A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, disagreed with Bennet’s portrayal, maintaining the importance of independent journalism and expressing a difference in opinion on the execution and leadership required to uphold journalistic values.
Bennet’s exit from the Times was precipitated by the internal backlash to Senator Cotton’s op-ed, which suggested deploying the military to address protests following George Floyd’s death. While initially, Sulzberger and then-editor Dean Baquet supported publishing diverse viewpoints, the internal uproar led to a shift in their stance, culminating in Sulzberger’s demand for Bennet’s resignation.
Bennet’s article also touches on broader issues within the Times, such as the perception of bias in its coverage of Donald Trump and the blurring lines between opinion and news journalism. He contrasts this with publications like The Wall Street Journal, which he says maintains a clearer separation between news and opinion, thus preserving journalistic integrity.
“The Times could learn something from the Wall Street Journal, which has kept its journalistic poise,” Bennet said. “It has maintained a stricter separation between its news and opinion journalism, including its cultural criticism, and that has protected the integrity of its work.”