By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Erik Wemple — belatedly, he says — comes to James Bennet’s defense

Erik Wemple of The Washington Post comes to the defense (free link) of former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet, and says he should have done so two years ago. In a remarkable mea culpa, Wemple writes:

Although the hollowness of the internal uproar against Bennet was immediately apparent, we responded with an evenhanded critique of the Times’s flip-flop, not the unapologetic defense of journalism that the situation required.

Wemple is someone I hold in extremely high regard. That said, I don’t think he gives sufficient weight to Bennet’s full record, including putting the Times at risk because of his sloppiness in handling an editorial about Sarah Palin and helping columnist Bret Stephens evade accountability for a column in which he more or less endorsed eugenics. I wrote all about that recently.

Absent those factors, I think Bennet would have survived the uproar over an op-ed by U.S. Sen Tom Cotton urging the use of military force against violent Black Lives Matter protesters. For that matter, Bennet might have kept his job despite everything had he not offered a full-throated defense of the Cotton piece and then admitted he hadn’t read it before publication.

Still, Wemple makes some strong arguments on Bennet’s behalf.

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1 Comment

  1. Gary Susman

    Two things can be true at once. Publisher Sulzberger bungled the whole situation, and Bennet deserved to be fired for a long history of being bad at his job, a history that includes responsibility for a lawsuit that probably cost his employer millions in legal fees. Bennet deserved to lose his job much earlier than he did, and Sulzberger’s spineless flip-flopping made it look like Bennet was being canceled for political reasons, and not because commissioning and then failing to vet the Cotton op-ed was the last straw.

    I give Bennet credit for his earlier reporting under fire, but that doesn’t justify his dismissal of the fears of his NYT colleagues that platforming Cotton’s call for a Tiananmen Square response to the protests was going to subject his fellow Times reporters to potentially lethal violence as well. Apparently, Wemple doesn’t remember how draconian the police response was in those early weeks of the protests — in Wemple’s own DC, in Bennet’s NYC, in Portland, and elsewhere.

    Also, maybe the reason Wemple couldn’t get any NYT staffer who tweeted their fears two years ago to go on record now is that social media is, now as then, a toxic sewer of organized doxxers and harassers. Journalists didn’t want to be targets then, and they want to be targets even less now.

    Meanwhile, despite Bari Weiss’s post-Bennet self-defenestration, the Times op-ed page still employs David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens, and others whose essays routinely trigger liberals. But sure, Bennet’s firing was a sign that the Times was intolerant of those who refused to toe the line of lefty orthodoxy.

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