New York Times: Right or Wrong? Part 1

Published: June 5, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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The headline hits you between the eyes: “Tom Cotton: Send in the Troops”

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a controversial editorial by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

Cotton is a full-throated supporter of President Trump and he used the opinion section of The Times to clear his throat in support of the actions President Trump suggested to quell violence from protestors around the country.

“If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residence, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.

At the beginning, Cotton details the many acts of violence, destruction, and looting that have occurred in response to the horrific death of George Floyd.

“…in a separate incident,” Cotton writes, “a 77-year-old retired police captain was shot to death as he tried to stop looters from ransacking a pawnshop.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Cotton. No one, who has any sense of decency, believes that killing anyone is justifiable, except in the face of imminent threat.

“Some elites have excused this orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd. Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters. A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants.”

Economic standing has nothing to do with it, Senator. Violence is decried by all classes, genders, and political affiliations. However, Cotton tries to soften the statement by adding, “A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants,” adding, “the rioting has nothing to do with George Floyd, whose bereaved relatives have condemned violence.”

Those sentences appeal to readers’ sense of decency. However, they also appear calculated to draw you into his main argument.

Cotton continues, “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.”

Labels clearly meant to demean only serve to mimic the man in the White House. Further, without any direct and compelling evidence, they play to the small, vocal Republican base that Trump, Cotton, and other Republicans shamelessly pander to.

Okay, here comes the most controversial part.

“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers. But local law enforcement in some cities desperately needs backup, while delusional politicians in other cities refuse to do what’s necessary to uphold the rule of law.”

Frankly — and I’ve re-read this several times — I cannot see anything to distinguish that statement from the words and actions of Nazi Germany. Moreover, I’m not aware of any state governor who has called for federal, active-duty military to come into their state and utilize “an overwhelming show of force” against protestors.

However, the real subject for discussion is the Times decision to publish Cotton’s op-ed. When the editorial department announced they would run the Cotton piece, the backlash from the staff was swift and intense.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones: “As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.”

Op-ed writer, Roxane Gay: “We are well served by robust and ideologically diverse public discourse that includes radical, liberal, and conservative voices. This is not that. His piece was inflammatory and endorsing military occupation as if the constitution doesn’t exist.”

“Three unnamed Times journalists told editors that sources wouldn’t send them information because of the op-ed…”

Trump’s own secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, has said, that sending U.S. military forces into states “should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations, now.”

I wonder how long Esper will keep his job.

“In these circumstances,” Cotton emphasizes, “the Insurrection Act authorizes the president to employ the military ‘or any other means’ in cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws.’ ”

Every week, every day, this president proves to be more fascist. The only thing missing are Germany’s brown-shirted thugs. But if Trump and Cotton have their way, Americans in cities across the country will face military troops in camo shirts.

Two days ago, we saw how President Trump and his “enforcer,” Attorney General William Barr dealt with peaceful protestors near the White House when the president decided to walk to a church that had been attacked. Barr issued orders that the protestors be cleared out and tear gas and flash-bang devices were used.

Given the highly politicized and incendiary times we live in, and the possible consequences to reporters and perhaps even the reputation of The Times, the ethical question is, should The New York Times have printed Senator Cotton’s piece?

What would you have advised?

On Monday, I’ll examine this through an ethical lens.


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