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June 8, 2020, 12:03 p.m.
Reporting & Production

After newsroom protests, The New York Times opinion page editor and the top editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer have resigned

The editor of The New York Times opinion section, James Bennet, and the top editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Stan Wischnowski, faced crises in their newsrooms over an op-ed and an offensive headline, respectively, last week.

The editor of The New York Times opinion section, James Bennet, and the top editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Stan Wischnowski, faced crises in their newsrooms over an op-ed and an offensive headline, respectively, last week. Over the weekend, both men resigned.

As we wrote, staff at the Inquirer, particularly journalists of color, said they were “tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age” after the paper ran a front-page article under the headline “Buildings matter, too.” The Inquirer issued an apology and steps it would take to prevent lapses from happening again, but Wischnowski resigned on Saturday afternoon and his last day will be June 12. (No successor has yet been named.)

At the Times, Bennet’s resignation followed an uproar over an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for an “overwhelming” show of military force to stop civil unrest.

The Times’ own staff participated in an unprecedented protest over the Cotton op-ed, publicly stating that the piece put black colleagues in danger and demanding corrections where the op-ed contradicted the Times’ own reporting and misquoted the U.S. Constitution. (The Times has appended a 328-word “Editor’s Note” to the column.)

Publisher A. G. Sulzberger, who had initially defended the decision to publish the op-ed, told Times media reporter Marc Tracy that he and Bennet both “concluded that James would not be able to lead the team through the next leg of change that is required.”

Sulzberger also noted in a memo to staff that the “significant breakdown in our editing processes” that led to the Cotton op-ed was “not the first we’ve experienced in recent years.” The Times had to issue an apology for an anti-Semitic cartoon last year and faces a defamation lawsuit from Sarah Palin about a passage that Bennet inserted into a 2017 editorial, and has issued corrections and editor’s notes over fallout from columns by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist hired by Bennet. (A correction last year, for instance, began: “An earlier version of this Bret Stephens column quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. After publication Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, who died in 2016, promoted racist views.”)

A lot of (digital) ink was spilled over the shakeups, especially the Times’ decision to cut ties with Bennet, who was seen as a possible successor to executive editor Dean Baquet.

What’s next for the Times’ editorial section? With Bennet gone and opinion editor Jim Dao, who said he oversaw the acceptance and review of Cotton’s op-ed, stepping away from the opinion section, Kathleen Kingsbury was tapped to lead the editorial page, at least through the November election.

Back in 2017, when she was the managing editor for digital at The Boston Globe, we published Kingsbury’s account of the traditional wall between The Boston Globe’s newsroom and opinion section coming down for stark, furious coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

You’re taught in Journalism 101 some fundamental tenets: Be accurate; be fair; don’t make yourself the story. By these measures, maybe Make It Stop had crossed some lines, had gone too far. Maybe.

But there are other responsibilities that we as journalists hold dear: Be a voice for the voiceless. Tell essential truths. Hold the powerful accountable.

Marty Kaiser, the former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, often talks about how, at the end of the day, even journalism organizations must have thresholds to allow for moral outrage. For the Boston Globe, that threshold was a group of young people at a nightclub, enjoying themselves, being mowed down in cold blood.

We cannot shrug our obligation to call out these atrocities as ones our community and our news organizations will not abide.

POSTED     June 8, 2020, 12:03 p.m.
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