The newsroom revolt that followed The New York Times publishing an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., about using troops to end rioting and looting in American cities was a turning point in the newspaper’s history. That incident was crucial in determining that leftist journalists would enforce groupthink policies, silencing conservative viewpoints. Their victory was sealed weeks later, when the NewsGuild of New York, the union that represents Times employees, issued a set of demands.
The manifesto claimed to be about “diversity, equity and inclusion.” The union’s diktat mandated hard racial quotas that would go far beyond the paper’s long-standing affirmative action policies to increase the number of select racial groups the Times hired, adding new layers to the paper’s existing efforts to increase race-conscious employment.
In a move that would ensure the end of ideological diversity at The New York Times, the manifesto also called for a new step in the editorial process before any article — news, feature, or opinion — is published. The Times already employs an army of editors, yet should publisher Arthur G. Sulzberger heed the union’s memo — and it’s hard to imagine he won’t — all articles will undergo “sensitivity readings,” in which a new class of editor will enforce the same kind of intolerance demanded by the newsroom mob against Cotton’s ideas.
Their demands will become official policy, rather than a loose understanding that occasionally allows dissent against leftist orthodoxy to slip into the paper. This will be a seismic shift in the culture of publishing.
‘Civil War’ Within The New York Times
The anger the Cotton op-ed generated in the newsroom not only confirmed what former Times staffer Bari Weiss called a “civil war” raging there between younger leftists and older liberals who still believe the newspaper is a place open to diverse ideas rather than a place to enforce woke orthodoxy. It also demonstrated that Sulzberger is not really in control.
Both Sulzberger and then-opinion editor James Bennet initially defended the decision to accept the Cotton article. Within days, however, an avalanche of tweets from leftist journalists about Sulzberger’s advocacy for action to end the violence unleashed by the Black Lives Matter movement caused the publisher to back down and denounce the decision to run the article. Bennet soon resigned and was effectively replaced by someone with a mandate to make sure no more conservative heresies will be published.
The revolt over Cotton’s article was successful not just because it mobilized a newsroom that was overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement. Sulzberger was intimidated because the storm of staffer tweets about the issue was framed in the language of human resources handbooks. Those angry at Cotton didn’t merely disagree with his policy recommendation. They uniformly spoke of it “endangering the safety” of black staffers.
The notion that all black people or any racial group would be specifically endangered by troops halting riots, which was universally mischaracterized as a call for “fascism,” is an insult to African-Americans. The point of this language, however, was to invoke workplace safety worries about “hostile environments,” originally intended to protect employees against actual racism or sexual harassment.
Deploying it as part of an effort to silence a prominent U.S. senator or anyone who might agree with him was a brilliant strategy. It led to a purge of the opinion section. Liberals who hoped the section could be a universally respected forum rather than becoming, like the rest of the paper, a leftist organ that editorializes in nearly every article and headline in nearly every department, including sports and the arts, were out of touch with most New York Times staffers.
Goodbye to Conservative Thought
Adding editorial “sensitivity” readings will make it effectively impossible for anyone at the Times to sneak in any idea, even in an op-ed, that causes leftists to feel “unsafe” because it challenges their pre-existing biases and assumptions. While Sulzberger couldn’t stand up to the newsroom mob about the Cotton op-ed, the sensitivity editors will make such controversies impossible. With a new class of woke official, empowered to veto the judgment of other editors and reporters and acting as a commissar to ensure fidelity to leftist sensitivities, any potential conservative dissent will never see the light of day.
The union’s demands for racial hiring quotas that require that the newsroom population resemble that of New York City, with blacks and Hispanics becoming a mandatory majority, is part of the same strategy, which will phase out the aging liberal veteran journalists about which Weiss wrote. Having a whole class of sensitivity commissars empowered to expunge all ideas that make left-wingers feel “unsafe,” however, will make what was once merely a common assumption a permanent policy.
The dwindling band of anti-Trump former conservative columnists at the New York Times — no one on staff shares the opinions of approximately half the country who are actual conservatives — might continue to hold their jobs. But their ability to write about ideas where they do dissent from leftist orthodoxy will be further chilled. Liberal editors will, with Bennet’s example in mind, be even less likely to think of running something that might anger the leftist mob.
What happens at the Times might not matter to most Americans. Most conservatives, like most liberals, now only read, listen to, and watch media where they can expect to agree with the content. But anyone who thinks these demands will not be echoed at daily newspapers and local and national broadcast outlets elsewhere doesn’t understand the culture of contemporary journalism. The New York Times might be the first publishing outlet to create sensitivity commissars empowered to spike conservative thought crimes, but it won’t be the last.