The New York Times' Controversial New Columnist Nearly Joined Pulitzer Board

Bret Stephens was vetted for the board while at the Wall Street Journal, but couldn't serve after switching papers.
Bret Stephens emerged as one of President Donald Trump's fiercest critics from the right while at the Wall Street Journal.
Bret Stephens emerged as one of President Donald Trump's fiercest critics from the right while at the Wall Street Journal.

Shortly before Bret Stephens joined The New York Times last month, he had been expected to also join another prestigious institution: the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Stephens’ admittance into the elite journalistic club wasn’t thwarted because of his controversial skepticism about the effects of climate change, according to sources familiar with the matter. He was prevented from coming aboard because of a rule that two employees of the same publication can’t serve at the same time.

The board vetted Stephens while he was deputy editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal and was prepared to add him to the group. But Stephens was no longer eligible to join after he switched papers because Times columnist Gail Collins is already on the board.

Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist and current board chair, confirmed that only one person from a publication can serve on the board at a time, but declined to comment further on the selection process.

Pulitzer Prize administrator Mike Pride also declined to comment.

Stephens presumably would have checked off several boxes for a prospective new member.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Stephens would have filled the void left by another conservative writer from the Journal: Paul Gigot, the paper’s editorial page editor, recently wrapped up his last term on the board. Stephens’ profile had also recently risen after he emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics on the right.

The board still needs to fill the vacancy with a new member. Pulitzer board members commit to at least three years, but can serve for up to nine.

The Times’ hiring of Stephens quickly prompted criticism from inside and outside the paper given the columnist’s past description of anti-Semitism as the “disease of the Arab mind” and dismissal of climate change as an “imaginary enemy.”

Such scrutiny only ramped up after Stephens’ first column Friday addressed uncertainty in politics or climate science. Some critics blasted the piece as “classic denialism” and “bullshit,” while more than a dozen climate scientists argued in an open letter Tuesday that the piece promoted “alternative facts.” The Times’ climate desk appeared to subtweet the new columnist, and some leading climate experts have canceled their Times subscriptions.

Still, Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet, who hired Stephens, has defended the columnist’s views as adding to a “vitally important debate” and said it is “totally unfair” to describe him as a “climate denialist.” Stephens himself identifies as “climate agnostic.”