New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet has resigned effective Sunday, after the paper published a widely excoriated op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that advocated for military action against the ongoing anti-racism protests around the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
Bennet’s resignation is effective immediately, a spokesperson for the Times announced Sunday.
“Both of us concluded that James would not be able to lead the team through the next leg of change that is required,” the paper’s publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, said in the paper’s own story about Bennet’s exit.
One of his deputies, Katie Kingsbury, will become acting editorial page editor through the November election.
After initially defending the decision to run the column, Bennet admitted on Friday that he had not read it prior to publication.
Bennet’s other deputy, Jim Dao — who publicly admitted that he “oversaw the acceptance and review of the Cotton Op-Ed” — is being demoted and reassigned, the Times said Sunday.
The publication of the op-ed on Wednesday caused widespread backlash, including within the Times newsroom. Numerous Times staffers publicly spoke out against it, flooding Twitter with a screenshot of the headline and a unified message: “Running this puts all black people in danger, including @nytimes staff members.”
The NewsGuild of New York, which represents the Times’ union, issued a similar statement Wednesday, arguing Cotton’s op-ed “undermines the journalistic work of our members, puts our Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence.”
“Cotton’s Op-Ed pours gasoline on the fire,” the union wrote. “Media organizations have a responsibility to hold power to account, not amplify voices of power without context and caution.”
Yet Bennet defended the decision in a series of tweets, arguing the paper “owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy.”
It took until Thursday afternoon for the paper’s leadership to publicly acknowledge the uproar, saying that “a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards.”
On Friday, some non-editorial staffers staged a digital walkout in protest.
Later that day, at a contentious employee town hall, Bennet admitted he had not read the op-ed before publication, and said it would not run in print in the paper’s Sunday edition.
The online version of the op-ed now features a lengthy editor’s note indicating it “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”
“Given the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny,” the note reads. “Instead, the editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved.”