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New York Times opinion editor resigns amid fallout over op-ed calling on military to quell protests

The opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton — titled "Send in the Troops" — incited a backlash from readers but also drew public rebukes from Times journalists.

The New York Times announced Sunday that Editorial Page Editor James Bennet has resigned after his department published a widely criticized opinion article written by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

Cotton's article, published Wednesday and titled "Send in the Troops," incited a backlash not just from readers but also from Times journalists. Many from within the newsroom publicly stated that the article put the lives of black journalists employed at the company in danger.

The article supported the use of military force to suppress the nationwide protests against police violence that were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

James Bennet, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, leaves federal court in New York in 2017.Larry Neumeister / AP file

Bennet defended the article in a Twitter thread Wednesday, saying The Times owed it to readers to present counterarguments to balance editorials written in favor of the protests.

"We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton's argument painful, even dangerous," Bennet wrote. "We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate."

But on Sunday, the newspaper's publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, made it clear that significant changes would be coming to the opinion process.

"Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we've experienced in recent years, " he wrote. "James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change."

On Thursday, the newspaper said in a statement that an internal review had showed a "rushed editorial process" that did not meet its own standards. Short-term and long-term changes would be coming as a result, the statement said.

An article written by the paper's own journalists revealed that Bennet told staff members that he had not read the essay before it was published.

The Times' publication of Cotton's op-ed, and the ensuing protest from its staff, set off an important debate about how the nation's paper of record weighs its commitment to causes like racial justice.

For some Times staffers who opposed publishing the essay, Bennet's resignation was a positive sign, indicating that the paper takes their concerns seriously and is committed to applying more care and fact-checking to the op-ed process.

For others, it was evidence of a growing trend that would have been all but unthinkable in previous generations — the power of progressive employees to force change at the organization through collective protest.

Katie Kingsbury, who joined the op-ed section in 2017, will take over Bennet's role as lead editorial editor through the November election. Jim Dao, Bennet's deputy editor in charge of the op-ed section, will also be removed from the masthead and moved into a new role.

"None of these changes mark a retreat from The Times's responsibility to help people understand a range of voices across the breadth of public debate," Sulzberger said in his memo. "That role is as important as it's ever been."

The company is opposed to racism in every corner of society, Sulzberger clarified as the newspaper has faced questions about its "core values."

"As a company we have made real progress in recent years in becoming more diverse and inclusive, but we must increase our efforts to ensure that this is a place that welcomes, supports and reflects the contributions of all of our employees," Sulzberger said.

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In a statement from The Times announcing the resignation, Bennet said he was "so proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to focus attention on injustice and threats to freedom ... by bringing new voices and ideas to Times readers."

"The journalism of Times Opinion has never mattered more than in this time of crisis at home and around the world, and I've been honored to be part of it," Bennet said.

President Donald Trump, who has often openly condemned The Times, tweeted about Bennet's departure Sunday: "That's right, he quit over the excellent Op-Ed penned by our great Senator @TomCottonAR. "TRANSPARENCY! The State of Arkansas is very proud of Tom."

Clifford Levy, an associate managing editor, responded to the president's tweet by echoing Sulzberger's words about the paper's commitment to providing readers a range of voices.

"The decision to change @nytopinion management has nothing to do with our belief in that mission, which remains a core principle," Levy said.

CORRECTION (June 7, 2020, 10:35 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of the editorial page editor who resigned. He is James Bennet, not James Bennett.