Bari Weiss challenges Brian Stelter on NY Times uproar over Cotton op-ed: Did it really put 'lives in danger?'

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Journalist Bari Weiss confronted CNN’s Brian Stelter Wednesday over whether the infamous New York Times op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., truly put “lives in danger,” as left-wing staffers furiously claimed last year.

During an appearance on the “Reliable Sources” podcast, Weiss called for more journalists to stand up against “craziness” like the liberal revolt at the paper over the Cotton op-ed headlined, “Send in the Troops.” Cotton argued in a Times op-ed that the Trump administration should be willing to use military force to quell violent uprisings in American cities, causing an unprecedented meltdown as Times staffers mounted a coordinated effort to declare the piece had put the lives of Black staffers and others in danger.

The episode was widely cited as another example of wokeness bringing a powerful institution to heel. Weiss told Stelter it would take an “epidemic of courage” at woke-leaning institutions like the New York Times to bring them back to places of sanity and open debate.

(CNN/FOX)

“If 1,000 journalists said ‘No, it is wrong that New York Times editors were fired over an op-ed by a Republican senator, that’s insanity, that’s craziness,'” she said. “If 1,000 people stood up and said that rather than 1,000 people in the case of Tom Cotton … signing a letter saying their life was in danger, the whole news media would be different. it’s really about people standing up, saying no to the mob, saying yes to free speech and yes to openness to debate, and showing that in doing that, they can not just survive the mob but also come out on the other side of it.”

Stelter pushed back, seemingly suggesting Weiss was saying the offended staffers shouldn’t speak out.

“Doesn’t there need to be room for the people who feel like the op-ed did endanger their lives? It doesn’t mean there needs to be capitulation, but their voices should be heard, too,” Stelter said.

“Anyone can feel anything,” Weiss said. “Do you believe, Brian, that an op-ed can literally put people’s lives in danger? Do you believe that that op-ed put people’s lives in danger?”

“I don’t think that op-ed did, and one of the reasons I’m interested in what you do is the idea that everything is problematic, that everything is hostile,” he said. “These words have been weaponized in order to be used against people in ways that I feel and I fear.”

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 28: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asks a question during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, nominee to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit, testified on the first panel. (Photo By Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
(Tom Williams-Pool)

After a stormy three-year stint as a Times opinion editor, Weiss has thrived as an independent journalist. Her site Common Sense has published stories and op-eds addressing illiberalism in colleges and schools, cancel culture, free speech, transgenderism, and other hot-button topics that she says major publications like the Times are scared to tackle.

In her scathing resignation letter last year, Weiss wrote that Twitter had become the Times’ true editor, citing in part the Cotton uproar that led to the resignation of then-opinion editor James Bennet and later a staffer who worked on the piece, Adam Rubenstein. She also said she was bullied by more liberal colleagues for her heterodox views.

“Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative,” she wrote.

The Times ultimately apologized for the Cotton piece, saying the op-ed fell short of its standards and shouldn’t have been published. It also called the tone of the article “needlessly harsh.” Critics roasted the Times, which has printed op-eds from Taliban officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin, for succumbing to backlash over the piece.

(DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Cotton initially praised the Times for standing up to the “woke progressive mob” by publishing his op-ed in the first place, but he later slammed the Gray Lady as “little social justice warriors” for folding to pressure.

Stelter addressed the Times op-ed fiasco last year, hosting New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones on “Reliable Sources.” Like many other critics of Cotton’s piece, she characterized him as wanting to use the military to “suppress dissent.”

Hannah-Jones, who is outspokenly left-wing, told Stelter that the Times giving Cotton space for his views was part of a “larger symptom” of news organizations trying to be fair to Republicans who had “gone rogue.”

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