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Three Reasons Bret Stephens Should Not Be a NYT Columnist–and the Real Reason He Is One Printer friendly page Print This
By Jim Naureckas, FAIR
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

You know the reasons why Bret Stephens should not be a New York Times columnist:

1. He’s a climate denier.
Here’s a question for the New York Times editors: Do you think there’s a meaningful chance that virtually all climate scientists are wrong and Bret Stephens is right when he says “temperatures will be about the same” in a hundred years as they are now (Wall Street Journal, 11/30/15)?

If they do believe this, I would suggest they have a lot to learn about climate science—and about probability. But that doesn’t seem to be their position; a month ago, the paper ran an editorial (3/28/17) rebuking Donald Trump for repudiating “the rock-solid scientific consensus that without swift action the consequences of climate change—rising seas, more devastating droughts, widespread species extinction—are likely to get steadily worse.”

But if the editors recognize that there’s a “rock-solid scientific consensus” on the dire effects of climate change, what’s the value in having a columnist who ridicules the “mass hysteria phenomenon known as global warming” (Wall Street Journal, 7/1/08), who asserts that his opinion trumps that science—based on arguments like “a guy I know just had a baby and he’s a big global warming, climate change activist” and “my wife is German, so I know something about German energy policy” (Think Progress, 4/28/17)?

Is this how serious people discuss an ongoing global catastrophe? How is it more helpful than people on the Titanic telling their fellow passengers not to get into lifeboats, because the ship is unsinkable?

If it wasn’t abundantly clear that Stephens has no actual knowledge of or interest in climate science, the fact that the Times had to run a correction on the one fact about climate included in his inaugural column calling for more skepticism of climate scientists should have driven that home.

2. He advocates a crime against humanity.

“I am not sorry Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational mastermind of 9/11, was waterboarded 183 times,” Stephens wrote in the Wall Street Journal (12/15/14). Waterboarding, despite the word games the Bush administration liked to play (abetted by the New York Times), is torture—defined by the UN as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” And torture is a crime against humanity—included on the same list with murder, enslavement, extermination and rape.

Does the New York Times want to open the floor to debate over whether slavery is sometimes good? Genocide? Rape? By putting Stephens on its op-ed page, they’ve become the kind of paper that thinks the wrongness of such things is a matter of opinion.

3. He’s a racist.

Introducing Stephens, New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet (4/28/17) took pains to note that not just any opinion was allowed on the Times op-ed page: “There’s no place for bigotry or dishonesty in intelligent discussion,” he wrote.

So how did Stephens get his job? This is the writer (Wall Street Journal, 8/15/16) who insisted that “the Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind,” or to be more specific, “the disease of the Arab mind.” Elsewhere (Wall Street Journal, 10/12/15) he accused Palestinians of having a “communal psychosis” that debunked “comforting fictions about all people being basically good, or wanting the same things for their children, or being capable of empathy”—Palestinians, apparently, being different from regular humans in these respects.

Even one of Stephens’ new colleagues, Times Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh, pointed out that “ascribing a pathological condition to an entire race of people” is “not cool.” The irony is that the rationale Stephens offers for his communal hatred of Palestinians is that they have been “perverted” by communal hatred of Jews. What do you suppose Stephens—or the Times—would make of a writer that talked about the “disease of the Jewish mind,” or suggested that Israeli violence proved that Jews were not “capable of empathy”?

But Palestinians are not the only group about which Stephens likes to make sweeping put-downs. Utilizing his disease metaphor again, he wrote (Wall Street Journal, 8/29/16) that
the Black Lives Matter movement…has metastasized into the big lie of America, land of the irredeemably racist. For BLM and its cadres, there is no moral agency in the black community, no choices African-Americans can make for themselves to shape their own destiny for good or ill. There is merely a nonstop conspiracy by the structures of white power to keep black people down.
“Institutionalized racism is an imaginary enemy,” Stephens wrote earlier (Wall Street Journal, 11/30/15) because “the future of liberal racialism…requires periodic sightings of the ghosts of a racist past”—this in a country where young black men are nine times more likely to be killed by police than other people, and where a major bank targeted “mud people” for predatory loans.

Stephens’ contempt for the “lack of moral agency” of those with dark skins doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. In a piece headlined “Haiti, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire: Who Cares?” (Wall Street Journal, 1/11/11), Stephens described troubles in three mostly black nations and argued that “colonialism may be the best thing that could happen to at least some countries in the postcolonial world”—due to “the depravity of the locals.”

NYT: Seeking More Voices, Even if Some Don't Want to Hear Them
New York Times (4/22/17). Note the visual identification of bringing on Bret Stephens with listening to coal miners.

This is alt-right stuff. But none of it rises to the level of bigotry for Bennet, the editorial page editor.

For Times public editor Liz Spayd (4/22/17), who’s supposed to keep tabs on the paper for us readers, the idea of looking for bias in Stephens’ work was treated as faintly ridiculous: After his hiring was announced, she wrote, “readers and left-leaning critics…rummaged through his columns for proof that he is a climate change denier, a bigot or maybe a misogynist.”  (The last charge related to Stephens’ facile, casually race-baiting dismissal of campus rape statistics: “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation—Congo on the quad—why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?”—Wall Street Journal, 11/30/15.)

Spayd did acknowledge that she herself was “wary about some of his more inflammatory language,” but said it was “hard to tease apart objections to Stephens’ work from objections to hiring any conservative at all,” and declared she fully supported “Bennet’s aim of hiring people who don’t conform to a liberal orthodoxy of thought.”

The orthodoxy on the New York Times op-ed page, though, isn’t “liberalism”; note that Stephens is the third representative of his ideological niche, the anti-Trump conservative, to currently have a home there. What is glaringly missing from the paper’s opinion roster, as Adam Johnson (, 4/20/17) pointed out, is anyone to the left of Hillary Clinton—surely a larger portion of both the Times readership and the public at large than Republicans who find Trump distasteful.

The real reason he's a NYT Columnist
To understand this anomaly—and the real reason that the New York Times would rather have a climate-denying bigot on its staff than a single-payer advocate—it helps to go back to the beginning of the Times dynasty, as Times veteran John L. Hess (Extra!, 1/00) did in his review of The Trust: The Powerful and Private Family Behind the New York Times, by Susan Tifft and Alex Jones (not that Alex Jones):
How did [Adolph] Ochs, a virtual bankrupt from Chattanooga, persuade Wall Street to set him up with the moribund New York Times? Answer: The financiers were anxious to keep the paper alive as a Democratic voice against the populist Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan, who was stirring the masses with that speech about the Cross of Gold. Ochs bought a fine new suit, set up a fake bank account as reference, and persuaded J.P. Morgan and others to bankroll the purchase. His paper promptly pilloried Bryan, and Ochs marched with his staff in a businessmen’s parade against him.
Much has changed since 1896, but in 2017, the Times still defends establishment, business-oriented liberalism against the populist left. In part it does this by attacking the left directly—see the columns of Paul Krugman during the 2016 Democratic primaries—but the more meaningful sustenance they give to the liberal elite is to validate them as the left-most pole of respectable discourse.

And that, in turn, requires that the neo-liberals have a right wing, and only a right wing, to argue with and present themselves as a bastion against. It can’t be a bomb-throwing right, as represented by Trump—the point is to preserve the liberal establishment, not to eradicate it—but it doesn’t pay for the right to be too polite, either.

After all, if it weren’t for the threat of the climate change-denying, torture-endorsing, race-baiting Bret Stephenses of the world—what would the New York Times’ pro-business liberals have to threaten the genuine left with?

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