George Floyd protests: New York Times editor James Bennet resigns after backlash over US Republican senator's hardline op-ed

Some 800 New York Times staffers signed a petition in protest of the publication of the op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP, NYTIMES) - After online fury and intense criticism from many New York Times staffers, the paper's editorial page head has resigned in controversy after publishing an op-ed by a US senator who urged military force against protestors nationwide.

Mr James Bennet - the editorial page editor since May 2016 - faced intense backlash after initially defending the column headlined "Send in The Military" by Republican US Senator Tom Cotton.

The hardline op-ed - which Mr Bennet initially defended as an example of the newspaper's commitment to ideological diversity - was met with both internal and external outrage.

Mr Cotton's essay encouraged an "overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers" as anti-racism protests rage across the US.

Some 800 Times staffers signed a petition in protest of its publication, as many of the paper's employees tweeted: "Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger."

The company's publisher, Mr A.G. Sulzberger, also initially defended the decision to issue the column but later said the essay fell short of NYT standards.

Mr Bennet also admitted he had not read the column before its publication.

On Sunday (June 7), Mr Sulzberger dubbed Mr Bennet "a journalist of enormous talent and integrity" in an NYTimes statement announcing the resignation.

The statement did not mention the op-ed controversy, but the paper quoted Mr Sulzberger as saying in a note to staff that "last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we've experienced in recent years".

"James and I agreed that it would take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change."

The paper named Ms Katie Kingsbury, a Times staffer since 2017, the acting editorial page editor through the November election.

Mr Jim Dao, the deputy editorial page editor who oversees op-eds, is stepping down from his position, which was on the Times masthead, and taking a new job in the newsroom, Mr Sulzberger said.

Mr Bennet's swift fall from one of the most powerful positions in American journalism comes as hundreds of thousands of people have marched in protest of racism in law enforcement and society in recent weeks, after Mr George Floyd, an African American man, died last month after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer's knee.

The movement has spread to newsrooms, where journalists and other employees have challenged leadership.

On Saturday night, Mr Stan Wischnowski resigned as top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer days after an article in the newspaper about the effects of protest on the urban landscape carried the headline, "Buildings Matter, Too," prompting an apology, a heated staff meeting and a "sick-out" by dozens of journalists of colour.

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