As one who's had a number journalistic disputes with the New York Times, I've long been mystified at the newspaper's lofty reputation among educated readers. The Times's woeful performance during the 2016 presidential election alone—from its promotion of the Breitbart-inspired Uranium One "scandal" to its obsession with Hillary Clinton's accursed emails and James Comey's grandstanding—ought to have put people on warning.
What's more, if expressing crackpot views were an obstacle to being published on the Times opinion pages…
Well, let's just leave it at that, shall we? One farce at a time.
What's different this time has been a staff rebellion against Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton's authoritarian call to arms in "the newspaper of record." Also the Times's admission that "the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published" and the subsequent resignation of opinion editor James Bennett.
That should be no surprise, given that Bennett admitted that he hadn't even read, much less edited, Cotton's factually-deficient, inflammatory essay before it appeared on the newspaper's website that should be no surprise. Everybody says that Bennet, whose older brother is Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), is a fine fellow and a talented editor—characterizations I have no reason to doubt. But such a dereliction of duty would be shocking at a high-school weekly.
Meanwhile, on balance, things have worked out awfully well for the author. The disputed column remains on the Times website under the staff-written but accurate headline "Tom Cotton: Send in the Troops." True, editors have appended a prefatory note to the effect that the essay's tone is "needlessly harsh" and its factual assertions questionable.
At best. Dear reader, do you believe that during an outbreak of looting and arson in New York City in response to George Floyd's murder, wealthy people in "exotic cars" went sightseeing in Midtown Manhattan?
"The riots," Cotton solemnly informs us "were carnivals for the thrill-seeking rich as well as other criminal elements."
Ah, those decadent east coast liberals.
Do you reckon any of those fancy cars Cotton heard about might have been stolen?
But more about Cotton's lurid imagination later. The Arkansas senator is sitting pretty with the Trumpist far-right. No less an authority than Boss Trump himself inaccurately asserted that editor Bennet had resigned in protest over Cotton's article, and tweeted that "The State of Arkansas is very proud of Tom. The New York Times is Fake News!!!"
Four exclamation points. That's a lot.
All this for a labored exercise in soft-core fascism that calls for combat troops to occupy American cities to violently suppress demonstrators in blatant disregard of the U.S. Constitution. That's right, I used the dreaded "f-word." Not every far-right authoritarian nationalist is a would-be Hitler. That's why I wrote "soft-core."
Iraq war veteran Cotton, however, appears to get a thrill out of envisioning combat soldiers like him beating up civilians. Following up on Twitter, he called for "no quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters." Or as Trump himself has put it, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
In military parlance, "no quarter" means killing. On Twitter, fellow Iraq war veteran David French cites the US Army's "Commander's Handbook on the Law of Land Warfare," to the effect that such orders constitute a war crime.
Cotton may have used the phrase purely for its political shock value. Also, however, maybe not. Times staffers also objected to his assertion that "cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa [were] infiltrating protest marches…for their own anarchic purposes." The newspaper's own reporting, citing FBI and police sources, says there's no evidence of that.
Indeed, I have my doubts about the dread Antifa, in the sense of its being an organization that actually exists. Who are its leaders? Where do they meet? "Antifa isn't even real," one Minneapolis law student told a reporter. "As an actual person who identifies with the political label of anarchist, the only thing anarchists do is have meetings where they argue for five hours and get nothing done."
Sounds like every bunch of academic leftists I've ever known.
But what really sticks in the craw of career soldiers who resist having the Pentagon drawn into domestic politics has to be Sen. Cotton's malicious misreading of the U.S. Constitution. He appears to envision an America whose president can send combat soldiers into any civil disorder whether mayors or governors like it or not. He sneers at "delusional politicians… [who] refuse to do what's necessary to uphold the rule of law."
But that's not what Section 4 of Article 4 of the US Constitution says. Governors and legislatures may petition the federal government for help, yes, but the president has no authority to dispatch troops against their wishes.
Nobody countenances arson and looting, but local authorities across the U.S. have brought the situation under control—a credit to the discipline and seriousness of protest organizers as well.
Despite his exemplary military record, Tom Cotton appears to have panicked.
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