The Error of The New York Times

Newspaper does disservice to freedom of expression in the face of protests against article


A simple test can check whether someone takes freedom of speech seriously. The person will be approved if, in the face of an article that emphatically defends the ideas he most despises, he does not oppose its dissemination. Many, including journalists, fail.

This happened for readers and some of the New York Times professionals who were disgusted by the June 5 publication of an opinion article signed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton. The Arkansas parliamentarian advocated a military response against the anti-racist demonstrations that spread to several cities of the USA.

The team's protests paid off. The section editor, James Bennet, stepped down. The newspaper issued a retraction note in which it points out technical flaws in the article, criticizes its excessively harsh tone, and considers the publication to be misleading. According to the document, there were flaws in the editing process. The newspaper did not remove the text from online.

A protester screams in front of a row of police officers during a demonstration against the death of George Floyd at a park near the White House on June 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) - AFP

The ideas defended by Senator Cotton are horrible - they confront the fundamental values of a democratic and peaceful society. Still, they are just ideas.

The deplorable proposal to send military members of the regular forces to crack down on protesters had already appeared on the pages of the New York Times itself when it was put forward by President Donald Trump.

When developing the theme over several paragraphs without presenting any good argument for the intervention, Cotton ends up revealing how problematic the original thesis was. Thus, the publication fits perfectly into the canons of free debate and, given the text's defects, still offers ammunition to opponents.

Moments of intense emotions often flow into obscurant acts - see the HBO Max platform's decision to remove the film "Gone With The Wind" from its catalog, in the face of demonstrations against racism.

It is sad that journalists, in particular, do not understand the value of publishing ideas that go head-on against their own.

Perhaps there is a generational factor there. Most professionals working today were trained at a time when freedom of expression was never threatened.

It does not have in its collective memory; therefore, how difficult it was to ensure that everyone has the right to say what they think, whatever the content of such thoughts.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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