Tom Cotton, The New York Times, and the People Who Just Don’t Get It

A. Jay Adler
8 min readJun 11, 2020

For some time now, leading anti-Trump journalist David Frum has offered as the pinned tweet atop his Twitter page, the prediction, “When this is all over, no one will admit to ever having supported it.” A near corollary forecast will most assuredly prove as true — that many more will claim to have opposed Trump than ever really did.

The current case in point is the latest contretemps at The New York Times, over Tom Cotton’s Op-Ed calling on Donald Trump to “employ the military” in an “overwhelming show of force” against Black Lives Matter demonstrations and disturbances. Faced with an uprising in its ranks, the Times confessed to error in publishing the piece, but its acknowledgment notably ignored the newspaper’s gravest error. While the paper placed blame on “process” and failures of “fact-checking,” its greatest error was in thinking the Op-Ed worthy of publication at all.

In response to just this claim, and to the Times backtracking on the Op-Ed’s publication, there arose a familiar din of counter protest. The Times, bewailers of the paper’s pusillanimity objected, was sacrificing the liberal ideals of a free press and free speech before the advance of the “woke,” safe-spacing hordes. By thus aiming their fire at their perpetual and convenient free-speech straw man, the Times’ second round of critics, just as the newspaper itself, ignored the real issue: the inappropriateness for publication and amplification in the nation’s premier and third most widely circulated newspaper such ideas by the likes of Tom Cotton.

Unquestionably, liberal-leaning national publications embarrass themselves in such screw ups. The New Yorker did the same when it rescinded its 2018 invitation to Stave Bannon to speak at the magazine’s Festival of Books. These publications first defend themselves by appeal to the liberal-democratic entertainment of a wide range of views, then retreat in the face of complaints, many indeed coming from “woke” critics of liberalism who might more accurately be described as differently sleeping. The publications end up seeming to stand for nothing greater than fearful pandering, not unlike, in fact, most GOP politicians in 2020 America — though Tom Cotton decidedly not among them. He is a Trump true believer.

A. Jay Adler

Professor of English, writer, roper of stars