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The op-ed piece that ended now-former Editorial Page Editor James Bennet's career at The New York Times raised the hackles of black staff members who portrayed its central argument as a clear and imminent threat to their personal safety. They claimed the essay, in which Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) urged President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and call up active-duty troops in response to the urban unrest that followed George Floyd's deadly May 25 encounter with Minneapolis police, "puts our Black staff members in danger," because "invoking state violence disproportionately hurts Black and brown people."

Officially, however, the problem with Cotton's op-ed—the problem that led Bennet and the Times to part ways—was not the senator's message but the way he communicated it. "The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton—however objectionable people may find them—represent a newsworthy part of the current debate," says a five-paragraph apology that was added to the top of the piece two days after it appeared. Regrettably, however, "the essay fell short of our standards."

Regular readers of the New York Times op-ed page could be forgiven for wondering: What standards? Every sin Cotton supposedly committed—with the exception of the "basic arguments" that the Times still says were "a newsworthy part of the current debate"—has been a frequent feature of the paper's opinion pages for many years without generating such conspicuous internal controversy.

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