Last week, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R) penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which he argued in favor of using the troops to control the widespread unrest which have gripped several major American cities since the death of George Floyd.
It was a simple, well-reasoned argument explaining that the Insurrection Act, which has not been invoked since the 1992 L.A. Riots, would be applicable in this case as well.
The op-ed contained no inflammatory language, no ideology. It focused on a simple point of debate (should the troops be deployed to contain the rioting?) and argued for the affirmative.
This is rhetoric 101. And in fact, if you had been on the fence about whether or not the troops should be used against American citizens in the case of widespread looting and rioting, you might very well have been convinced by the senator and Army veteran’s well-argued points.
The fact that this article could have changed one’s mind, however, is why I believe it was met with angry backlash from not just progressives at large, but progressive employees from the New York Times.
“We believe his message undermines the work we do, in the newsroom and in opinion, and violates our standards for ethical and accurate reporting for the public’s interest,” a letter from the outraged Times’ employees reads, according to Vanity Fair. “It also jeopardizes our journalists’ ability to work safely and effectively on the streets…. In publishing an Op-Ed that appears to call for violence, promotes hate, and rests its arguments on several factual inaccuracies while glossing over other matters that require—and were not met with—expert legal interpretation, we fail our readers.”
The outraged writers were not offended by Cotton’s bad arguments or misunderstanding of the Insurrection Act. They were offended that he was allowed to present his argument in the first place.
These are journalists we’re talking about. And not just any journalists, people who have stood out of the pack enough to be hired by the most revered newspaper in the Western world.
Every single one of these outraged individuals had ample opportunity to simply refute Cotton’s supposed inaccuracies and express their disagreement, both on social media and within the pages of the Times.
They certainly took to social media, but their arguments continued to focus overwhelmingly on exasperated outrage that the piece was published at all, rather than it simply being wrong.
The writers took to Twitter to tweet out the same canned message that “running [Cotton’s op-ed] puts black @nytimes staff in danger.” Here is one disturbing example of a very, very bad argument as to why this is the case. (Mind you, this is a writer for the New York Times.)
These writers aren’t opposing Cotton’s views, they’re making the very problematic suggestion that speech is violence, an idea which has been used to undermine the free speech of countless individuals on our nation’s campuses, as Mark Hemingway explains.
“Much like campuses, the Times is now on record saying its staff is to be treated like young students who must be coddled and protected from ideas they don’t like,” he says.
“Giving every employee a veto over what appears on the opinion page is not a recipe for fostering the kind of intellectually robust debates necessary to sustain democracy – especially when those same employees are intolerant of ideas firmly in the mainstream,” he continues.
It is incredibly troubling not only that someone would consider speech to be violence, but that such a rationale is being used to attempt to silence certain voices instead of using the simple and vital skill of basic debate.
A conservative relies on debate as well as free speech to reason together and hash out the best policies with which to govern ourselves. What intellectual future do we have if both are being forsaken for the sake of protecting the feelings of those with no good response to the ideas they disagree with?