The New York Times loses another columnist

November 17, 2020 • 9:15 am

by Greg Mayer

Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times, is leaving the op-ed page; he will become bureau chief in Paris. This follows the departure of Bari Weiss, the demotion of David Leonhardt, and the defenestration of James Bennet. (Click on screenshot.)

Weiss was hounded out for her lack of ideological conformity.  Bennet, the editorial-page editor, was forced out for publishing a piece that diverged from the opinions of his staff. Ironically, it was Bennet who oversaw the “wokification” of the Times‘ opinion pages—he was consumed by his minions!

Leonhardt was demoted from being a columnist. He was neither one of the in-house conservatives (Bret Stephens, Ross Douthat) nor one of the silverbacks (Friedman) that seem immunized from the quest for ideological conformity. A representative example of Leonhardt’s critique of the woke wing of the Democratic Party is this:

A brief extract from the above:

The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.

It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.

You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.

Since Leonhardt still writes for the Times, Jerry asked me how I could be sure he was “demoted”. If you go from being a capital “C” Columnist, identified as such on the Opinion page, with your column appearing weekly in the print edition, to writing an online-only newsletter pointing to interesting articles from the day before and bearing the subtitle “And what else you need to know today“, as though it were a listicle, with only occasional pieces in the Sunday Review, you’ve been demoted.

Cohen is South African-British-American, originally a foreign correspondent who’s lived may years on the Continent. He’s very cosmopolitan, internationalist, and Enlightenment-friendly in outlook. I usually read his weekly column. His farewell column includes this:

This, dear readers, is goodbye, my last column for The New York Times. I have tried to defend the causes I believe in — freedom, decency, pluralism, the importance of dissent in an open society, above all. Uniformity of thought is the death of thought. It paves the road to hell.
It’s less obvious he’s been demoted, as heading the Paris bureau is a plum job (although I would have thought of that job as a step towards, not away from, a more influential position).  Given Cohen’s peripatetic nature, I wouldn’t rule out he wanted to go to Paris. But his farewell mentions of pluralism, dissent, and the evils of groupthink immediately set off my suspicion that this is another step in the Times‘ opinion pages purge. (This purge seems to be spreading to other outlets: witness Andrew Sullivan’s departure from New York magazine, and now Matt Yglesias’s departure from Vox (which he co-founded, for crissakes). In the current context of the Times, I couldn’t help but read those last two sentences as veiled criticism.

Neither Cohen nor Leonhardt complained, but the Times has shown itself to be intolerant of criticism. Apparently only Bret Stephens can do that and live to tell the tale.

20 thoughts on “The New York Times loses another columnist

  1. If this is the Times’ new business model, it makes absolutely no sense. Readership will not expand—quite the contrary. What’s going on looks like a death spiral. The Times can no longer claim to be the ‘newspaper of record’ without provoking derision from all sides except the hyperwoke—hardly the most widely accepted witnesses to media gravitas. So what could be the thinking here?

    1. I have tended to take their ‘newspaper of record’ both with a grain of salt, and also referring to their factual (hopefully) reporting of news, as opposed to their opinionating.

    2. Agree with your ‘makes no sense’ comment.

      However I’m not sure changes to the editorial pages should make that much difference to the paper’s claim (or our acceptance of that claim) to be the ‘newspaper of record.’ As long as it’s doing solid news journalism, it’ll still be a good news paper. Albeit a good news paper with a trash opinion section.

      1. I have decided that the woke thing is best visualized as a virus.
        Once the infection has set in, the business model is no longer relevant.
        Woke people only care about promoting woke politics and compiling lists of people they suspect of not being woke enough.

        Probably the NYT has entered a period where it’s primary function is producing angry leftists. Actual journalism or even maintaining readership no longer matters.
        The thing that was the NYT will stumble around for a while, and eventually collapse as the virus destroys it’s ability to function.
        Then the pathogens will seek a new victim.

  2. Whatever the reason, his new job sounds great. Best of wishes to him. While there’s always need for people ‘in the trenches’, none of us should expect any single individual to remain there indefinitely.

  3. The problem with embracing ideological conformity is that it trumps every other standard. For a business like the Times, that can only mean declining readership and advertising revenue.

  4. The “journal of record” in a former large, influential country was called “Truth” (Правда), and Truth in its pages was decided on largely ideological rather than empirical grounds. But there is a strange difference between that situation and the present one. In the former case, the line on ideological truth was decreed by committees of an organized vanguard Party and their affiliated government agencies.

    In the present case, ideological truth is established by agreement among an unorganized mob of the Illuminati—most of them, it seems, quite recent university graduates influenced by the prevailing, woke academic culture. Who
    Who knew that the ivory tower would have such power? The university PR offices and the alumni Offices always used to talk as if the academy had that much influence, but nobody believed them—back in my day. Hmmm.

    1. Technically, Pravda was the house organ of the Communist Party; the daily state newspaper of record in the old USSR was, I believe, Izvestia.

      Count that as another nugget of dubious practical value that chanced to splash in over my transom with the rest of the mental spindrift. 🙂

      1. Спасибо, Ken. I should have remembered that Правда was the Party publication. Interestingly, Izvestia was taken over by an oligarch’s holding company, then a majority share was bought by—wait for it—Gazprom, Russia’s and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s biggest public/private company.

        На здоровье. JON

  5. I read that column yesterday and didn’t think for a solitary second that it read like someone being forced out of a job for lack of ideological conformity. It read like someone who was ready to take on a new challenge and found a great opportunity in their own organization. As someone whose longest tenure in a single job is my current nine years, I fully understand the desire to change things up once in while.

  6. Doesn‘t look like a demotion to me, more a moving-on. I’d expect somebody to write whatever is on their mind in their last column, regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with the career. The woke climate could have contributed. Maybe it was a major factor, maybe none at all.

    I disagree with the quoted opinion though. It’s not true, that lack of compromise is harming the left. You cannot really say this straight-face when Republicans and Democrats take turns and the USA has 3rd world conditions for the lower rungs of society, and that despite being the richest country in (likely) all of history.

    In a two-party system that is easily gameable by powerful interests; that is flooded with money and would be corrupt if it wasn’t perfectly legal to purchase politicians in the USA, I’d say there are many more probable candidates why leftist politics never come through. In addition, the US long defined itself as opposed to the Soviets, which were coded “left”, especially through the clever trickery in the McCarthy era. That makes the USA very similar to old monarchistic societies. Here, the forces that upheld God, King and the Elites were seated right, and those opposed were assigned left, historically the “sinister” side, but also the anti-authoritarian, sapere aude enlightenment, democratic flank.

    In result, the pro-God-king side in the USA is the right, and it is also the “American” side (versus the “unamerican”, atheist, leftist, soviet etc). This is flipped or mixed in Europe, where the right is also associated prominently with fascism, or medieval monarchy, estates and so on (unpopular stuff). There are a few more factors, like exessive propaganda Americans are subjected to, or such facts that European countries, or Japan don’t have the resources and thus must invest more in their citizens. The USA can buy capable people and take what it wants; its citizens are mostly irrelevant.

    1. …the USA has 3rd world conditions for the lower rungs of society”

      I don’t know what country you’re talking about here, but it’s not the USA. Unless by “lowest rungs” you mean literally homeless people, in which case this is true of any country.

      1. It’s slightly polemical, but only slightly. I’m repeating myself lately in comments, but you can look some stats up. About ~27 million+ Americans are uninsured, depending on who is measuring and which year. Paired with some condition, it’s bankrupcy and death. This is untypical for 1st world nations.

        Pretty much every such nation has labour laws with days off, various perks for parents and so on. The USA is again a negative outlier. Homelessness is difficult to compare because of completely different definitions, but in the US it’s absolutely dire.

        Now Trump is blamed for the many Covid deaths, where the US is again an outlier. But taken in context with of all of this, perhaps it reveals a pattern larger than Trump or Republicans.

  7. ” . . . it was Bennet who oversaw the “wokification” of the Times’ opinion pages— he was consumed by his minions!”

    “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”
    — Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749 – 1800)

  8. Like a parasite that kills it’s own host, my opinion is that they will eventually do themselves in. Alternative news and media will be incentivized and readership (which has already been declining for years for traditional newspapers) will be cut in half and the news will no longer afford to sustain operations. The left is childlike and throws loud tantrums. The right is stoic and does not let their motives be known until the deeds are done.

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