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 many 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.