WASHINGTON - Government and media experts called Senator Tom Cotton's New York Times editorial "dangerous," "abhorrent" and "unacceptable" Wednesday night.
The editorial, titled "Send In the Troops" went viral and drew sharp criticism following high tensions surrounding protests around the country against police brutality.
Protests have taken hold of cities across the country after the death of George Floyd, a black man who suffocated last week after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground.
In the op-ed, Cotton, a veteran Republican from Arkansas, calls on President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and send the military into cities, writing, "One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers."
'I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act': Defense Secretary Esper breaks with Trump on use of troops
Though Trump has the legal authority to invoke the Insurrection Act, many, like his own Defense Secretary, have cautioned against the use of troops to quiet domestic unrest.
The Insurrection Act is an 1807 law that allows the president to dispatch the military or federalize the National Guard in states that are unable to put down an insurrection or are defying federal law. The act has been invoked in the past to confront the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction and to enforce desegregation in the South. President George H.W. Bush used it in 1992 to help California's governor respond to riots in Los Angeles.
In response to the editorial, dozens of Times staffers began posting the same message on Twitter with an image of the headline.“Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger,” they wrote.
'I can't breathe': Protesters lie down on DC street, repeat Floyd's words
Running this puts Black@nytimes staff in danger.pic.twitter.com/nI887cUYjQ— Kwame Opam (@kwameopam)June 3, 2020
Past Times staffers slammed the piece as well. Sewell Chan, former international news and op-ed editor, who now works at the LA Times, tweeted that "the decision to publish @SenTomCotton calling for troop deployments to quell unrest falls short of sound journalistic practice."
Lydia Polgreen, Head of Content for Gimlet Media and an NYT alum, wrote that she "spent some of the happiest and most productive years of my life working" for the Times and it "is with love and sadness that I say: running this puts Black @nytimes staff - and many, many others - in danger."
Editorial page editor, James Bennet, explained the decision, tweeting in a thread, “The Times editorial board has forcefully defended the protests as patriotic and criticized the use of force, saying earlier today that police too often have ‘responded with more violence — against protesters, journalists and bystanders.’ We’ve also crusaded for years against the underlying, systemic cruelties that led to these protests.”
I want to explain why we published the piece today by Senator Tom Cotton.https://t.co/GvWwf7i0Wu— James Bennet (@JBennet)June 3, 2020
“As part of our explorations of these issues, Times Opinion has published powerful arguments supporting protests, advocating fundamental change and criticizing police abuses," he continued. "Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy. We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton's argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.”
The editorial sections of newspapers are separate from the newsgathering operations.
Others outside of the Times current or former staff scrutinized the piece, causing #TomCotton to trend online.
Sam Wang, a scientist at Princeton University, rebuked Bennet's explanation, saying that he was "normalizing the abnormal" with Cotton's column.
Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, tweeted, "I’ve submitted non-fascist opinion pieces to the Times in the past but no luck so maybe this is just sour grapes."
Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, wrote that Cotton's piece "reads like the kind of handwritten manifesto investigators might find glued to a wall in the dingy apartment of a lone gunman they stopped minutes before his planned attack."
Many also pointed out that the op-ed ran online on the eve on the 31st anniversary of the "Tiananmen Square Massacre." Weeks of protests across China, centered in Beijing's historic public square, were crushed that day when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared martial law and security forces fired on the protesters.
So... unless the NYT brass change their minds about it, Cotton’s “Send in the troops” op-ed is going to run in print on the Tiananmen anniversary.— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw)June 4, 2020
Last year, Cotton wrote on the 30th anniversary of the incident: "We'll never forget the bravery and sacrifice of those Chinese students. The Communist Party hasn't changed in the intervening decades. It has only updated its tactics."
Contributing: William Cummings, John Bacon