What a way to bid adieu. In late April, as his final act overseeing the op-ed page, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. made an appointment so awful that it led even the most sympathetic readers to wonder whether the paper respects their intelligence, or cares about them at all.
Why else would the Times consistently hire columnists that it knows will mislead readers about issues of crucial importance? In 2008, it offered a column to William Kristol, perhaps the most relentlessly wrong pundit in history, not long after he called for the paper’s editors to be jailed. Kristol’s first column required a correction; then he filed an optimistic brief for Sarah Palin’s prospects as a vice-presidential candidate, without informing readers that he had been instrumental in convincing John McCain to make that disastrous choice. The Times defended hiring Kristol on the grounds of ideological diversity: He was “a serious, respected conservative intellectual,” said Andrew Rosenthal, then the editorial-page editor. Critics were merely being “intolerant.”
Much the same language has been marshaled in defense of the Times’s recent poaching of Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens. Replying to angry readers, Sulzberger insisted that he and James Bennet, Rosenthal’s successor on the editorial page, “believe that this kind of debate, by challenging our assumptions and forcing us to think harder about our positions, sharpens all our work and benefits our readers.” Liz Spayd, who continues to make a mockery of the public editor’s job, chimed in with her support for “the general principle of busting up the mostly liberal echo chamber around here.”
News flash: Every Times reader believes in healthy debate. The problem isn’t with Stephens’s politics; the paper’s own Ross Douthat is one of the most interesting and original columnists in the American press today. That’s because Douthat, a Catholic conservative, openly wrestles with his own preconceived notions as they collide with reality. Unlike Stephens, Douthat actually does contribute a fresh perspective that challenges Times readers to think anew. Stephens, by contrast, is an ideological hack. True, he doesn’t like Donald Trump, but he made his name at the Journal—and, disturbingly, won a Pulitzer Prize—as a climate-change denier and an incendiary Islamophobe. (Stephens has complained of “the disease of the Arab mind.” Would the Times hire a pundit who referred to the “Jewish mind” in the same way?)
Most alarming is the fact that, in the battle to save the planet from environmental catastrophe, Stephens purposely plays the “useful idiot” on the enemy’s behalf. At the Journal, he often deployed know-nothing arguments and outright falsehoods to back up his baseless claims. He once called the entire notion of human-caused global warming a “mass hysteria phenomenon.” Not long afterward, he claimed the planet has “registered no discernible warming in the past 10 years.”