James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, has resigned after a controversy over an Op-Ed by a senator calling for military force against rioters in American cities.
“Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years,” said A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher, in a note to the staff. In a brief interview Sunday afternoon, Mr. Sulzberger added: “Both of us concluded that James would not be able to lead the team through the next leg of change that is required.”
Katie Kingsbury, a deputy editorial page editor, will be the acting editorial page editor through the November election, Mr. Sulzberger said.
Jim Dao, the deputy editorial page editor who oversees Op-Eds, is stepping down from his position, which was on the Times masthead, and taking a new job in the newsroom, Mr. Sulzberger said.
Mr. Bennet’s swift fall from one of the most powerful positions in American journalism comes as hundreds of thousands of people have marched in protest of racism in law enforcement and society in recent weeks, after George Floyd died last month after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee. The movement has spread to newsrooms, where journalists and other employees have challenged leadership.
On Saturday night, Stan Wischnowski resigned as top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer days after an article in the newspaper about the effects of protest on the urban landscape carried the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” prompting an apology, a heated staff meeting and a “sick-out” by dozens of journalists of color.
At The Times, the Op-Ed, published on Wednesday, prompted a virtual town hall with the staff on Friday, at which Mr. Bennet apologized for the Op-Ed, saying it should not have been published and that it resulted from a breakdown in a process meant to vet such pieces. Mr. Bennet did not reply to a request for comment on Sunday.
The Op-Ed, by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, had “Send In the Troops” as its headline. “One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers,” the senator wrote.
As of Thursday evening, over 800 staff members had signed a letter protesting its publication, addressed to high-ranking editors in the opinion and news divisions, as well as New York Times Company executives. The letter argued that Mr. Cotton’s essay contained misinformation, such as his depiction of the role of “antifa” in the protests. Dozens of Times employees objected to the Op-Ed on social media, as well, despite a company policy that instructs them not to post partisan comments or take sides on issues.
Mr. Bennet’s departure seems to eliminate one of just a few projected contenders to be the newspaper’s next executive editor after Dean Baquet, who has been in charge of the newsroom for six years, retires.