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Staffer Outrage, Sickout Spurred by NYT Publication of Sen. Cotton 'Send in the Troops' Op-Ed

"Running this puts @nytimes' Black staff in danger."

New York Times building

The New York Times's decision to publish Sen. Tom Cotton's op-ed calling for U.S. military to quell the nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd has drawn sharp rebuke, including from the newspaper's own writers.  (Photo: Ajay Suresh/Wikimedia Commons/cc)

The New York Times's Wednesday publication of Sen. Tom Cotton's op-ed calling for the U.S. military to respond to ongoing protests across the nation with an "overwhelming show of force" sparked outcry from the newspaper's own staffers and a "sickout" protest Thursday. 

Among the staff critics was 2020 Pulitzer Prizer winner Nikole Hannah-Jones. "I'll probably get in trouble for this, but to not say something would be immoral," she tweeted Wednesday. "As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this."

 "As a NYT writer I absolutely stand in opposition to that Tom Cotton 'editorial,'" tweeted Roxane Gay. "We are well served by robust and ideologically diverse public discourse that includes radical, liberal, and conservative voices." But, she continued, "This is not that. His piece was inflammatory and endorsing military occupation as if the constitution doesn't exist."

A number of other Times staffers, some putting their jobs at risk, responded to the publication on Twitter with a screenshot of the "Send in the Troops" op-ed and the words: "Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger."

Editorial page editor James Bennet sought to justify the publication, issuing a series of tweets Wednesday, saying, in part, "Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy." But that explanation has done little to quell the outrage.

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The decision to publish the op-ed—even as journalists covering the ongoing protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd have already been attacked by police forces—has also spurred a sickout.

Over two dozen Times employees who work in technology are taking part in the protest. The group includes Minerva Archer, who explained the decision in a Thursday Twitter thread, writing that "today I feel it's important for me to say that I'm ashamed the content management system I help build was used to publish a credulous and poorly fact-checked piece advocating for military violence against American citizens."

In a Wednesday night statement, the newspaper's union responded to the Cotton op-ed, saying it "pours gasoline on the fire," and called the Times's decision to publish it an "irresponsible choice."

Cotton's "message undermines the journalistic work of our members, puts out Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence," said the statement. "Invariably, invoking state violence disproportionately hurts Black and brown people. It also jeopardizes our journalists' ability to work in the field safety and effectively."

The op-ed's "lack of context, inadequate vetting by editorial management, spread of misinformation, and the timing of its call to arms gravely undermine the work we do every day," the union said. "This rhetoric could inspire further use of force at protests—protests many of us and our colleagues are covering in person."

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