The cynical spectacle of Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times

Palin’s grounds are not genuinely to seek redress for a factual error that was promptly corrected. She knows the whole episode has bolstered, not damaged, her reputation with the supporters on whom her political and financial fortunes depend. His target is less Bennet than the news agency his right-wing confederates have been seething about since the Nixon era. Others who applaud his case hope to weaken the legal protections enjoyed by all journalists.

Meanwhile, Bennet is being defended by a news agency that has made a panicked decision to force his resignation rather than defend him against an attack from the left, led by several of its own staffers. The discovery process of the trial clearly showed that Time publisher AG Sulzberger had urged Bennet to make his page bolder, faster, and more surprising. Take more risks, he urged Bennet in a post review. Then he ran shakily for the exits when some of these risks had uncomfortable results.

Thus, another distinction that Bennet did not seek: he is the only one whose words at the trial can be taken at face value, his pain evidently sincere.

“It’s my fault, it’s true, I wrote those sentences,” Bennet volunteered with Palin’s attorney, Shane Vogt, on Tuesday to dispel any suggestion that a colleague was responsible. statements in the editorial that appeared to link Palin’s political action committee to a fatal shooting in Arizona a decade ago. Somehow, he ignores the contemporary rules of speech: every attack must be met with a snarling counterattack and violent distraction.

Instead, he set about correcting the original language.

Upon learning that something bad has happened to someone else, the human mind is wired to seek psychological distance – to grasp for reasons why the same bad thing wouldn’t have happened to you.

“Terrible what happened – but what was he thinking walking alone in this neighborhood at this hour?” “So sad, but you know she smokes.”

In Bennet’s case, the rationalization impulse does not work. Most editors who have had responsibilities at Bennet’s level know that his setbacks could easily be theirs.

Back when I was editing a copy online, could I have inserted a technical error while trying to bring a flaccid piece to life? Well, uh, yes. Not only could have done it, but did it. That’s what happened to Bennet in 2017 after a deranged man went wild on a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Va., injuring Republican Rep. Steve Scalise. On a tight deadline, Bennet added lines to an op-ed recalling the 2011 shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords and suggesting that Palin’s PAC political material — complete with what looked like rifle crosshairs on Giffords’ district — would have could have contributed to the violence. In fact, as a correction acknowledges, there is no evidence that Giffords’ shooter was motivated by material from Palin’s group.

Lost in the largely feigned outrage was the obvious common sense of the editorial’s main argument: Violent imagery and language invoked as a metaphor in politics can stir troubled minds in unpredictable ways, so responsible politicians should remember that. .

What about the other big cloud in Bennet’s four-year tenure as editorial page editor? Would I have jumped on the tracks to stop the Time to broadcast a comment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) calling for the deployment of federal troops to end urban violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd? With hindsight: I would have passed the piece. Cotton’s argument – presented on the Senate floor, not just on the opinion page of the Time – was more of an ideological attempt by scabs than a serious proposal. But no editorial judgment is made with hindsight. I was surprised that the stock words of a US senator that were already widely circulated led to calls to the head of an editor. I was amazed that an editor of the New York Times would give head to these critics.

My opinions on the subject are not detached. Bennet and I were both friends and competitors when Clinton won the White House a quarter century ago. He became editor of Atlantic shortly before I helped launch POLITICO.

In certain moods, I have fun imagining what Bennet could do if he were as cynically transactional as the other players in the Palin trial. He might have turned the whole thing into a career springboard.

He could have testified that Palin was right – he now realizes that he was unwittingly influenced by the pervasive atmosphere of sneering condescension in an elite media that treats all conservatives as rubies. He could have turned that epiphany into millions with his own FoxNews show as an introduction to Tucker.

Or maybe there’s an opening on the left. He could advertise himself as a refugee from the corporate media and the way they support corrupt power arrangements through self-censorship and half-hearted journalism on both sides. There could be some decent money in on-campus lectures and a Substack column in there.

In the real world, Bennet won’t do these things because, as his self-critical testimony this week showed, he has always dedicated his professional life to telling the truth – with the humility to recognize that no one is in the possession of the truth.

Three years ago, in a long conversation published in POLITICO magazine, Bennett explained to me his philosophy as editor of the editorial page: “We give people an honest fight, an open debate from many different points of view and show that you can do this stuff”. respectfully, that you can actually engage across these different ideological divides and your – even now, these days – tribal divides.

This aspiration seems a little more distant now than three years ago.


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