NY Times Editor Claims Its Advocacy Against Tax Bill Was Proper. Really?

At a December meeting between New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet and Times employees, Bennet argued that the Times was becoming more fair-minded than it had been heretofore, offering op-ed writers who espoused conservative views that differed from the paper’s traditionally leftist stance.

Yet at that same meeting, as the Huffington Post reported, Bennet also admitted that the editorial board of the paper had used Twitter to advocate against the tax bill passed by Congress in December. Responding to a question asking about the advocacy he had claimed the paper was engaged in, he stated:

This was related to the tax bill, which we’ve been editorializing against. And the voice of the editorial board went onto Twitter to do direct advocacy on it, urging holdout senators who agreed with a number of the positions that we’ve taken on what it would do to the deficit, and how it was shifting the burden of taxation, and the specific issues it didn’t deal with. They each had a different specific issue to stand their ground. It was the kind of experiment that I’ve been encouraging our people to do. And I’m still not sure we’ve learned from it. It had — and, Tyson, you weigh in here, you have a better sense. It had, it had a very big impact. It got a lot of people talking. It pissed off our colleagues in the Washington bureau hugely, because it felt to everybody like a more direct form of advocacy than we traditionally do. In reality, I’ve yet to — and maybe one of you can do this — I’ve yet to get the explanation for why that’s the case. The principled explanation for why this was more direct. Like, we editorialized for this specific election in defeat of a given candidate. We editorialize and say “You should go throw this bum out of office.” That, to me, is as direct a form of advocacy as we could possibly do. Saying “Go call the senator and urge them to stick to their principles” feels like a much less direct form of advocacy. Yet it didn’t... I mean, I can argue logically that it’s a much — I think I’m right. But it felt — and I think it felt that way because it’s just different than anything we’ve done before. It was therefore shocking people and upsetting. But I’m still scratching around to try to figure out where the violation of principle is here.

Bennet’s perspective was challenged by Alex Griswold of The Washington Free Beacon, who fired off a series of tweets that contested Bennet’s position:

What's Your Reaction?