May 18, 2017

Employment of climate change denier Bret Stephens prompts New York Times subscribers to get their news elsewhere


Bret Stephens, the new opinion columnist at the New York Times, has some opinions about stuff. For one, he doesn’t really believe that climate change is real. He’s also been published stating that the campus-rape epidemic is “an imaginary enemy” and is responsible for the appearance of the phrase “the disease of the Arab mind” in the Wall Street Journal.

Cool. So what’s a guy like that doing with a position as a staff writer for the New York Times? Well, aside from pleasing the oft-misunderstood media gods of “fair and balanced” reporting, he’s, y’know, inspiring a flurry of unsubscribers. Yeah, following the announcement of his employment at the paper of record, and the publication of his first couple of Opinion section whoppers, subscribers are reportedly looking for their news elsewhere. And while digital subscriptions are up, this is still not great. Hey, good first month, Bret.

In response to the flight, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, has penned an email to any unsubscribers who explicitly mentioned Stephens as the reason behind their decision (reportedly only six percent of those who have unsubscribed since April) to “provide more context,” Politico’s Hadas Gold reports.

Sulzberger’s letter explains that the Opinion pages of the Times (which are now run by his son), despite being a part of the Times, are editorially separate from the newsroom, which has actually “sharply expanded the team of reporters and editors who cover climate change.” To which Sulzberger adds, “No subject is more vital.” The Opinion pages play by a different set of rules, though, serving a different role: to challenge our assumptions (about fact-based, peer-reviewed science, alas):

Our editorial page editor, James Bennet, and I 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. This does not mean that The Times will publish any commentary. Some points of view are not welcome, including those promoting prejudice or denying basic truths about our world. But it does mean that, in the coming years, we aim to further enrich the quality of our debate with other honest and intelligent voices, including some currently underrepresented in our pages. If you continue to read The Times, you will encounter such voices — not just as contributors, but as new staff columnists.

Whatever the statement is (a most eloquent double-down?), it’s certainly not the kind of higher-ground argument that’s likely to resonate with an intelligent subscriber base running low on patience. Again, good job, everyone.



Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.