NYT Climate Op-Ed Starts Tempest in Teapot

'Tiny fraction' of subscribers cancel after Bret Stephens column
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2017 8:37 AM CDT
'Tiny Fraction' of NYT Readers Cancel Over Climate Op-Ed
This undated photo provided by the Pulitzer Prize Board shows Bret Stephens, who was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, on April 15, 2013.   (AP Photo/Pulitzer Prize Board)

Bret Stephens wrote his debut op-ed in the New York Times last week, and the column definitely got page views—though maybe not the reaction the newspaper of record had hoped for. Will Oremus notes on Slate that "a flurry of environmentalists, climate scientists, and other disgruntled readers" nixed their Times subscriptions in response to the conservative Pulitzer Prize winner's piece on climate change, which warned readers "to be skeptical of an overweening scientism"—what many have attacked as veering into climate change denial. A Times rep tells Oremus only a "tiny fraction" of subscribers have canceled in recent weeks (with just as small a fraction doing so directly due to Stephens and/or his op-ed), though Oremus notes the damage done to the paper may not have come in monetary form but via "a blow to environmentalists' perceptions" of it. Other takes:

  • The Times notes it received "an unusually large outpouring" of letters to the editor (more than 600, by its own count) on Stephens' column. It offers a sample of reader commentary, with some crying "misdirection" and others extending a welcome to the "measured, insightful" author.
  • Once more for Slate, Oremus takes on the practicality of canceling subscriptions as a response to a single column in a major newspaper, calling it "an unfair reaction" that "isn't necessarily wrong." What the right answer is depends on "the groundwork you apply to your moral calculus," Oremus writes.

  • Over at the Washington Post, Erik Wemple bashes the "weak, vague response" to the hubbub by James Bennet, the Times' editorial page editor. Wemple worked up a set of specific questions about Stephens' column, but instead of getting an interview with Bennet, Wemple says he received a statement he says should be called the "Editorial Page Editor's Boilerplate Kumbaya Response to Public Outrage."
  • Ruth Marcus, also writing for the Post, defends Stephens' column and his hiring by the Times, noting that "the best opinion section is one that offers an ideological brawl, not an intellectual cocoon."
  • In the Weekly Standard, Mark Hemingway blames the "hubris" and "arrogance" of liberal elites for turning off a "pretty large swath" of other Americans from wanting to fight climate change.
  • Jonah Goldberg is more entertained than outraged about the Stephens incident, writing for the Los Angeles Times that Stephens "[tricked] liberals into going off-sides" and earned himself some "populist street cred." "You've been trolled, people," Goldberg notes.
  • Kyle Smith takes a similar popcorn-munching approach for the National Review to the "near-lunatic disapproval" of the "activist left" toward the Times, noting, "When the Ayatollah and Saddam go to war, what is there to do but put one's feet up and enjoy the carnage?" He also compares leftists to Islamists and offers a bit of advice for the Times: "Ignore hecklers."
  • To Sarah Jones, Stephens isn't the only, or even the biggest, problem on the Times' editorial pages. She documents for the New Republic the other "mediocre" op-ed columnists who, in her words, are "badly out of sync with the era in which we live."
  • Stephens himself opened up the floor to readers Monday, taking part in a Times Q&A that questioned environmental cost-benefit analysis and a president who "seems to regard rumor as fact, opinion as evidence, wishes as truth," among other topics. He also wants people to know: "I subscribe to the theory of evolution, I vaccinate my kids, I don't smoke because it causes cancer, the earth is not flat, and the world is warming."
  • HuffPost offers 13 "better things to read" on "the state of climate science" than Stephens' column.
(Read more New York Times stories.)

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