Remember when the New York Times newsroom erupted in righteous anger over the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton? Cotton had argued in early June that the Trump administration should use the Insurrection Act to order the military to restore order in Portland, Seattle, and other jurisdictions with riots where governors refused to call up the National Guard. They argued that just the idea put NYT staffers at risk, especially minorities, and espoused fascism rather than gave a forum to discuss a strategy allowed by law — and an idea favored by a majority of Americans at the time, rightly or otherwise.
For the sin of publishing an argument from a sitting US Senator on a legal strategy in dealing with a clear and acute crisis, the NYT kicked its opinion editor to the curb and refused to put Cotton’s op-ed into its print edition. They drew a clear line in the sand — discussion of the use of federal action to deal with ongoing riots and unrest.
Or so we thought. Today, the NYT opinion section runs this defense of China’s takeover of Hong Kong from Regina Ip, who serves on the city’s Beijing-controlled Executive Council. The protests in the street for political freedom and the autonomy guaranteed by Beijing created “months of chaos,” as the NYT’s subhead argues in its featured presentation. “Something had to be done,” Ip declares, “and the Chinese authorities did it.”
No amount of outcry, condemnation or sanctions over the Chinese government’s purported encroachment in Hong Kong’s affairs will alter the fact that Hong Kong is part of China and that its destiny is intertwined with the mainland’s.
Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of crises after the eruption of protests last year over a proposed bill (long since withdrawn) that would have allowed the extradition of some suspects in criminal cases to mainland China.
Hong Kongers who wanted the city promptly to return to peace thought the authorities’ handling of the situation, which dragged on for months and grew more and more violent, was incompetent. For other locals, many outsiders and apparently much of the global media, a people’s legitimate quest for more democracy was being suppressed.
Something had to be done, and the Chinese authorities did it.
As for the new and ominously ambiguous national security law that started the protests, Ip argues that it’s misunderstood. Its vagueness is a feature, not a bug:
To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.
No one doubts the “intended effect” of this new law. That’s precisely why Hong Kong began protesting it in the first place, and why the rest of the world objected to it. Ip and the regime she serves hadn’t exactly been subtle about why they demanded it, after all — to suppress any dissent.
However, Ip’s apologetics for Xi are at least useful in airing out China’s bald imposition of totalitarianism on Hong Kong, violating international agreements that guaranteed its autonomy. It allows everyone to discuss the issue, its implications, and to lay down a marker on the issues involved. That’s why newspapers print op-eds — or at least what the NYT claims when it routinely runs such essays from repressive world leaders such as Nicolas Maduro, Vladimir Putin, and mouthpieces from the Taliban and the Iranian regime.
That brings us back to Cotton’s op-ed and the New Standard of Acceptable Opinion at The Paper of Record. Cotton wrote an argument for a legal exercise of federal jurisdiction under temporary conditions to stop unrest, not to end local governance. That also would have been useful in the national debate. Where are the outraged staffers demanding an accounting from management over the publication of a defense of using national force to quell chaos in Hong Kong as well as to impose totalitarianism? Where is the News Guild of New York‘s cri de coeur about the NYT’s publishing apologetics for “the use of force at protests”?
Clearly, all of that was nonsense on stilts all along. New York Times staffers objected not to the content but to the author of the Cotton op-ed. The paper threw James Bennet under the bus because he had the temerity to publish an op-ed from a conservative US Senator. The publication of Ip’s piece exposes the hypocrites at the New York Times all the way from the boardroom to the newsroom. Shame on every last one of them.