New York Times CEO Defends Bret Stephens, May Hire More Polarizing Columnists

Told crowd at TechCrunch Disrupt convention that newspaper is platform for diverse thought.

May 15, 2017 12:35 pm
President and CEO of the New York Times Company Mark Thompson
President and CEO of the New York Times Company Mark Thompson speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 at Pier 36 on May 15, 2017 in New York City. (Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

The New York Times is looking for all the views that’s fit to print.

At the TechCruch Disrupt conference Monday, CEO Mark Thompson defended the newspaper’s decision to hire Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist and former Wall Street Journal journalist. He went further, suggesting the company would be hiring more polarizing writers like him.

“The point of an opinion columnist isn’t to agree with readers,” Thompson said.

The CEO explained the goal was to make the New York Times a platform for more diverse thoughts and a place where a debate over those viewpoints can happen. “The Times would be horrified if we were viewed as censoring opinion,” Thompson added.

Stephens’ first column in April questioned the science behind climate change and sparked a backlash from the newspaper’s liberal readers, a number of whom canceled their subscription in protest.

Thompson said that New York Times readers that canceled their subscription following Stephens’ climate change would likely be back, citing anecdotal circulation evidence. The CEO went on to say that the best way for the newspaper to keep growing its readership was for the publication to remain true to itself.  

During the same technology conference appearance, he also hinted the New York Times would be hiring more polarizing columnists from the left and right, which Thompson described as part of an initiative by James Bennet, the newspaper’s Editorial Page editor, to broaden opinion.  

In April, the newspaper put a call for readers to contribute positive things the President said or did. “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, though, and even Donald Trump can’t be wrong all the time,” Michael Kinsley wrote in the article that made the request on the Times opinion page. 

The executive, though, asserted that Times is not making these move in an attempt to court a more favorable opinion from a President that’s had a contentious relationship with the press.

“The New York Times wasn’t created to make Trump happy,” Thompson said. “Politicians attacking the media is not a new thing.”

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