Six Ways the New York Times Could Genuinely Make Its Op-Ed Page More Representative of America

The Times says it wants “to include a wider range of views, not just on the Opinion pages but in its news columns.” Let's take them at their word.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30:  Pedestrians walk by the outside The New York Times building where photographer Bill Cunningham worked on June 30, 2016 in New York City. Cunningham passed away at the age of 87 on Saturday, June 25th in Manhattan.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk by the outside of the The New York Times building in New York City on June 30, 2016. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The New York Times defended hiring former Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens — a writer who has promoted climate denial and bigotry against Arabs — by insisting that it is seeking diversity of thought.

Public Editor Liz Spayd responded to readers’ complaints about Stephens by writing that the Times is looking “to include a wider range of views, not just on the Opinion pages but in its news columns.”

But hiring another prominent writer whose ideology hems close to that of the nation’s elites — in this case, fossil fuel corporations who are polluting the world and advocates of Western military might — is hardly adding intellectual diversity to the pages of the Times.

Here are six categories of writers who would truly broaden and diversify the op-ed pages of the NYT:

1. Bernie Sanders backers: Bernie Sanders is the nation’s most popular sitting politician, but the Times doesn’t employ a single columnist who was vocally supportive of his bid for president. It could change that by hiring some of his prominent backers: philosopher Cornel West, Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara, civil rights scholar Michelle Alexander, labor organizer Jonathan Tasini, and former Nevada Assemblywoman and organizer Lucy Flores could all make strong additions.

2. Donald Trump supporters: Although the Times has numerous conservative columnists, none of them were open partisans of President Trump — whose approval ratings among Republican voters remains high. The Times could fix this by hiring some of the more thoughtful Trump backers, or at least writers who have documented his appeal. For instance, there is Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who admires Trump’s powers of persuasion and correctly predicted that he would be elected. It could also hire the Washington Examiner’s Saleno Zito, who has crisscrossed the country talking to Trump’s supporters, and who has done more than most journalists to document his appeal to the grassroots.

3. Young people: There seems to be a rule that a newspapers’ op-ed pages can’t include anyone under 40, even as editors lament that no young people read them. The Times could break real ground by hiring talented millennial writers like the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig or Demos’s Sean McElwee. The Times could also go even younger, including the voices of Americans who are rarely heard: high-schoolers. They could hire a regular teenage columnist, or even have students across the country share a regular column — rotating who is chosen to write by racial, gender, class, and other demographics.

4. Arab and Muslim Americans: The Middle East and Islam are frequent topics of New York Times columns, but the paper employs zero Arab or Muslim regular op-ed columnists to write these pieces. This is particularly galling in the face of the Stephens hire, whose reductive writing about the Middle East includes diatribes about the “disease of the Arab mind” and a “Palestinian blood fetish.” It could fix this by employing, for instance, prolific religion professor Reza Aslan or activist Linda Sarsour.

5. Opponents of militarism: The NYT op-ed page is home to Thomas Friedman, who once proudly described the message of the Iraq war as the following: “Well, suck. on. this. That…was what this war was about. We coulda hit Saudi Arabia….We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.” The paper’s op-ed pages lack skeptics of military intervention, but the Times could rectify that by hiring any number of talented writers: The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison, Foreign Policy’s Stephen Walt, or the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko would all be good picks.

6. Scientists and environmentalists: If the Times thinks it’s a good idea to hire someone who questions climate science, it might be a good idea to hire someone who actually studies and practices it to balance him out. They could hire, for instance, leading climatologist James Hansen or environmental lawyer Erin Brockovich.

So let’s take the Times at its word. They want a broader range of opinions on their op-ed page, but can’t seem to make much progress on their own. So let’s send them these suggestions — or any other ideas to truly open the windows there and let in some fresh air.

Top photo: Pedestrians walk by the outside of the The New York Times building in New York City on June 30, 2016.

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