New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. made an unusual personal appeal in an email to subscribers who canceled their subscriptions after the paper ran a column by their new conservative hire, Bret Stephens, that questioned the certainty of the science behind climate change.
The email was sent Friday afternoon to subscribers who specifically mentioned the hiring of Stephens as the reason for canceling their subscriptions, according to Politico:
“‘Our customer care team shared with me that your reason for unsubscribing from The New York Times included our decision to hire Bret Stephens as an Opinion columnist. I wanted to provide a bit more context. Every subscriber to The Times is a stakeholder in our work and, as such, you are entitled to an explanation of our strategy and actions,’ the email begins.”
Sulzberger then went on to cite several articles the paper has published showing their commitment to this issue, from looking at nearly two dozen environmental rules, regulations and other Obama-era policies that were rolled back by President Trump, to the the “profound trouble facing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.”
If the readers who canceled their subscriptions thought that the hiring of Stephens signaled a shift in the Times’s coverage of climate change, or a rightward shift in general, then they haven’t been reading the paper lately.
Sulzberger then went on to explain the importance of having a wide range of viewpoints on its Op-Ed pages:
“Meanwhile, The Times’s Opinion pages remain an independent and unblinking forum for debate from a wide range of viewpoints among open-minded, informed writers and readers. I don’t think, in these polarizing and partisan times, there’s anything quite like it in American journalism.
As on so many consequential questions these days, Americans on the right and left are talking past each other about how best to address climate change, and we are determined to put these different points of view into conversation with each other in hopes of advancing solutions.
We feel very fortunate to have a principled, independent-minded conservative writer like Bret Stephens join our team. Bret’s work has joined a running debate in our pages that has also recently included Bill McKibben, a founder of the climate advocacy platform 350.org, warning that, ‘President Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects,’ as well as the Times editorial board arguing for a carbon tax. We have, as always, invited our readers into this conversation, too, publishing their letters and comments as the debate has unfolded.
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.”
According to Politico, a New York Times spokesperson wrote in an email that less than six percent of people who canceled their subscriptions to The Times since Stephens’ hire was announced in April cited the hire or the new columnist as the reason for the cancellation.
It is probably a safe bet to say that if conservatives had reacted in a similar fashion to a liberal columnist, they wouldn’t get the same level of attention from Sulzberger as these liberal former subscribers did.