The Hiring of Bret Stephens Raises Question of What the NYT Op-Ed Section Should Look Like

And what it means to "broaden the range of Times debate"

Headshot of Corinne Grinapol

The New York Times’ announcement yesterday that it had poached Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal, where he is deputy editorial page editor and Global View columnist, was a polarizing one. When Stephens joins the Times later this season, it will be as an Op-Ed columnist, and it is precisely the nature of his commentary that has split opinions on the hire.

In an email to the Reliable Sources newsletter, CNN’s Dylan Byers lauded the move, writing, “As a conservative and foreign policy hawk, Stephens will also make arguments that will challenge liberal readers of the Times op-ed page. Whether they agree with him or not, his voice is a welcome addition to a forum that at times can be monotonously one-sided.”

But others took issue with Stephens’ opinions around which there should only be one side, specifically, climate change. “Today the paper announced it has hired a climate denier as an op-ed columnist,” wrote Kate Aronoff for In These Times after citing the paper’s own March editorial on the scientific consensus on climate change.

In a memo to staff about the hire, editorial page editor James Bennet wrote that Stephens “will bring a new perspective to bear on the news.” Bennet also brought up the prospect of futures changes, writing, “You can expect other additions to our lineup in coming months as we continue to broaden the range of Times debate about consequential questions.”

We had questions. So too did The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, whose tweeted question about other columnist picks garnered a lot of responses.

Who the Times ultimately adds to “broaden the range of of Times debate” will depend on what, and who, the Times thinks belongs in that range. The choice of Stephens seems to suggest an establishment, standard left-right dichotomy is defining the range. When Stephens joins the Times’ stable of op-ed writers, the Times will have more conservative commentators (3) than it will women (2), people of color (1) or people under the age of 40 (1), to cite just a few examples of other ways in which the Times could broaden its perspective. Here’s another: it could go with writers outside of the world of national newspapers and magazines. The Times has an opportunity, if it will use it, to not only expand the range of opinions, but the very questions that are being considered.