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Why in the World Does the New York Times’ Bret Stephens Still Have a Job?

People take part in a protest outside the New York Times

The New York Times’ Bret Stephens is back with another terrible op-ed. In his latest column, titled “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,” Stephens explores the idea that Jews–specifically Ashkenazi Jews–”are, or tend to be, smart,” thanks in part to a genetic advantage as well as a cultural one. As evidence, he cites a 2005 paper that has not just been debunked (by the NYT, no less!), but which was written by a white supremacist.

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Its co-author, by the way, is a totally unqualified giant homophobe.

After a weekend of outrage, cancelled subscriptions, and seeing their tweet of the article ratioed, the Times removed the reference to that paper and added a lengthy editor’s note. Weirdly, though, the note isn’t so much a correction as it is a defense of Stephens.

The note insists that it wasn’t Stephens’ “intent” to imply “that Jews are genetically superior,” despite the fact that he literally says (quoting that bogus racist paper) “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data.”

The note then quotes from the article itself, saying that after citing the paper, Stephens “went on instead to argue that culture and history are crucial factors in Jewish achievements and that, as he put it, ‘At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.’ We have removed reference to the study from the column,” it reads.

The article has also changed its subheader from “It’s not about having higher I.Q.s.” to “It’s about thinking different.”

It’s not like this is surprising coming from Bret Stephens. This is the same guy who called climate change a “mass hysteria phenomenon” and described the Palestinian mindset as “a communal psychosis.” He said the campus rape epidemic is overblown if not entirely “imaginary.” He said Woody Allen has been “smeared,” writing that “If Allen is in fact a pedophile, he appears to have acted on his evil fantasies exactly once.” Which, guess what, is still too many times.

What is surprising is that he still has a job at the New York Times. When they hired Stephens in 2017, they defended their decision by saying that “to pretend like the views of a thinker like Bret, and the millions of people who agree with him on a range of issues, should simply be ignored, that they’re outside the bounds of reasonable debate, is a really dangerous form of delusion.”

Are they really that committed to appearing to have a both-sides balance that they’ll just never fire their blatantly racist, sexist, anti-science mouthpiece? Is it that they value the rage-clicks (which Stephens definitely delivers) more than the integrity of their paper? There’s no good answer here.

(image: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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