Bret Stephens and the perils of the tapped-out column

By | December 30, 2019

Jack Shafer writes:

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens ambushed and gravely wounded his own career on the evening of Dec. 27 when his piece about—bear with me here—the alleged superior intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews went live on the Times website.

As Twitter fury rose to smite Stephens for his “The Secrets of Jewish Genius” column and press coverage tilted hard against him, his editors attempted some post-publication damage control. They went back into his column and simply deleted the most provoking passages from his copy, expunged the reference (and link) to a controversial and brutally debunked race-science paper from 2005, and added a note explaining that it was not Stephens’ “intent” to argue that “Jews are genetically superior.”

The Times disavowal and re-edit (tellingly neither co-signed nor acknowledged by Stephens) was too little and too late—if you’re going to edit a piece, the smart move is to edit before it publishes. More than that, it was clearly wrong about what he was saying. Jewish genetic superiority was the exact direction his woolly argument was headed, something easily deduced from reading the passages excised from the original column. If Stephens and his editors want to insist he was merely misunderstood, they do so at their own peril. As writer Paul Fussell observed long ago, when a writer is as widely “misunderstood” as Stephens claims he was, it’s almost always the writer’s fault. [Continue reading…]

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