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“Draping a philosopher’s toga around a troll”

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Understandably, staffers within the New York Times are less than thrilled that the opinion page keeps hiring lazy trolls that make them look bad. Feinberg’s analysis of the upshot is excellent:

In 2016, James Bennet left his esteemed job at The Atlantic to run the editorial pages for The New York Times. His op-ed page became a sped-up version of his Atlantic, and the essential nihilism of either endeavor was laid bare. Ideas are valued to the extent that they provoke, and because both outlets sit within a broadly liberal consensus, special value was assigned to provocations from their right flank.

At the Times, Bennet brought on a skeptic of both campus rape statistics and climate science. And Bari Weiss, another new contributor and opinion section editor, has positioned herself as a feminist apostate. People at the paper like to talk about the hires as matters of intellectual rigor and viewpoint diversity, but all they’re doing is draping a philosopher’s toga around a troll.

I think I said this at the time Stephens was hired, but talking about “clickbait” or whatever when discussing these hires is missing the point. If you know anything about online ad rates, the chances that Stephens is generating enough marginal traffic and subscriptions to make his compensation package pay for itself are roughly 0%. As the Quinn Norton fiasco should make clear, these aren’t rational, carefully researched, hard-headed business decisions: you don’t hire niche writers with 24K Twitter followers (and a history of friendships with Nazis and edgelord racial slurs you apparently didn’t even know about) if the primary goal of your op-ed page is maximizing profits. You don’t maximize profits by trolling your core readership. Bennet thinks that trolling his core leadership is a positive end in itself, and therefore when it comes from the right no standards or quality control is necessary. That belief, combined with the inevitable crony network, is what explains hires like Stephens and Weiss.

Obviously, in many respects it’s good that the Times isn’t an operation that tries to maximize short-tern profits; the best investigative and foreign reporting it does doesn’t pay for itself in the short term either. But the Times isn’t hiring witless trolls to make money; it’s hiring them because they think CHALLENGING YOUR ASSUMPTIONS is the right thing to do.

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