NYT's Bret Stephens Apologizes for Comparing Rex Tillerson to Pol Pot

August 23rd, 2017 6:39 PM

Twitter has become the go-to place for people in the “mainstream media” who have said things they wish they hadn’t stated on television. They can then apologize in a format that far fewer individuals will notice.

A perfect example of this principle took place on Tuesday when Bret Stephens, a right-of-center columnist for the New York Times who was also hired by NBC News and MSNBC on June 28, used his platform as a guest on the Morning Joe program to compare Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot -- and tweeted an apology hours later.

“Wrongly,” Stephens noted, “I let rhetorical exuberance get the better of me. RT in no way PP, not remotely or by analogy. I apologize.

The situation began that morning, when co-host Joe Scarborough asked the guest how he rates, at this point, Tillerman’s performance as a member of the Trump administration since the secretary of state has “a mixed record.”

Stephens answered:

I was a stern critic of [Democratic former Secretary of State] John Kerry, but I think Tillerson really is up there as a nominee for worst secretary of state ever.

The State Department is ... part of the machinery of government, and that machinery has to run in order for normal things to happen like having relationships with foreign countries or having consular services for U.S. people.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Morning Joe guest stated: “Tillerson seems to be of a kind of Maoist school, maybe it’s like Pol Pot.”

An article written by Mediate's Jon Levine asserted that Stephens’ remark immediately “raised some eyebrows” on the set.

“The genocidal dictator left more than a million dead in Cambodia, which he ruled between 1975 and 1979,” Levine explained.

“Wow. OK,” the co-host responded with some obvious surprise. “That is … OK if that is in fact the case, that is like one of the worst secretary of states of all time,” said Scarborough.

“I don’t mean the ‘Killing Fields,’” the columnist added. “I mean the year zero mentality.”

“Blow it all up, see what happens, wait for a while and then try to arrange the pieces as you see fit,” he continued. “That might work in a start-up environment. It doesn’t work in a bureaucracy with 70,000 people.”

As NewsBusters previously reported, Joe Romm -- founding editor of the Climate Progress segment of Think Progress -- became furious with the New York Times on April 18 for hiring Stephens, a person he claimed is “an extreme climate science denier.”

In response, the Times and the Wall Street Journal stated the move was part of their attempts to “further widen” the ranges of views they present.

When the Times published its first column by Stephens, its theme was “that the political ‘hyperbole’ about climate change doesn't match the underlying science -- even if one trusts the underlying science.”

That alone was enough to send journalists into an unhinged orbit, including David Corn, Washington Bureau chief for the liberal Mother Jones magazine, who growled: “Democracy dies in the darkness. So, too, the climate. Thanks, Times, for spreading fake opinion.”

Many responses were loaded with vulgarity, including the post from Libby Watson, who replied: “i have some news for you: you're a sh*thead. a crybaby lil f***in weenie. a massive tw*t too."

Meanwhile, Eric Alterman of The Nation didn’t seem to mind that the Times added another conservative op-ed columnist. He just wished it hadn’t been the “awful” Bret Stephens, who used to write for “the rubes who believe what they read in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal” but now is tasked with impressing the “smarter and more sophisticated” readership of the Times.

When Stephens made his first appearance on Morning Joe on June 29, his task was to “decry the White House’s attack on the media” due to an article on Russia that was later redacted.

In fact, Stephens defended CNN by claiming the scandal merely represented a “mistake.” He stated that Trump was “accusing us of dishonesty, and that's the way he operates.”

Nevertheless, Stephens added that “the White House sees this as an opportunity to confirm a hypothesis for its supporters, for its followers who are not making the distinction who think that CNN is out willfully to get the president, not simply to report the news.”

As of Tuesday, Stephens has joined the ranks of “journalists” who tell lies or say incorrect things on television but feel they can get away with it since they only have to apologize on a single site on the Internet. Here’s hoping they’re wrong.