James Bennet resigned on Sunday from his job as the editorial page editor of The New York Times, days after the newspaper’s opinion section, which he oversaw, published a much-criticized Op-Ed by a United States senator calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities.
“Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years,” said A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher, in a note to the staff on Sunday announcing Mr. Bennet’s departure.
In a brief interview, Mr. Sulzberger added: “Both of us concluded that James would not be able to lead the team through the next leg of change that is required.”
But at Shelly’s Diner in Celina, Ohio, unmasked patrons sitting side-by-side weren’t so sure.
“It’s hard to believe anything the liberal New York Times says,” said James “Red” Blankenship, 57, who described himself as a former Democrat because his grandfather voted for FDR once, in 1932. “But this is good for my president, Donald J. Trump, and his easy re-election in November.”
“Ha, the woke virtual-signaling libtards ate their own, that’s hilarious, if it’s true, which it probably isn’t, because all those people do is make stuff up,” said Martin Green, 23, a fifth-generation resident of the Mercer County seat.
Mr. Green works at the same plant his father, grandfather and great-grandfather did, though it was converted from a chair-making facility into a meme factory in 2015 after receiving a contract from Russian-owned oil and gas company Gazprom to mass-produce Facebook comments.
“This is great for Trump,” Mr. Green said.
Mr. Bennet’s swift fall from one of the most powerful positions in American journalism comes as hundreds of thousands of people have marched in recent weeks in protest of racism in law enforcement and society. The protests were set in motion when George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, died last month after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee.
But while the tone inside the Times’ newsroom and within major coastal liberal cities was one of “woke” outrage, the conversation is different in Mercer County. Like every Republican since 1972, President Trump won this bellwether county of around 40,000 residents in 2016, which shows how far Democrats have to come if they want to address real American voters.
For the small share of residents who did believe that Mr. Bennet actually left his post, nearly all agreed with the op-ed.
“Yes, sir, I agree with the idea of sending in troops to put down those dogs. America must be made great again,” said small business owner Floyd Jones, 61, who noted he wasn’t racist because he had hired a black clerk for a few weeks in 1987.
“This will definitely help Trump,” Mr. Jones added.
“These protests are terrible. Couldn’t we just bomb the inner cities? There ain’t nothing there worth saving,” said Bill Guerin, 56, who has left Mercer County once in his life, to to go an Ohio State football game in 2003 that he nervously left early to return home.
Katie Kingsbury, a deputy editorial page editor, will be the acting editorial page editor through the November election, Mr. Sulzberger said in his memo to the staff. Jim Dao, the deputy editorial page editor who oversees Op-Eds, is stepping down from his position, which was on the Times masthead, and taking a new job in the newsroom.
“I’m not sure a woman is up to that job,” said Mary Christian, 72. “A woman’s place is in her church and her home, raising her children, tending to her family and submitting to her husband, not making up Communist lies that lead to fatherless homes and riots.”
Her husband, James Christian, 73, added: “That’s enough, Mary,” as Mrs. Christian closed her mouth and looked down at her coffee.
Mr. Sulzberger said at the Friday town hall meeting and in his note on Sunday that a rethinking of Opinion was necessary for an era in which readers are likely to come upon Op-Eds in social media posts, divorced from their print context next to the editorial page.
Highlighting the real American-urban divide, only one person at the diner believed Bennet had resigned and disagreed with the op-ed piece: Waitress Kelly Parks, 22, who moved to Celina when she was 1, but because she was born the next county over in the far larger city of Lima (population 38,000) has never been considered a local or a true heartland American.
Ms. Parks, in a face mask the owner repeatedly asked her to remove, was waiting and bussing tables alone on the busy Sunday morning.
“These people don’t believe anything other than Fox News,” whispered Ms. Parks as she came to the table where the Christians had just sat. Finding a Jack Chick gospel tract left in lieu of a tip, she muttered: “Jesus Christ, I gotta get out of this place.”