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Bret Stephens is discovering that it’s not easy being the new conservative columnist at the New York Times

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens (Pulitzer Prize Board/Associated Press)

We wrote two weeks ago that newly hired New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens already was taking heat — even before he penned his first opinion piece. Now that he has — a sharp critique of what he calls “the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future” — Stephens is an even bigger target.

Several climate scientists say they have canceled their Times subscriptions in protest of Stephens's writing.

At least some other readers say they have done the same.

Times public editor Liz Spayd wrote last week that she has been flooded with complaints and cancellation threats since Stephens's hiring but that “relatively few” readers actually have followed through.

The original post from April 17 follows:

Bret Stephens hasn't written a word for the New York Times yet, but he is already discovering that it's not easy being the paper's new conservative columnist.

Since his hiring was announced last week, the former Wall Street Journal columnist has been labeled an “extreme climate science denier” by ThinkProgress and a “faux-conservative” by the Conservative Review. Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is getting hit by critics on both sides — and even by a couple new colleagues.

Declan Walsh, the Times's Cairo bureau chief, and Max Fisher, who writes the Times's Interpreter column, delivered harsh criticism over the weekend of a piece that Stephens wrote in the summer.

A bit of context: As Stephens noted on Twitter, his column focused on anti-Semitism in Arab countries. It was prompted by the refusal of an Egyptian judoka to shake hands with an Israeli opponent after a match during the Olympics.

The column also criticized a New York Times Magazine article — billed as “the story of the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago” — for not focusing on what Stephens views as the important role anti-Semitism has played in said catastrophe. Here's an excerpt:

The fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world got rid of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, ruinously expensive wars, misdirected ideological obsessions, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theory and the perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism. …
So long as an Arab athlete can’t pay his Israeli opposite the courtesy of a handshake, the disease of the Arab mind and the misfortunes of its world will continue. For Israel, this is a pity. For the Arabs, it’s a calamity. The hater always suffers more than the object of his hatred.

Stephens's response to Walsh on Twitter contained the perfect word to describe this entire situation: “tendentious,” or tending to favor a particular point of view. Stephens wrote in his column that anti-Semitism is a disease that afflicts the Arab world, which is, on its face, a supportable statement. According to the Anti-Defamation League, nine of the 10 most anti-Semitic countries in the world are Arab countries.

If you tend to view conservatives as Islamophobic, however, you might see bigotry in Stephens's decision to use one incident after a judo match as an excuse to highlight anti-Semitism across the Arab world.

What's clear is that everything Stephens writes for the Times, particularly at the outset, will be picked apart by an audience (including some co-workers) that tends to view the world differently than he does.

This is often how it goes when a conservative joins the Times's left-leaning opinion page. William Safire, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was an institution at the Times for more than three decades, but his hiring in 1972 “appalled” the paper's editorial page editor, according to a 2008 article by Clark Hoyt, who was then the Times's public editor.

Hoyt recalled Safire's unwelcome reception on the occasion of the Times's hiring of another conservative columnist, William Kristol. Hoyt shared his belief that bringing in Kristol was “a mistake.”

“This is a decision I would not have made,” he wrote. “But it is not the end of the world. Everyone should take a deep breath and calm down.”

Kristol and the Times separated at the end of their one-year contract.

David Brooks, who joined the Times in 2003, told New York magazine seven years later that “the first six months were miserable. I'd never been hated on a mass scale before.”

Ross Douthat, who replaced Kristol in 2009, might be an exception. Even the liberal Mother Jones magazine was impressed by him.

“There's a feeling among many on the left that if the Times feels the need to hire a conservative, it might as well be Douthat,” Politico reported at the time.

Some of the early praise for Douthat could be attributed to his age, however. Hired at 29, he was the youngest op-ed columnist in the paper's history and therefore an admirable figure, regardless of his politics.

Stephens is 43, a more typical age for a writer in his new position. And he is getting the typical criticism that comes with the job, too.