NY Times’ Column on “Jewish Genius” Cited a White Supremacist as a Source

But that was only one of Brett Stephens’ problems.

Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts/Newscom via ZUMA

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens is at the center of yet another backlash. In a recently posted column, Stephens cited a debunked 2006 article authored by a known racist who argues in favor of the genetic superiority of Ashkenazi Jews. Stephens’ piece, entitled “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,” provoked a storm of criticism that only intensified after Saturday’s anti-Semitic attacks. 

“How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?” Stephens wonders. “Aside from perennial nature-or-nurture questions, there is the more difficult question of why that intelligence was so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose.”

The outrage was immediate, with many people arguing that Stephens’ endorsement of any argument of genetic superiority is itself an anti-Semitic trope based in eugenicist ideas. Some of the fiercest criticism came from Stephens’ colleagues at the Times.

Aside from the obvious problems with his fundamental argument, Stephens also quoted approvingly from 2005 paper entitled “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence” by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending, which uses psuedo-science to argue that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest IQ of any ethnic group. The Daily Beast reported that Henry Harpending was listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist for his views.

“Harpending has given talks on these ideas at white supremacist conferences,” the Center noted, “and is widely celebrated among white supremacists on forums like Stormfront and the Vanguard News Network, who see a champion for their cause behind his academic rhetoric,” 

Harpending died in 2016.

Stephens joined the Times in 2017 and during his relatively brief tenure he has attracted controversy.  Before he became a columnist, in the Wall Street Journal, he had described climate change as a “mass hysteria phenomenon” made up of mostly “discredited” science. And then there his recent overreaction during the bed bug incident at the paper, when he viciously went after a George Washington University professor for a tweet comparing him to a bedbug. 

On Sunday. the New York Times added an editor’s note to the column. “Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically,” the note read. “The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior. That was not his intent.” The reference to the article in question has been removed from the column. But Brett Stephens remains. 

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate