When James Bennet was hired by the Times in 2016, he seemed to be well situated to oversee an opinion section confronting a fracturing political spectrum. He had previously edited The Atlantic, where he had a reputation for cultivating a diversity of viewpoints ranging from the radical Ta-Nehisi Coates to the conservative David Frum.

In a memo he sent to Times staff on February 15, 2017, Bennet eloquently argued that diversity of viewpoint in the op-ed page was essential for bringing together a divided America:

It’s a commonplace borne out by social science that Americans are sorting themselves by party or convictions and losing the ability to engage respectfully—even if only to disagree—across those tribal lines. Most people seem to think this is a bad thing, but very few institutions are trying seriously to do anything about it. We are trying. It’s what The Times is supposed to do, and it’s what democracy needs.

He added, “We’re taking some chances, recruiting voices that are new to The Times and publishing pieces that press against our traditional boundaries.”

In some ways, Bennet’s opinion section lived up to these ideals. Prior to his arrival, it’s fair to say that the political spectrum at the Times ran from Clintonian liberalism on the left (embodied by Paul Krugman) to moderate neoconservatism on the right (voiced by David Brooks). This hardly exhausted the political spectrum in the age of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. To his credit, Bennet brought to the Times voices much further to the left, notably Jamelle Bouie. Recently, the paper ran an excerpt of Vincent Bevins’s new book on the 1965 anti-communist massacre in Indonesia. Bevins argued, “We need to understand that the United States is not, in fact, beloved as a beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights. From Argentina to the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor to Iran, millions of people are skeptical of Washington’s intentions.” This was far more radical fare than the Times menu usually provides.

Bringing in voices on the right has proved more difficult for Bennet. Trumpism may be the order of the day in Washington, but literate and plausible Trumpists who can write convincing op-eds are rare (although Bennet did manage to find one in Daniel McCarthy). So instead of Trumpists, Bennet had to settle for a stable of three Never Trump conservatives, two inherited (David Brooks, Ross Douthat) and one brought on board (Bret Stephens).

But Stephens himself has proven a problem with his penchant for glib contrarianism on climate change, Woody Allen, and other issues. Stephens’s column is symptomatic of a larger problem with Bennet’s opinion section. In his search for diversity, Bennet too often settles for hot takes and clickbait. As one Times staffer complained to Vox, “Does op-ed care at all about how its actions affect the newsroom whose legitimacy and sweat it trades on in order to sling hot takes? It’s not clear that they do.” Bennet’s propensity toward trolling, which was noticed during his tenure at The Atlantic, seemed to be based on the following premise: We are too divided to convince each other of the truth, so all we can do is entertain each other with outrageous opinions.

In the light of the current crisis, soliciting a column from Tom Cotton asking for Trump to send in the troops is irresponsible trolling. The idea is actually being taken seriously in Washington, so it deserves to be investigated as a news story. But to bring it up in the op-ed section is to treat a dangerous gesture by a besieged administration as if it were merely an intellectual exercise, a novel idea worth debating. It’s the equivalent of running op-eds during Watergate asking if Nixon should in fact firebomb the Brookings Institution or assassinate whistle-blowers.

America is fracturing—and so is The New York Times. The newsroom has adjusted to the crisis by allowing journalists to write more forthrightly and honestly about politics. The opinion page has taken a different tack by elevating extreme voices. It’s hardly surprising that these two approaches collided.