June 17, 2020

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

Alexis Johnson, the Black journalist that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yanked off protest coverage because of a tweet, has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Post-Gazette. The suit alleges that the Post-Gazette violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by barring her from protest coverage. Johnson tweeted photos of trash after an old Kenny Chesney concert and the P-G determined that made her biased.

Johnson’s suit shows other Post-Gazette writers who have spoken out on news events, including reporters who talked about discrimination and hate following the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shootings. Those reporters, the suit claims, were not barred from covering that story.

Nate Doughty has more details about the suit in Pittsburgh Business Times.

Meanwhile, Post-Gazette executive editor Keith Burris wrote about the situation last week in a story published by the P-G. But he had turned down media requests for interviews and comments, including several requests from Poynter. Until Monday night. That’s when he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News. Ingraham seemed nothing but sympathetic to Burris, saying the paper was being “smeared by the left as, you got it, racist.”

“You got it?” What is that supposed to mean?

Anyway, Burris told Ingraham, “I think it is the power of the big lie and the mob. The Twitter mob.”

First off, Burris should be reminded of the origins of the phrase “the big lie,” an anti-Semitic term that goes back to Hitler. If that wasn’t bad enough, Burris’ complaints and the show where he decided to air those gripes were incredibly tone-deaf. How could he not have known that going on Ingraham’s show and saying what he said would not play well with the P-G staff? I spoke with two Post-Gazette staffers on Tuesday who questioned Burris’ leadership, especially when it comes to this story, and there are calls for his resignation.

In addition, P-G reporter Michael Fuoco, who is president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, tweeted about the Post-Gazette and the lawsuit by saying, “And all they had to do was apologize for their actions.”

Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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