How The Wall Street Journal fired Jay Solomon

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As The Washington Post put succinctly, "At 3:08 p.m. on Wednesday, the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal received a cryptic email from their chief, Paul Beckett."

“'Short-Notice staff Meeting at 3:15,' read the subject. The team of 40 was told to gather at their usual spot. 'We won’t need chairs,' he added. 'It will be short.'”

Yup. Jay Solomon, their national security reporter, had been canned. As for the reason, well, Beckett told a group of very competitive reporters and editors to read an imminent investigation by The Associated Press.

There are some stories of an unseemly sort that you don't mind getting beat on. But when it involves your own institution, that's a different matter. One can only imagine the painful request to the AP to hold off on publishing until Beckett had disclosed the bottom line, if not the details.

In sum, they acted "after the newspaper learned he was unethically entangled in the business dealings of one of his sources." (Poynter)

The AP investigation uncovered that "Solomon was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company."

"During the course of the investigation, the AP obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as other documents."

Those emails came to public view as a result of hacking, claimed Solomon's lawyers, and include an April 2015 email in which, Politico noted, "Azima wrote to Solomon about a $725 million proposal contract with the United Arab Emirates that would 'allow planes to spy on activity inside nearby Iran.' According to the emails, Solomon was expected to 'ferry the proposal' to government representatives from the UAE at a lunch the next day."

The AP said another email from Azima declared, “We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense sale.”

There's not any great history of deceit and fabrication at the newspaper. And this clearly appears to fall short of the mid-1980s scandal of R. Foster Winans, who was canned and convicted of trading on what he knew was going to appear in the "Heard on the Street" column he authored. A divided federal appeals court upheld his conviction and those of two others in 1986.

But in "The fall of a foreign-affairs reporter," The Atlantic's David Graham says this may have all been stunning but it's "not to say that it doesn’t happen. In fact, there’s a long, if not especially glorious, tradition of it. For as long as journalists have covered foreign affairs, they’ve felt the pull of getting involved in the conflicts themselves, whether to earn a little extra cash, to satisfy their own ambitions of grandeur or as a method of covering up other work." He gives examples.

The Journal itself weighed in a few hours later, reporting "The Wall Street Journal has fired veteran foreign-affairs reporter Jay Solomon for violating the paper’s ethical standards, stemming from his dealings with an aviation tycoon whom he had cultivated as a source."

Solomon's now ex-colleagues presumably could read this sitting down, even if the news justifiably floored one and all.

"Shocked and sad," an eminent former Journal reporter told me last evening. Three words sufficed.

Bezos' simple counsel

"Jeff Bezos has three pieces of advice for journalists: Be riveting, be right and ask people to pay." (Poynter)

"The Washington Post owner and Amazon founder dispensed this simple guidance Wednesday at a conference about the future of print news in Turin, Italy. The conference coincides with the 150th birthday of La Stampa, one of Italy's major newspapers, which is based in Turin."

Impact at Uber

"With her blog post about toxic bro-culture at Uber, Susan Fowler proved that one person can make a difference. The former engineer took a big swing at the car-hailing giant, and did us all an even bigger favor." (Recode)

Baseball's data revolution

So what’s been the impact of the new world of data and metrics on the actual reporting of baseball? For some it's dehumanized some of the sports, for others it's a golden age. (Poynter)

It took long enough

"Newly released documents make clear just how uncomfortable FBI and U.S. Justice Department officials were in 2015 when Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum tried to participate in a joint investigation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber." (Oregonlive.com)

"Correspondence between leaders at the agencies, obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive Wednesday in response to a records request originally submitted in 2015, shows federal officials worried about Rosenblum's conflicts of interest, given her duty to represent Kitzhaber's office and other state officials under investigation."

Yup, it took two years to get this.

You won't get rich on this deal

"Twitter is rolling out a new way for those who create video on Periscope to make some money for their efforts." (Recode)

"The company on Wednesday announced that Periscope will now offer something called 'super hearts,' which is essentially a way for viewers to tip a Periscope creator by sending them a virtual heart that the user paid for with real cash."

"Once creators accumulate $175 worth of these super hearts, they can then cash out the digital goods for cash. Twitter says that creators will receive about 70 percent of the actual value of those virtual goods, with the other 30 percent going to things like fees and payment processing."

Morning babble, Trump lies

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning spent a lot of time focused on Senate Republicans dealing with a new health care bill, inspecting  both the covert process and the seeming policy ramifications, and then President Trump's Iowa speech last night where, with Mika Brzezinski concluding, "he told a lot of lies."

It included fact-checking the speech and a inserting a buzzer each time he told a whopper, like the Paris climate treaty being "binding." That was B.S.

Journalist-historian Jon Meacham analogized to President Nixon and the early cover-up of Watergate and was pressed by Brzezinski to compare Trump to authoritarian leaders elsewhere. And The Daily Beast's Sam Stein suggested that Trump "has altered the way we consume information" as the ensemble implicitly displayed frustration with the support Trump faces and how he feels emboldened after a series of Republican wins in special elections.

Kalanick's bad day in Chicago

Reports The New York Times: "Travis Kalanick’s final hours as Uber’s chief executive played out in a private room in a downtown Chicago hotel on Tuesday."

"There, Mr. Kalanick, who was on a trip to interview executive candidates for Uber, was paid a surprise visit. Two venture capitalists — Matt Cohler and Peter Fenton of the Silicon Valley firm Benchmark, which is one of Uber’s biggest shareholders — presented Mr. Kalanick with a list of demands, including his resignation before the end of the day. The letter was from five of Uber’s major investors, including Benchmark and the mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments."

If I would have known, I would have invited them to Wrigley Field that night to watch the Cubs and get tanked. We could then have Ubered it back to the hotel.

Crossing a line

"On June 5, President Donald Trump's social media director, Dan Scavino Jr., got a stern warning from the Office of Special Counsel: Public officials can't use their positions to engage in political activity. Don't do it again." (Mic)

"On Wednesday, Scavino may have crossed that line again. The assistant to the president used his official government Twitter account, @Scavino45, to retweet a Trump dispatch from Iowa that hyped both an official presidential visit to a community college and a campaign event immediately afterward."

The Colbert bump

"The resurgence of Stephen Colbert and the growth of 'CBS This Morning' buoyed CBS Corp. in advertising sales for the upcoming season, according to a person familiar with the matter, with rate gains in the high single digits." (Bloomberg)

Headline of day

"Snapchat just added another confusing way to use its app" (Quartz)

Tale of unintended consequences

"The Foreign Visa Crackdown Is Putting Americans Out of Work — Without seasonal staff from abroad, many small businesses can’t stay open." (Bloomberg)

This is a solid tale of unintended consequences, at least for a Congress that put curbs on a temporary visa program for low-skilled workers. A perfect example is a farm-to-table restaurant at the Pentagoet Inn in Castine, Maine, which is a classic small seasonal business but is now in trouble because it had to close its restaurant due to the foreign labor shortage.

Probing The Economist

"Is The Economist left- or right-wing? Why are The Economist’s writers anonymous? Why does The Economist call itself a newspaper?" (Nieman Lab)

"Readers have a lot of questions about the 173-year-old magazine — ahem, newspaper — and The Economist is using Medium to help answer them. In December, the magazine’s social media team launched Inside The Economist, a Medium blog created to offer readers a behind-the-scenes look at its writing, reporting and production processes."

The Georgia special election

Even with its airing a chunk of Sean Hannity's pre-taped show (with some election cut-ins), "Fox News Channel clocked the biggest crowd among cable news networks for coverage of the highly hyped Georgia special election Tuesday night, both in overall audience and in the news demographic." (Deadline)

The Trump-Comey tapes

"Brainstorming the wondrous features and amenities as they came to him in a flash of inspiration, President Donald Trump on Wednesday accidentally recorded over the tape containing his meetings with fired FBI Director James Comey with an idea for a candy hotel."

This could severely impede Robert Mueller's investigation, so he best read about it all in The Onion.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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