By:
May 24, 2021

The big buzz in the media the past few days has been The Associated Press firing a reporter who had only been with the company for a few weeks because of her social media use. But the whole thing remains hazy and controversial, and many in the media have stood up for the fired reporter.

Here’s the quick recap: Emily Wilder is a 22-year-old reporter who started at the AP on May 3 in Phoenix, covering news in Arizona. Just over two weeks later, the AP said she was being fired for violating the news outlet’s social media policy.

The AP isn’t saying what Wilder had written that violated the policy and Wilder claims she hasn’t been told that either. It would appear the AP’s decision had something to do with tweets supporting the Palestinian people and opposing the actions of the Israeli government.

Wilder graduated from Stanford in 2020. While she was there, Wilder (who is Jewish) was a member of pro-Palestinian activist groups. After she was hired by the AP, she was targeted by conservative media and even Sen. Tom Cotton.

In a statement on Twitter over the weekend, Wilder said she was being used as a scapegoat after criticism from high-profile conservatives. Wilder wrote, “This is heartbreaking as a young journalist so hungry to learn from the fearless investigative reporting of AP journalists — and do that reporting myself. It’s terrifying as a young woman who was hung out to dry when I needed support from my institution most. And it’s enraging as a Jewish person — who grew up in a Jewish community, attended Orthodox schooling and devoted my college years to studying Palestine and Israel — that I could be defamed as antisemitic and thrown under the bus in the process.”

Wilder said she took the AP’s social media training seriously and never denied or hid her activism in the days before she joined the AP. Many respected journalists are coming to her defense, saying at the very least this could have been a teaching moment instead of firing what appears to be a promising journalist only days into her career, especially over ambiguous reasons.

AP’s policy states employees are forbidden from expressing opinions on political matters and other issues that it feels could damage its reputation of objectivity and that could be harmful to its journalists around the world. In a statement, AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said, “We have this policy so the comments of one person cannot create dangerous conditions for our journalists covering the story. Every AP journalist is responsible for safeguarding our ability to report on this conflict, or any other, with fairness and credibility, and cannot take sides in public forums.”

At the heart of this matter for the AP, as well as many news organizations around the world, is where is the line when it comes to social media and employees?

Can journalists weigh in on certain issues with their opinions and yet still be trusted to report with facts, fairness and context? Are journalists, particularly those of color or those who have had certain life experiences, to be expected to erase who they are for the sake of “appearing” to be objective? Are news organizations even clear in what their social media policies are and what constitutes a violation of those policies?

Does this all mean that a victim of sexual assault can never write about sexual assault? Should Black reporters not be allowed to cover issues that impact Black people? Should someone who has been a victim of gun violence not be able to report about gun laws?

Wilder added in her statement, “I am one victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media that has censored so many journalists — particularly Palestinian journalists and other journalists of color — before me.”

This is certainly a much too complicated and nuanced topic to come up with all the answers in the space I have here.

But what I can say here is we are going to continue to see more controversies like these if news outlets don’t revisit and then clearly define what their social media policies are, as well as be consistent with how they enforce those policies.

Disturbing story

Journalist Roman Protasevich (middle) at a protest in Minsk, Belarus in 2017. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Belarus President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko sent a fighter jet to divert an Irish airline’s flight through Belarusian airspace to land in Minsk so that an opposition journalist on board that flight could be arrested.

In a blatantly frightening move that European officials have compared to a hijacking, a Ryanair flight carrying 170 passengers from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, was flying over Belarus when air traffic controllers in that county notified pilots of a “potential security threat on board.” The pilots were told of potential explosives on board, but no explosives were found.

Once the plane landed, 26-year-old journalist Roman Protasevich was arrested. Protasevich is the co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA Telegram channel, which is in opposition to Lukashenko.

The New York Times’ Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko called Lukashenko, “a brutal and erratic leader who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government last year.” They wrote, “Over the past few years, Mr. Protasevich has been living in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in Belarus, his home country, where he is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder and faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted. In November, the country’s main security service, still called the K.G.B., put him on a list of terrorists.”

One passenger aboard the flight told the BBC that Protasevich looked “super scared. I looked directly to his eyes and it was very sad.”

Another passenger told Agence France-Presse: “He just turned to people and said he was facing the death penalty.”

According to the BBC report, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the “outlandish action” would have “serious implications.” According to the story in the Times, the Lithuanian government put out a statement that said, “It is an unprecedented attack against the international community: A civilian plane and its passengers have been hijacked by military force.”

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) issued a joint statement with his counterparts in the Czech Republic, Latvia, Germany, Lithuania, Ireland, Poland, and the United Kingdom condemning what happened.

It said, in part, “This act of state terror and kidnapping is a threat to all those who travel in Europe and beyond. It cannot be allowed to stand. … Tyranny has no place in Belarus or in Europe. It threatens not only its own citizens but millions of others around the world.”

Santorum out at CNN

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

CNN has cut ties with Rick Santorum, the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania. Santorum had been a paid contributor with the network since 2017, offering a conservative or Republican point of view during CNN’s political coverage. CNN’s decision comes a month after Santorum’s remarks about Native Americans during a speech to a conservative youth group.

At that speech, Santorum said, “We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. … I mean, yes, we have Native Americans. But candidly, that — there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

The ridiculous comments deservedly drew condemnation from many, including Native American groups. Santorum then made matters worse, fumbling his explanation by saying he misspoke during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Santorum added, “I would never, and you know, people have said, ‘Oh, I’m trying to dismiss what we did to the Native Americans.’ Far from it. The way we treated Native Americans was horrific. It goes against every bone and everything I’ve ever fought for, as a leader, in the Congress.”

Santorum never apologized for what he said. As the Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr noted, CNN host Don Lemon said on air, “I cannot believe the first words out of his mouth weren’t: ‘I’m sorry, I said something ignorant.’ Did he actually think it was a good idea for him to come on television and try to whitewash the whitewash that he whitewashed? It was horrible.”

Barr and the HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery both reported that Santorum’s bungled explanation on Cuomo’s show did not sit well with most inside the network and led to the decision to let him go.

While you can appreciate CNN’s desire to have a conservative voice, especially on panels during election nights and debates, Santorum’s appearances often devolved into arguments and interruptions. That was not all Santorum’s fault. Other panelists, such as Gloria Borger, would frequently clash with Santorum. And while CNN might have thought it was good TV and an example of passionate debate, I found it mostly uncomfortable, frustrating and chaotic — making it the very opposite of good TV.

Marjorie Taylor Greene called out by fellow Republican

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Michigan Republican congressman Peter Meijer slammed Georgia GOP Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene for comparing wearing masks to the Holocaust and called her remarks “beyond reprehensible.”

Last week, Greene was criticizing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for enforcing mask-wearing in the House until more House members are vaccinated.

“This woman is mentally ill,” Greene told Real America’s Voice. “You know, we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”

CNN’s “State of the Union” moderator Dana Bash asked Meijer about those comments.

Meijer said, “First off, any comparisons to the Holocaust, it’s beyond reprehensible. I don’t even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that, frankly, amps up and in plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we have been seeing in our society today, vicious attacks on the streets of New York and in Los Angeles that should be — and I do condemn that in the strongest terms. There’s no excuse for that.”

Greene defended her remarks in a statement, adding, “I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany & any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.”

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois retweeted Greene’s comments and wrote, “Absolute sickness.”

An issue of diversity

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, Pool)

Lori Lightfoot is coming up on her two-year anniversary as mayor of Chicago and, to mark the occasion, she has announced she will only give one-on-one interviews with journalists of color. On the surface, this seems unfair and outrageous. And, of course, politicians should not be deciding who does and does not get to cover them.

But there’s a little more to this. Lightfoot’s intention is to show the lack of diversity at Chicago media outlets.

For the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist John W. Fountain, who is Black, wrote, “Black journalists are still largely MIA from nightly national newscasts as anchors, mostly invisible on editorial boards and as news directors of television networks — something Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed out this week to a lot of people’s chagrin. She didn’t lie, though she clearly stepped on toes. Dear Mayor Lightfoot, Thank you, for acknowledging the decades-old journalism elephant in the room.”

Lightfoot’s decision has been widely criticized by journalists, as well as politicians such as former Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who has called for Lightfoot’s resignation. She tweeted, “Mayor Lightfoot’s blatant anti-white racism is abhorrent. I call upon President Biden, Kamala Harris, and other leaders of our country — of all races — to join me in calling for Mayor Lightfoot’s resignation. Our leaders must condemn all racism, including anti-white.”

Gregory Pratt, a Latino reporter who covers the mayor and city council for the Chicago Tribune, told CNN’s Nicole Chavez and Kerry Flynn, “There are real diversity issues in media. It’s important newspaper bosses acknowledge and work on it. At the same time, it’s important for government officials to be accessible and answer tough questions from journalists of all backgrounds.”

The National Association of Black Journalists put out a statement saying Lightfoot’s decision was a “bold move.” It added, “Although we cannot support the tactic (due to our commitment to universal diversity, equity and inclusion) we applaud the mayor’s sensitivity to the lack of diversity among the people who cover city government.”

Strong opening

José Díaz-Balart on Saturday’s “NBC Nightly News.” (Courtesy: NBC News)

Here was José Díaz-Balart’s powerful opening to start Saturday’s “NBC Nightly News”:

“Good evening. Every Saturday we end our broadcast by telling you ‘there’s good news tonight.’ But this evening, that’s where we begin. Fifteen months into the pandemic, there is good news tonight about case counts and deaths, now the lowest they’ve been in a year. There’s good news tonight about hospitalizations, one city’s largest hospital has zero, yes, zero, COVID patients. And there’s good news tonight about the country reopening. This pandemic is still far from over — hundreds are dying each day in the U.S and not enough people are getting vaccinated. But tonight, tonight there’s good news about where we stand right now.”

Media tidbits

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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