May 25, 2021
More than 100 Associated Press staffers have signed an open letter condemning the firing of former news associate Emily Wilder, who was dismissed last week after a right-wing college group targeted her with a smear campaign over her support for Palestinian rights.
The letter signed by her former colleagues questioned how Wilder violated the AP's social media policy over the course of her 16-day employment, during which she observed on Twitter that most mainstream news outlets rarely demonstrate "objectivity" when reporting on Israel and Palestine, instead making "political choices" about the language they use to describe Israel's occupation and treatment of Palestinians.
\u201cA statement from @AP staff: \n\nWe love the AP. We also want it to change. \n\nWe hope the institution that we serve with bravery and tenacity every day will join us in charting a more equitable future.\nhttps://t.co/sOAGMGdcfY\u201d— Kat Stafford (@Kat Stafford) 1621862147
The AP, the staffers said, "sacrificed" a young journalist without making clear how she had violated the policy and failed to defend an employee who was subjected to online harassment in the days before her firing.
"We need to know that the AP would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment. As journalists who cover contentious subjects, we are often the target of people unhappy with scrutiny. What happens when they orchestrate a smear campaign targeting another one of us?"
--Associated Press journalists
"We need to know that the AP would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment," wrote the employees. "As journalists who cover contentious subjects, we are often the target of people unhappy with scrutiny. What happens when they orchestrate a smear campaign targeting another one of us?"
Following Wilder's tweet on May 16, the Stanford College Republicans publicized Wilder's social media activity from her time in college, before she was employed by the AP.
Wilder, who is Jewish, posted on social media about being an active member of Palestinian rights groups while a student, leading the group to brand her as an "anti-Israel agitator" and denounce the AP for employing her. The College Republicans also dug up a tweet in which she called Republican mega-donor Shedon Adelson "naked mole rat-looking billionaire."
The story was soon picked up by right-wing news outlets like Fox News and The Federalist, and within days Wilder's employment was terminated.
Wilder's firing has been denounced by the News Media Guild and journalists across the United States.
"The real social media policy here is that AP reporters (and their colleagues at other big publications) are allowed to post all manner of opinions so long as they tread carefully around hot-button issues and don't annoy powerful interest groups," wrote Ryan Cooper at The Week on Saturday. "That is almost certainly why the AP brass refused to tell Wilder which of her social media posts violated the policy--there weren't any such posts, they were simply trying to appease a right-wing mob that was cynically pretending to be mad in order to punish a critic of Israel."
According to the AP staffers, the groups behind the smear campaign that targeted Wilder are now "celebrating their victory and turning their sights on more AP journalists."
"Once we decide to play this game on the terms of those acting in bad faith," their letter stated, "we can't win."
The open letter follows Wilder's own condemnation of her former employer, which she said last week had "folded to the ridiculous demands and cheap bullying of organizations and individuals."
Over the weekend, AP management appeared to do "damage control," defending the decision to terminate Wilder's employment while assuring staffers that they "will have a voice" in discussions about the firing and the company's policies.
In addition to eroding morale in the AP's newsrooms and causing uncertainty among staffers about whether they can be penalized for social media activity prior to their employment at the news agency, the letter argued Wilder's firing "has caused the public to question the credibility of our reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which does a great disservice to our courageous journalists in Gaza--who have already greatly suffered this month--and in Israel.
Wilder's firing, the letter added, "has left our colleagues--particularly emerging journalists--wondering how we treat our own, what culture we embrace and what values we truly espouse as a company."
The employees called on the AP's top leaders to demonstrate clarity about what precisely caused Wilder to be dismissed, hold a forum where managers and reporters can determine "social media best practices," and provide "a clear commitment to and playbook for supporting staff targeted by harassment campaigns."
"We hope the institution that we serve with bravery and tenacity every day will join us in charting a more equitable future," they wrote.
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