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AP Admits It Mishandled Firing of Young Reporter

Emily Wilder's dismissal over social media posts forces a reckoning on policy
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2021 9:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Associated Press hired a young journalist out of Stanford at the beginning of this month, then fired her about two weeks later. But this was no ordinary personnel issue, and the dismissal of 22-year-old Emily Wilder is forcing a heated discussion in the industry about how news organizations handle social media issues. What's more, senior AP execs have acknowledged mistakes in how they handled the firing, reports the Washington Post. Coverage:

  • Wilder began covering news in Arizona for the AP on May 3, per Poynter. But the Stanford College Republicans soon called public attention to her pro-Palestinian activism while in college. The group denounced her as "anti-Israel," and right-leaning websites and critics, including GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, picked up the theme. Perhaps the most damning accusation was that Wilder's hiring called the AP's objectivity into question on Israel.
  • One of Wilder's tweets in college criticized news organizations for language they used in coverage of the Israeli conflict, notes media writer Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post. "Using 'israel' but never 'palestine,' or 'war' but not 'siege and occupation' are political choices, yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased," Wilder wrote. That criticism, however, is "not exactly a radical idea," writes Sullivan.

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  • The AP fired Wilder (and announced it publicly) for violating its social media policy after the campaign against her picked up steam, per Mediaite. Generally, that policy prohibits reporters from tweeting their opinions on controversial issues. A backlash soon began, with 100 AP journalists signing an open letter to their bosses demanding a clearer explanation about the disciplinary process. "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," it reads. The AP then announced it would review its social media policies.
  • The news agency hasn't said much publicly beyond that statement, but the Post reports that senior managers admitted mistakes in a town hall with employees. "We failed to initially see this as more than an HR issue," it quotes Julie Pace, an assistant managing editor, as saying. "What we failed to see is how this impacted our staff broadly in so many ways. ... We saw it primarily as an issue of social media standards. We failed to see that it is much deeper than that." Another exec, managing editor Brian Carovillano, cited "mistakes of process" but said the decision to fire Wilder was correct.
  • Wilder herself has responded to all this with a statement about her firing, calling it "heartbreaking as a young journalist." She adds that "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 adds that she was upfront about her college activism with the AP, and that she abided by the organization's policies once hired.
  • At Poynter, Tom Jones warns that "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."
  • In her piece, Sullivan writes that news organizations have much work to do in figuring out how to respond to "bad-faith attacks on journalists." This wasn't about social media, she writes. "Wilder, who is Jewish, was fired because she had a history of outspoken college activism on a particularly touchy subject," she writes. "And because a right-wing mob came for her at a particularly touchy moment."
(Read more Associated Press stories.)

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