On Thursday, management at the Associated Press announced to staff that it had fired Emily Wilder, a news associate whose first day at the outlet was just two weeks ago.
Privately—according to Wilder—her employers said she’d violated the company’s social media policy, though she said they would not tell her which posts had been found to be in violation. (A spokesperson for the AP told the Washington Post that “she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.”)
But the AP’s motivation for terminating Wilder does not seem so mysterious. After criticizing the news media’s uncritical devotion to supposed objectivity in covering Israel’s occupation of Palestine on Twitter, Wilder drew the ire of the Stanford College Republicans—students from her alma mater—who launched a public harassment campaign against her. In subsequent days, members of the campus group surfaced an old Facebook post of Wilder’s about joining an anti-Birthright protest and used her association with the university’s Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine organizations as evidence of bias.
At one point, Wilder told SFGate in an interview, an editor reassured her that she wouldn’t get into trouble for opinions she had in college. But conservative news outlets swiftly picked up the story (“story”) and excoriated the AP for the recent hire. Days later she was fired.
Wilder describes the events of the past week as a textbook example of getting cancelled, though she points out that the College Republicans who instigated it—and who would certainly decry “cancel culture” in general—would never identify it as such. From her SFGate interview:
“There’s no question I was just canceled. This is exactly the issue with the rhetoric around ‘cancel culture.’ To Republicans, cancel culture is usually seen as teens or young people online advocating that people be held accountable over accusations of racism or whatever it may be, but when it comes down to who actually has to deal with the lifelong ramifications of the selective enforcement of cancel culture—specifically over the issue of Israel and Palestine—it’s always the same side.”
As a number of people argued on Thursday night, it is not uncommon in mainstream media for reporters and columnists to have overt connections—past and present!—to pro-Israel groups. Earlier this week it was revealed that New York Times opinion writer Brett Stephens had failed to publicly disclose that he had recently become the editor-in-chief at Saphir, a journal published by a pro-Israel advocacy group. His editors at the Times, meanwhile, were apparently well aware of this fact even as he went on to file columns like “For the Sake of Peace, Israel Must Rout Hamas,” which published on May 13. Then there’s CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who had a previous life at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he edited its monthly publication; he also served as a flack for the organization.
Wilder’s observation that “it’s always the same side” in newsrooms extends far beyond Israel-Palestine. Felicia Sonmez, a reporter at the Washington Post, was banned from reporting on sexual assault on and off for years since top editors considered the fact that she herself is a survivor of assault to be a conflict of interest. As Wilder rightfully pointed out in her initial tweet, the editorial choices that are deemed “objective” reveal their own biases—they just tend to reflect the dominant ideology, which benefits from being considered neutral.
Jezebel has reached out to both Wilder and the AP for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update, 5/21/21, 11:13 a.m. EST: An AP spokesperson sent Jezebel a brief (though no more explanatory) statement: “While AP generally refrains from commenting on personnel matters, we can confirm Emily Wilder’s comments on Thursday that she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.”
Update, 5/21/21, 2:30 p.m. EST: Another spokesperson has added: “AP has 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.”