Journalists at the Associated Press published an open letter on Monday, decrying the decision to fire Emily Wilder, a young employee targeted by a Republican smear campaign regarding her pro-Palestinian advocacy while a student.
“It 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 journalists wrote.
Wilder, a 2020 Stanford graduate, was an intern at the Arizona Republic before the AP hired her for an entry-level role in Phoenix.
She announced her new position in April, tweeting photographs which showed her wearing an AP logo. She started as a news associate in early May but was fired weeks later – according to the company, for violating its social media policy. She and other AP staffers remain confused as to how.
Wilder was fired soon after Republicans at Stanford resurfaced her history of pro-Palestinian advocacy while a college student. Conservative outlets publicized the story and prominent figures including the Arkansas senator Tom Cotton shared it.
“I was told my editors were only hoping to support me as I received an onslaught of sexist, antisemitic, racist and violent comments and messages,” Wilder wrote in a statement.
“Less than 48 hours later, the AP fired me. What future does it promise to aspiring reporters that an institution like the Associated Press would sacrifice those with the least power to the cruel trolling of a group of anonymous bullies?”
Last week, an AP spokesperson said: “We can confirm Emily Wilder’s comments that she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.”
The dismissal came days after a building which housed an AP office in Gaza was destroyed by Israeli action.
The AP social media policy, the spokesperson said, was meant to ensure that “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.”
Wilder’s dismissal has nonetheless sparked outcry among journalists, many of whom wonder why the AP chose to harm a young professional instead of appreciating a teachable moment.
“The fact that AP refused to defend her when the going got tough highlights exactly what folks have been saying all day: only the powerful survive. The rules only apply to the vulnerable,” tweeted Megan Taros, who reports for the Arizona Republic.
In the open letter, AP employees excoriated the company’s willingness to fire Wilder.
“We are often the target of people unhappy with scrutiny,” staff members wrote. “What happens when they orchestrate a smear campaign targeting another one of us?
“Once we decide to play this game on the terms of those acting in bad faith, we can’t win.”
The AP did not immediately comment on the letter.
Wilder’s termination also reinvigorated conversations about journalistic impartiality.
“There is a reckoning coming in American journalism,” tweeted Julián Castro, a former secretary of housing and urban development and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Good. It’s well past time to rethink a notion of ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’ that always privileged the status quo and all who benefit from it.”