Management at the Associated Press have told staff that they stand behind their decision to fire newly hired reporter Emily Wilder who was targeted by a Republican smear campaign regarding her pro-Palestinian advocacy while a student.
However, they also admitted to mishandling the situation and vowed to defend their staff against online attacks.
The AP have stated they fired Wilder for breaching their social media policies while she was an employee, not for her previous activities at college. But they have provided no detail on what those breaches were.
Wilder’s firing has triggered widespread internal unrest at the AP and also external criticism of its actions.
At a staff town hall Amanda Barrett, a deputy managing editor, told employees that trust had been lost but that: “The AP will protect you. We will have your back.”
Daisy Veerasingham, the chief operating officer, said that the AP stood by its decision to axe Wilder but admitted it could have been handled better. “I want to reinforce we stand by our decision. It has been an extremely difficult decision to make. No one would deny that we didn’t make mistakes in the process and that we wouldn’t have done things differently,” she said.
Details of the town hall were passed to the Guardian by a source who was able to listen in. Transcripts of the meeting’s chat channel were also provided. Some AP staffers voiced concerns at the town hall that senior staff has not backed them in the past or would not back them in the future when coming in for online attacks.
Dozens of AP reporters signed an open letter saying they “strongly disapprove” of the way the organization handled Wilder’s firing and its days long silence internally. The letter demanded “more clarity” from the company about why the reporter was fired.
Wilder, the statement continued, “was a young journalist, unnecessarily harmed by the AP’s handling and announcement of its firing of her”.
The dispute has especially roiled the press agency after its Gaza bureau was leveled by an Israeli airstrike during the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, a move that prompted outrage globally.
The company’s social media policy states that “AP employees must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum and must not take part in organized action in support of causes or movements”.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Wilder acknowledged that she may have violated the company’s social media policies, but argued that “these social media policies are so nebulous, almost by design, so that they can be selectively enforced … in a way that polices and harms the most vulnerable journalists among us”.
Wilder had posted criticism of how the news media describes the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in East Jerusalem.
“‘Objectivity’ feels fickle when the basic terms we use to report news implicitly stake a claim,” she posted. “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.”
Her remarks were amplified when the Stanford College Republicans retweeted a post that Wilder made in college and characterized her as an “anti-Israel agitator”. Conservative news organizations then called out AP for hiring her.
Wilder released a statement over the weekend, claiming she’d been “canceled” by the AP and describing herself as a “victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media that has censored so many journalists”.
She asked what kind of message was being sent to young people “who are hoping to channel righteous indignation or passion for justice into impactful storytelling”.