A Star Washington Post Reporter Called Out a Racial Blindspot in an Article. Leadership Threatened to Fire Him

Illustration for article titled A Star Washington Post Reporter Called Out a Racial Blindspot in an Article. Leadership Threatened to Fire Him
Photo: Kris Connor (Getty Images for Rare)

Following last week’s debacle at the Washington Post over a staffer’s Kobe Bryant tweets, a new article published Monday morning from the Daily Beast establishes that the Post has had ongoing issues over its stringent social media policy.

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Last year, that policy was used to threaten Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery’s job.

According to the Daily Beast, Lowery, who is black, was pulled aside by Executive Editor Marty Baron over his criticism of a New York Times retrospective on the Tea Party.

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Lowery called out the piece for not acknowledging that the reactionary conservative movement was “essentially a hysterical grassroots tantrum about the fact that a black guy was president?” The star reporter said the article was “journalistic malpractice” and followed his initial post with more tempered, specific critiques and research. (The Times article was eventually updated to reflect the Tea Party’s reactionary relationship to then-president Barack Obama)

But Baron thought Lowery crossed a line. From the Daily Beast:

The tweets were apparently enough to set off Baron, who along with Managing Editor Tracy Grant told Lowery that his tweets violated the Post’s social-media rules and threatened the newspaper’s credibility. In a subsequent meeting, explained to The Daily Beast by two Post insiders, the top editor at the paper told Lowery that he had made overtly political statements about the Tea Party, and had maligned the Times in the process.

The recourse, Barron suggested, would be for Lowery to become an opinion writer, or work for an advocacy organization. The top editor also threatened to fire Lowery if he violated the social-media policy again. The Washington Post declined to comment.

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Basically, be an activist or a be journalist, but if you share your opinions about race on social media—even when it concerns ethical and accurate news coverage—it means you’re trying to be both.

The criticism is notable now because of the Post’s recent suspension of another staffer, Felicia Sonmez, over tweeting an old Daily Beast story chronicling the 2003 rape allegations against Bryant, whose death was reported earlier that day. The Post union pushed back against the suspension, which was widely criticized by other outlets. The paper eventually walked the suspension back, but questions about how the social media policy was weaponized—and against whom—remained.

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Journalist’s opinions and life experiences shape their stories all the time. And as writer Rebecca Traister notes, it’s worth noting which opinions are considered “political” (anything questioning the status quo) versus not.

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Lowery is a national correspondent who covered the Ferguson Uprising and helped spearhead the Post’s police shootings project, Fatal Force, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016. Recently, Lowery announced he’d be leaving his job at the Post to join a new 60-Minutes-Quibi program, 60 in 6. The new show will run weekly and break down the news in six-minute increments.

Lowery didn’t give the Daily Beast any comment on any disciplinary meetings with Baron, but following the publication of the story, he had this to say on this Twitter:

“Should go without saying: reporters of color shouldn’t have their jobs threatened for speaking out about mainstream media failures to properly cover and contextualize issues of race. What’s the point of bringing diverse experiences and voices into a room only to muzzle them?”

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Staff writer, The Root.

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DISCUSSION

“You will be civil or we will destroy you.”

Fuck Jeff Bezos and his Washington Post.