A US journalist targeted by right-wing groups for her pro-Palestinian activism in university has condemned her recent sacking by The Associated Press news agency, saying she is a “victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media”.
In a statement shared on Twitter on Saturday, Emily Wilder said her managers at the AP told her that she had violated the news agency’s social media policy when she was fired this week, but that they did not say which tweets were in violation of that policy, or how.
Her dismissal on Wednesday came after right-wing groups at her alma mater, Stanford University, launched what Wilder described as a “smear campaign” against her over her student activism in defence of Palestinian rights.
It also took place during Israel’s 11-day military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which killed nearly 250 Palestinians and injured more than 1,900 others. Twelve people were also killed in Israel by rockets fired from the coastal Palestinian territory.
“I am one victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media that has censored so many journalists – particularly Palestinian journalists and other journalists of color – before me,” Wilder said in her statement.
My statement on my termination from The Associated Press. pic.twitter.com/kf4NCkDJXx
— emily wilder (@vv1lder) May 22, 2021
A Twitter post on Monday from Stanford Republicans had criticised Wilder, who is Jewish, as an “anti-Israel agitator” while on campus.
The Washington Free Beacon then published an article headlined, “AP Hires Anti-Israel Activist as News Associate. AP’s Objectivity in Question Amid Revelations it Shared Office Space with Hamas”. That story was picked up on other forums, including the Fox News website.
Just days earlier, Israel bombed a building in Gaza that housed the AP’s bureau, as well as the offices of Al Jazeera and several residential flats.
The Israeli government said al-Jalaa tower “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organisation” – a claim that was rejected by the media organisations, which demanded an independent investigation.
On Friday, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton would not say what Wilder – who began working as an AP news associate on May 3 out of Phoenix, Arizona – had written that violated the company’s social media policy, the news agency reported.
“We have this policy so the comments of one person cannot create dangerous conditions for our journalists covering the story,” Easton said.
“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.”
A clear message sent by the AP to aspiring journalists passionate about making the world a better, more just place: there is no place for you in our newsroom https://t.co/as0yNvmFrM
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) May 22, 2021
But journalists and others have criticised AP for dismissing Wilder, saying the move reflects an unjust double-standard about who is considered “biased” when reporting on Israel-Palestine.
Since Israel launched its attacks on Gaza on May 10, there has been growing criticism of how media outlets, especially in the US, cover the conflict.
“This is disgraceful and journalism organizations that exist to demand accountability and transparency of others must hold themselves to the same standards,” US investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted on Saturday, about Wilder’s sacking.
“This is a pretty egregious case of selective enforcement,” said Khaled Elgindy, director of Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute think-tank.
“There is a reckoning coming in American journalism. 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,” former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro also tweeted.
Reporting on the Israeli bombing of Gaza shouldn’t be hard, but for U.S. media, it’s a game of verbal gymnastics. @sanasaeed gives her critique on the way U.S. media fails to cover Israeli occupation. pic.twitter.com/eyC22gjrm5
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 21, 2021
In her statement, Wilder questioned what message her removal sends to other young people looking to get into journalism.
“I have to ask what kind of message this sends to young people who are hoping to channel righteous indignation or passion for justice into impactful storytelling,” she wrote.
“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? What does it mean for this industry that even sharing the painful experiences of Palestinians or interrogating the language we use to describe them can be seen as irredeemably ‘biased?’”