There’s been a lot of discussion during the past two weeks of violence in Gaza and Israel about the increased power of pro-Palestinian voices in popular and political culture. This is undoubtedly a true and very hopeful development, but we should be under no illusions about how high a mountain there is to climb before the domination of the Israeli narrative is fully worn away. On Thursday, the Associated Press provided just such a reminder when it summarily fired a junior staffer for the crime of having displayed some pro-Palestinian views in college.
Emily Wilder had only been in her job as an AP news associate for 16 days when she was told she was being sacked. The firing came after she tweeted this over the weekend:
That tweet triggered a conservative frenzy, which revealed that Wilder, who is Jewish, was a member of pro-Palestinian groups in college, had made some caustic social media remarks about pro-Israel figures like Sheldon Adelson, and had even committed the sin of consorting with cartoonist (and friend of Discourse Blog) Eli Valley.
Wilder was covering Arizona news, not anything to do with Israel, but nevertheless, she had to go. Wilder told SFGate that while her bosses had initially promised to back her up, they suddenly decided that she had, in fact, violated their rules—not that they could tell her, or anyone else, what she’d specifically done wrong (emphasis mine):
Wilder said she received an “onslaught of absolutely vile messages” as the story picked up steam. On Thursday, her employer delivered the final gut punch.
“They told me that I violated their social media policy and would be terminated immediately, but they never said which tweet or post violated the policy,” she said. “I asked them, ‘Please tell me what violated the policy,’ and they said, ‘No.'”
An Associated Press spokesperson confirmed to SFGATE that Wilder “was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP,” but did not address any other issue Wilder raised, stating that the AP generally does not comment on personnel matters.
It’s always a good sign when your boss tells you you’ve broken some rule and then refuses to tell you how you’ve broken that rule. It really makes you feel like everyone’s acting with integrity all around.
If I could do anything with graphics, I would put the anime meme with the butterfly here with the caption, “Is this cancel culture?” Instead, I will just say: this is utterly craven nonsense, as about a million people, from normally cretinous folks like Glenn Kessler to more predictably sensible types like Wesley Lowery, instantly pointed out. The fact that it came just days after the Israeli military literally blew up the AP’s bureau in Gaza lends it an extra bitter flavor. But it also provides us with a good chance to remind ourselves of what apparently is and is not acceptable when it comes to covering Israel and Palestine.
It is NOT acceptable for you to be a junior AP reporter doing Arizona news for a couple of weeks if you did pro-Palestinian activism in college. It IS acceptable for you to report directly on Israel if you volunteered to serve in the Israeli military, like former AP correspondent Matti Friedman. (Not that such service only renders you employable in an Israeli context: if you volunteered for the IDF and also printed complete nonsense about the Iraq War, you can become the editor of the Atlantic.) If you spoke up for Palestine in the past, you might get the chop. If you worked directly for the Israel lobby in the past, you might get to be the top journalist on CNN, like former AIPAC employee Wolf Blitzer, who has covered Israel and Palestine consistently during his time at the network. Are you working for a pro-Israel group without disclosing that to your readers? You must be Bret Stephens, and there’s no way you’ll lose your New York Times column.
As pro-Palestinian campaigner Yousef Munayyer recounted in a must-read thread, the American media’s coverage of Israel is constantly being shaped by people with deep, often very personal ties to the Israeli government and military. Why is that never an issue?
This is part of a broader pattern. Pro-Palestinian people are blacklisted, fired, censored, and otherwise suppressed more than just about any other group in America.
Now, Emily Wilder can add her name to the list. Hopefully, though the widespread outrage at the way the AP treated her will presage a wider reckoning over how the media handles bad-faith conservative outrage more generally and, more specifically, its coverage of Israel and Palestine.