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Associated Press journalists condemn firing of Emily Wilder over Palestinian advocacy

More than 100 journalists say the AP's decision to fire the young news associate over Israel-critical social media posts puts the agency's credibility into question
Emily Wilder's colleagues say they are concerned "about the ramifications" her sacking could have "for newsroom morale and AP’s credibility" (Reuters/File photo)

More than 100 journalists at the Associated Press have published an open letter decrying the news agency's decision to sack a young news associate over social media posts she made that were critical of Israel. 

Emily Wilder, who was hired by the AP on 3 May, was publicly dismissed by the agency just 16 days later over what it has described as a violation of the company's social media policy. 

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Wilder, a Jewish American who graduated from Stanford University last year, had been active with anti-occupation movements on campus, including Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. 

Concerned over possible repercussions for her previous activism, Wilder said she brought her college affiliations to the attention of AP management during the hiring process and was told it would not be an issue. 

While not confirming which of Wilder's posts were a violation of its policy standards, the AP has confirmed that the posts in question were related to comments made regarding Israel and Palestine after she had been hired by the news agency. 

Wilder's colleagues now say they are concerned "about the ramifications of this decision for newsroom morale and AP's credibility", while slamming the agency for the way it managed the entire incident.

"We strongly disapprove of the way the AP has handled the firing of Emily Wilder and its dayslong silence internally," the journalists said in Monday's open letter.  

"We demand more clarity from the company about why Wilder was fired. It remains unclear - to Wilder herself as well as staff at large - how she violated the social media policy while employed by the AP," the letter reads. 

'We are often the target'

Signed by more than 130 journalists by Monday afternoon in the US, the open letter continues to be circulated in GoogleDocs, with more signatures being added. 

The journalists expressed particular concern over the fact that Wilder was fired after a right-wing campaign began digging up activism posts she had made during her time at university. 

'We need to know that the AP would stand behind... journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns'

- AP journalists' letter

While a campus group called the Stanford College Republicans began the attacks on Wilder, Fox News, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, and other right-wing figures jumped on the controversy. 

Now, the group of concerned journalists say they fear the AP has just given bad faith actors a tool to discredit more of their colleagues. 

"We need to know that the AP would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment," the group said. 

"As journalists who cover contentious subjects, we are often the target of people unhappy with scrutiny. What happens when they orchestrate a smear campaign targeting another one of us? Interest groups are celebrating their victory and turning their sights on more AP journalists.

"They have routinely made journalists’ identities subject to attack. Once we decide to play this game on the terms of those acting in bad faith, we can’t win," the journalists continued. 

"While firings are rarely transparent, AP chose to name Wilder publicly. The lack of communication since then about Wilder’s firing and the circumstances surrounding it gives us no confidence that any one of us couldn’t be next, sacrificed without explanation. 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."

'Journalists afraid to engage on social media'

Lauren Easton, global director of media relations and corporate communications at AP, told Middle East Eye that Wilder had been fired so that "the comments of 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," Easton said in a statement on Friday. 

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But the AP journalists in Monday's letter warned that Wilder's firing could have the opposite effect. 

"This episode has caused the public to question the credibility of our reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which does a great disservice to our courageous journalists in Gaza - who have already greatly suffered this month - and in Israel," the journalists wrote. 

"The amount of recrimination the AP has been subjected to online and in the news media also damages our reputation with our sources and audience on all subjects. The lack of clarity on the violations of the social media policy has made AP journalists afraid to engage on social media - often critical to our jobs - in any capacity," they continued. 

Wilder has spoken out against her sacking, speaking to media and releasing a statement of her own on Saturday outlining how "heartbreaking" the whole incident has been and how she feels scapegoated. 

"It's terrifying as a young woman who was hung out to dry when I needed support from my institution most. And it's enraging as a Jewish person - who grew up in a Jewish community, attended Orthodox schooling and devoted my college years to studying Palestine and Israel - that I could be defamed as antisemitic and thrown under the bus in the process," Wilder said. 

"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."