At theGrio.com, owned by NBC, Nida Khan asked, “The real question for Politico (and other news outlets for that matter) is: would they have been so quick to suspend Williams if he were White?”
Poynter noted that Politico has previously been taken to task for a lack of diversity, and this firing won’t help.
Williams himself, in an opinion piece at theGrio, said that the situation wouldn’t have occurred if it hadn’t been for the “right-wing noise machine” epitomized by publications like Breitbart.com and the Daily Caller. He wrote, “Reporters and news organizations have always prided itself on being fearless, independent and intrepid, willing to push back on government and stand up for free speech. Now, in a hyper-kinetic, hyper-partisan age, it seems we’re not even willing to push back on our own critics, which doesn’t bode all that well for my colleagues.”
But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Williams posted several ill-advised Twitter posts over many months, some retweeting vulgar jokes or crude comments made about the Romneys, another complaining that working at Politico had an “overlay of blatant racism.”
When CJR reached him, Williams said he doesn’t believe he had seen a Twitter policy at Politico, but one might exist. In his opinion piece, he noted that Breitbart.com and the Daily Caller had chosen only a few opinion tweets out of over 3,000.
Politico editors declined to comment on the matter to CJR, but they wrote in a memo to staffers published in The New York Times that the existence of the tweets aided their decision. They have refrained from commenting directly on the situation to other outlets as well. Williams referred most questions to his lawyer, who was not able to be reached before press time.
Wiliams’s firing has some lessons for journalists. First, race is still “the third rail of American politics,” as Steinhorn said during the interview with CJR. It is important to be able to back up what you say with facts.
And second, said Steinhorn, if you’re not a columnist or an opinion writer, “Stop the analysis and stop the advocacy and stick to gumshoe reporting.”
In our brave new world of talking-head reporters, that may be impossible.