Emily Wilder started a new job as a news associate for the Associated Press on May 3. Just 16 days later, she was called and told that she had been terminated for violating the company’s social media policy.
“It’s really devastating,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview on Thursday evening.
Wilder was not told which of her social media posts had violated company policy, she said, just that “I had showed clear bias.” A spokesperson for the wire service confirmed that “she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.”
But the termination appears to be connected to tweets of hers referencing her advocacy for the Palestinian people and opposition to the actions of the Israeli government. A political group’s hiring of Mark Halperin draws protests from staffers
Wilder, who is Jewish, said she was an active member of the pro-Palestinian groups Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford University, from which she graduated in 2020. On Sunday, she posted on Twitter her criticism of how the news media describes the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that has seen deadly conflicts between Israeli settlers, Palestinian civilians and the Israeli military. “ ‘Objectivity’ feels fickle when the basic terms we use to report news implicitly stake a claim,” she wrote. “Using ‘Israel’ but never ‘Palestine,’ or ‘war’ but not ‘siege and occupation’ are political choices, yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased.”
The following day, the Stanford College Republicans flagged a post that Wilder made in college, characterizing her as an “anti-Israel agitator” and criticizing the Associated Press for hiring her. In the old post, Wilder described Sheldon Adelson, the late Las Vegas businessman and staunch Israel supporter, as a “naked mole rat-looking billionaire.”
In subsequent days, conservative outlets including the Federalist, Washington Free Beacon and the website of Fox News published stories calling out the wire service for Wilder’s hiring and attempting to tie it to the Israeli army’s recent destruction of the Associated Press’s Gaza bureau, during an attack on a high-rise building that Israel claimed also housed military intelligence for Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza. The wire service said it was unaware of Hamas presence in the building.
Wilder believes the Associated Press acted in response to those high-profile pieces of criticism. She was told, she said, that a review of her social media activity was initiated by the Associated Press after her old posts had been publicized. “This was a result of the campaign against me,” she said. “To me, it feels like AP folded to the ridiculous demands and cheap bullying of organizations and individuals.”
Wilder acknowledged that she may have violated the company’s social media policies, which ban employees from voicing political opinions, but argued that “these social media policies are so nebulous, almost by design, so that they can be selectively enforced … in a way that polices and harms the most vulnerable journalists among us.” The company’s social media policy states that “AP employees must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum and must not take part in organized action in support of causes or movements. ”Iowa reporter acquitted in a trial that shocked press freedom advocates
Wilder said she spoke to her superiors at the wire service as soon as articles began appearing that targeted her. “I was transparent from the very beginning, and I have been transparent,” she said, acknowledging her “history of activism.” (She said she received threats of violence connected to the stories published about her.)
“Yes, I had opinions in college, and yes, I still have opinions, because everybody has opinions,” she said. “I have never denied any of that.” Several journalists signaled their support of Wilder on Thursday, including former colleagues at the Arizona Republic, where she worked as an intern between June 2020 and April of this year. “Shame on @AP,” reporter Rebekah Sanders wrote on Twitter. “I stand with Emily. Her reporting at our newspaper was excellent. Reverse your decision NOW.” “The fact that AP refused to defend her when the going got tough highlights exactly what folks have been saying all day: only the powerful survive,” reporter Megan Taros wrote. “The rules only apply to the vulnerable.”
Wilder said she was “very excited” to work for the Associated Press, and complimented the wire service’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She’s only been a journalist for a year but said she had hoped to build a career at the company. She had tweeted gleefully about getting the job last month, sharing a photo of herself wearing a shirt with the AP logo.
“I love journalism,” she said Thursday, “and I’m a good journalist.”