Journalists covering Donald Trump have something new to worry about.
According to a report published over the weekend by the New York Times, a group of Trump “allies” are weaponizing social media against journalists. From the Times:
A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.
It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.
The group of "allies" carrying out this attack on journalists, which the Times says includes Arthur Schwartz—“a combative 47-year-old conservative consultant who is a friend and informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr.”—appears to have targeted only mid-level media staffers at this point. One of those mid-level staffers was former CNN photojournalist Mohammed Elshamy, who resigned from his post after Schwartz unearthed anti-Semitic tweets that Elshamy, an Egyptian native, wrote when he was 16 years old. Elshamy, who has covered war zones across Africa, apologized for the old tweets and told the Times that he “was repeating slogans heard on the streets during a highly emotional time in my nation’s history.” But no matter. CNN told him to quit or be fired.
I feel for Elshamy. What 16-year-old hasn't done something they seriously regret later? As I’ve argued before, there should be a statute of limitations for bad tweets, and idiotic statements made by teenagers should not be used against them years after the fact, whether you agree with their politics or not. And yet, there is some irony to the New York Times’ hand-wringing over this when the left instigated the contemporary cancelation-after-the-fact trend in the first place.
As Hamilton Nolan wrote in Splinter, “There is little meaningful difference between what this shadowy group of ‘conservative operatives’ is doing and what media reporters at Gawker or the New York Observer did for many years, save for the motivation. The media reporters were mostly motivated by laughs and kicks and a belief in editorial transparency, whereas the conservatives are motivated by, you know, a deep affinity for fascism. Still, the actions themselves are basically the same.”
He’s got a point. There is no chance in hell that Splinter or the New York Times or CNN or The Stranger would decline to publish problematic tweets written by a journalist whose politics they (we) don’t like. There are even non-profit organizations devoted to doing this exact thing—for instance, Media Matters, a much-loved organization on the left that has made combing through old material (be it on Twitter or Bubba the Love Sponge episodes) something of an art.
Of course, this tactic is only effective if the top brass at media organizations give in to Twitter mobs. If they actually stood by staffers like Elshamy rather than pressuring them to resign under threat of firing, this particular battle tactic would eventually fade away. That, however, would require editors and managers and publishers to grow a spine—or, even better, to start to ask themselves if decade-old tweets are actually newsworthy in the first place, no matter the source. The left-leaning media started this idiotic trend. The least we could do is help kill it.