More than 100 Associated Press employees have criticized the way the news organization fired a young journalist last week after a conservative "smear campaign" over her pro-Palestinian activism in college.
In the open letter published Monday, AP staffers from across the world demanded more clarity from the company about why Emily Wilder, 22, was fired as a news associate in Phoenix only three weeks into her job.
"Wilder was a young journalist, unnecessarily harmed by the AP’s handling and announcement of its firing of her," the staffers said in the letter. "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."
In a viral Twitter thread last week, the Stanford College Republicans branded Wilder, who is Jewish, as an "anti-Israel agitator" by highlighting her old social media posts critical of Israel and her participation in pro-Palestinian groups and rallies during her time at Stanford.
Their tweets were amplified by several conservative news outlets as well as Republican lawmakers like Sen. Tom Cotton, who raised questions about AP's objectivity in covering Israel and Palestinian territories.
The AP fired Wilder on Wednesday despite an editor initially assuring her that she would not face any recrimination for her old social media posts, she said.
According to Wilder's termination letter, which she shared with BuzzFeed News, her old posts prompted the company to review her social media activity. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the AP said that she was fired for violating the company's social media policy "during her time at AP," but they did not specify the offending posts either to her or to the staff.
The staffers said AP's lack of communication after Wilder's firing "gives us no confidence that any one of us couldn’t be next, sacrificed without explanation."
The employees noted that interest groups involved in targeting Wilder were "celebrating their victory and turning their sights on more AP journalists."
"Once we decide to play this game on the terms of those acting in bad faith, we can’t win," the letter said.
Responding to the letter Monday, AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said, "The Associated Press looks forward to continuing the conversation with staff about AP’s social media policy."
Easton appeared to refute some aspects of the letter, saying that the company's news leadership sent a note about Wilder's termination to its global news staff on Saturday and that AP "did not choose to name Emily Wilder publicly, as the letter states."
Easton also noted that AP's social media policy is negotiated with the News Media Guild which represents its US news staffers.
"Our News Values and Principles, including our social media guidelines, exist to ensure that the comments of one person cannot jeopardize our journalism or the journalists who are covering the story," Easton said.
Wilder did not respond to a request for comment about the letter.
In their letter, AP staffers said the episode also prompted the public to question the credibility of AP's reporting on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and did a disservice to their "courageous journalists in Gaza — who have already greatly suffered this month — and in Israel."
The Israeli military bombed the Gaza building housing AP's bureau and other international media organizations, without providing evidence that Hamas — the Palestinian militant group — operated there. Israeli officials gave the journalists just minutes to evacuate before destroying the building.
After her firing, Wilder and several journalists noted the disproportionate backlash against peers who publicly hold pro-Palestinian views and questioned the decision to fire employees based on newsrooms' vague social media policies governing objectivity.
"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," AP staffers wrote in the letter.
They asked the AP to offer clarity about the disciplinary process used for Wilder and to specify which of her social media posts led to her termination.
Employees also demanded a commitment from AP to support any staffers "targeted by harassment campaigns" and a forum where AP journalists could discuss the best social media practices for its journalists.
"It’s important that the AP and its employees can articulate where the lines are drawn," the letter said.