The Politico’s White House Reporter Joe Williams to Leave in Wake of Remarks About Mitt Romney
Last week I did this post about Joe Williams, The Politico’s White House reporter who was suspended after remarks on MSNBC saying presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney seemed most comfortable around white people — and after some ill-advised Tweets. A later report contained what seemed to be a swipe at his employer. Now The Politico has issued a statement with the fig leaf about how Williams is moving on to new writing venues:
Joe Williams, the POLITICO reporter who was suspended last week for controversial remarks he had made on television and Twitter, will leave his job.
“After some cordial discussions, Joe Williams and I mutually decided that the best step for him is to begin a transition to the next phase of his career,” POLITICO editor-in-chief John Harris wrote in a memo to staff, sent early Saturday morning. “Joe is an experienced and respected journalist, with keen insights into politics. After nearly 30 years in the business, he has the authority and is ready to give voice to his insights and conclusions in a new setting.”
“He’ll be on leave of absence during this transition, and he’s got my gratitude for the contributions he made here, both as reporter and editor. I have told Joe—and it’s a sentiment others who worked closely with him here share—that he’ll have my support as he prepares for what I expect will be a good and prominent next chapter in his career,” Harris wrote.
This is corporatespeak for: You’re fired.
In an MSNBC interview on June 21, Williams suggested that Mitt Romney was only comfortable around white people, prompting the conservative website Breitbart.com to flag a number of negative remarks Williams had made about Romney on Twitter. That night, Harris and executive editor Jim VandeHei sent a memo to staff announcing that Williams’ remarks “fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment,” and that he would be suspended pending review.
Those who were shocked about this should’t be and I suspect many top (and nontop) members of the news media aren’t. And those who like Romney and are cheering about it, and those who don’t like Romney who are defending Williams in his not-the-smartest comments for someone who is not an ideological blogger, not writing in a blog comments section, or not hosting a Fox News or MSNBC ideological talk news show, are simply responding as partisans do (predictably).
But the fact of the matter is this:
I can’t imagine that any of the newspapers I worked for in the US or wrote for overseas would have wanted me to work for them or be associated with them if I had publicly dissed the people I had been asigned to cover as a news gatherer. At the very least, I would have been moved off the assignment. Also, those who defend Williams by saying he had done private Tweets also know better: any Tweets, any Facebook entries are now likely to wind up published somewhere in 21st century America, particularly if they touch on the 24/7 partisan wars. Private emails may not remain so and are sometimes published in the partisan wars.
When I was a student at Colgate University, the late Sociology Professor Warren Ramshaw told our class: “Be careful how you present yourself on paper.” The same goes for news gatherers who are invited on ideological cable or radio talk shows and any kind of communication in cyberspace.
People who are supposed to be doing news gathering are brands and perceptions matter. The mainstream media and website news outlets that aspire to be more than an op-ed, partisan, snarky blogs have their branding, too, branding they’ve acquired due to the content they offer and tons of advertising money. The Politico basically acted to protect its brand and how it is perceived b political elites and readers — as a site where its reporters and editors try to step back from the fiery political battles, take a deep breath, gather and package information and report and coolly analyze for its readers.
Williams let his guard down and damaged his own brand. He WILL land another reporting and writing job (he is talented). But his Tweets and his MSNBC appearance (even if it was twisted out of proportion by some as I suggest in my original post) altered his brand and made him incompatible with The Politico’s brand in the reporter-not-partisan White House job description.
This is a tightrope all reporters in the news biz may often have to walk in covering a story or person.
Most walk it successfully.
Williams fell off it.