The American Press: Muzzling Itself in 140 Characters

On social networks, Donald Trump barks and American journalists put on their muzzles. This is what two recent scandals in 140 characters that rocked the American press indicate at any rate.

A journalist for Politico, 34-year-old Julia Ioffe is a rising star, loved by television audiences and possessed of a talent for sharp writing that has ensured support and publication by the most prestigious titles. On Wednesday, in reaction to the (later denied) information that Ivanka Trump would occupy the office traditionally reserved for the first lady, Ioffe tweeted: “Either Trump is f–king his daughter or he’s shirking nepotism laws. Which is worse?”

There was a swift outcry, the tweet was deleted and apologies were offered. Pro-Trump trolls, supposedly so adept at handling the “politically incorrect,” have called for her head on a plate. Ioffe is actually one of the bête noires of the alt-right, a supremacist group on the fringes of the American right wing that is notable for its significant presence on social media. In April, Ioffe was the target of anti-Semitic threats and insults of a particularly violent nature following her investigation into Melania Trump, which was published in GQ.

In her defense following the tweet, Ioffe posted the video where Trump explains that he would “date” Ivanka if she weren’t his daughter. The ax fell two hours later, as Ioffe was reviled for her “unacceptable” tweet that “was in violation of standards” on the Politico website, a site that is known for covering everything that happens in Washington. In an internal memo, Politico’s senior management hammered its point home to their reporters, who “represent the publication at all times and on all platforms. Gratuitous opinion has no place, anywhere, at any time. It has absolutely zero value for our readers.” Knowing that Ioffe was leaving to work for the monthly magazine, The Atlantic, her firing seems even more zealous.

A week prior to this, New York Times reporter Liz Spayd wrote a piece about the conservative television channel Fox News. Faced with a reporter exaggerating outrage at the Times reporter’s tweets, Spayd conceded that the aforementioned tweets were “over the line” and should therefore face “some kind of a consequence.” The messages in question, while certainly of a strong political leaning, were not insulting, especially compared to those messages of the president-elect toward what he terms the “morally bankrupt New York Times.”* After the uproar caused by this lack of solidarity, the reporter took back her remarks but called for prudence and objectivity, i.e., the facts, and the facts alone, at this time of “post-truth.” For media specialist Jay Rosen, Spayd’s position is “wrong to the point of retrograde.”

On his part, Trump has increased the number of personal attacks on Twitter (The New York Times required two whole pages with small text to print them all) and has retweeted a 16-year-old attacking a CNN star. This is ironic, as Ioffe has emphasized, “We have a president-elect who popularized ‘saying what everyone else is thinking,’ but I guess my phrasing should’ve been more delicate.” And this Moscow-born Russian specialist added, “In Russia, the Kremlin rarely has to make the call to media organizations. The media bosses anticipate and do the censoring themselves.”

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, hurried to relay the news of Ioffe’s firing. On Twitter, in the guise of a biography, the woman who will most probably lead the future presidential communications team simply stated: “We won.”

Whether this is a statement of fact or a warning, it doesn’t matter. Faced with a future president who reduces Twitter users to dust, to pretend that this is normal behavior and to double down on politeness, is this not letting our guard down? Trump should be fought with his own weapons.

*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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