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Who Is The Media For? Journalist Sarah Jones On Ethics In The Industry


We're now going to look at two stories about journalism ethics that have had very different outcomes. One is about someone famous and powerful. CNN's Chris Cuomo reportedly advised his brother, governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, on how to respond to allegations of sexual harassment against him. But CNN said the primetime host will not be punished. The other story is about someone who is not famous or powerful. Emily Wilder, a recent hire at the Associated Press who had just graduated university, says she was fired for her affiliation in college with pro-Palestinian groups after right-wing media and politicians unearthed old social media posts. The AP denies her allegations, saying she was fired for violating their social media policies while she was working for them, though the wire service has not specified which of her posts crossed the line. So who is the media really for? That's exactly the question Sarah Jones explores in her essay for New York Magazine. She's a writer there, and she joins me now. Hello.

SARAH JONES: Hi. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's recap these two stories and start with Chris Cuomo. What was the reporting on that? What did he do?

JONES: So The Washington Post reported that, behind the scenes, Chris Cuomo had taken part in certain strategy sessions to advise his brother, the governor of New York, on how to deal with recent sexual harassment allegations and reportedly referred to the phrase cancel culture in discussing those allegations behind the scenes at the time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Emily Wilder - what is her story?

JONES: Emily Wilder is a recent Stanford University graduate who recently finished a stint at the Arizona Republic and started as a news associate at the Associated Press just a couple weeks ago. While she was in college, Emily was, as you noted, involved in some pro-Palestinian causes and once referred to Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson as a naked mole rat. It's worth noting, of course, Emily herself is Jewish. Those social media posts were unearthed by the Stanford College Republicans and sort of spread from the Stanford College Republicans to right-wing media from there, and she was fired this week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you say Cuomo should be fired. Can you explain to me why?

JONES: It's true that Cuomo is a commentator, is an opinion journalist. You could even say that what he does maybe straddles a line with entertainment. But, you know, I'm an opinion journalist myself, and I don't always get everything right. But I do believe that the standards ought to be rigorous, as rigorous for opinion journalists as they are for any other sort of journalist. And I think Chris Cuomo just objectively failed to meet those standards.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he was also allowed almost nightly to be on CNN together in the early days of the pandemic with his brother, the governor. And there's also been other reporting that Chris Cuomo seemed to have gotten special medical attention during the pandemic. So, I mean, there are a lot of - potentially a lot of lines being crossed there. What do you think it says more broadly, though, about the way journalism rules do and don't get enforced?

JONES: I think it shows us that these rules - these definitions of objectivity are often very poorly defined. They vary wildly from outlet to outlet, and there doesn't seem to be a universal standard at all. They also seem to be poorly enforced. They're very unevenly enforced, as a matter of fact.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One could argue, though, that Chris Cuomo is being transparent that he does have an opinion, and it's in favor of his brother, who he's related to.

JONES: We also have to think about corruption, as well. These standards aren't just in place to protect impartiality as far as opinions go. They're meant to make sure that somebody isn't using their platform to enrich or to popularize somebody else. Now, you can make the argument, of course, that as governor of the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo is already very powerful. But his appearances on Chris Cuomo, his brother's, show really did help make him more of a household name to the nation at large. And that's really good for Andrew Cuomo. I'm not convinced that's good for anybody else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's journalist Sarah Jones from New York Magazine. Thank you very much.

JONES: Thank you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: An earlier version on this report failed to include the AP's statement on the firing of its reporter.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 23, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version on this report failed to include the AP's statement on the firing of its reporter.

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