Chills-ing Effects: How right-wingers got a New York Times editor fired for two tweets

The Right rants about 'cancel culture' until it feels like having someone silenced.

A woman eyes the camera with justified suspicion. She is sat on her haunches in the street, hugging her dog. She’s not famous nor infamous. She’s a journalist who just lost her job, being stalked by other journalists and photographers.

“Exclusive photos” the New York Post slug-line screams, while the picture caption says it shows “Lauren Wolfe… for the first time just hours after the Times cancelled her contract.”

Two tweets — one rapidly deleted after Wolfe realised it was factually incorrect, the other gone now after a wave of attention and abuse — were enough to get her fired from the New York Times, a paper running scared of right-wing agitators, hugging its illusory concept of impartiality close.

Wolfe’s two tweets were both sent on Tuesday. The first read, “Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews now. I have chills.” The second, which she quickly deleted, said: “The pettiness of the Trump admin not sending a military plane to bring him to D.C. as is tradition is mortifying. Childish.” She deleted the latter because it quickly became apparent that President Biden chose to take his own plane.

So, as the story appears publicly — and with the caveat that other information might come to light — Wolfe has effectively been fired over three words in a newsy tweet (“I have chills”). She had been working as an editor on contract at the New York Times, dealing with stories on its Live page.

The New York Post story came on the back of a lengthy Daily Mail piece that rounded up pro-Biden comments by far bigger media names that Wolfe. Her sacking was simply used as an hors d'oeuvre before the main course of alleged media hypocrisy. Neither the Daily Mail piece nor the New York Post story has been updated to include Wolfe’s own explanation of her tweet:

As is increasingly common, the outraged tweet that the New York Post chose to illustrate the ‘uproar’ about Wolfe’s comments came from a Twitter account with no profile picture and just 8 followers:

The right in the US (and the UK for that matter) know that bad-faith attacks on journalists work and that chicken shit executives are often quick to cut staff loose rather than deal with online fury that is often coming from people who would never buy their product in the first place.

Here are two examples from this time last year:

In January 2020, The Washington Post suspended its reporter Felicia Somnez when she reshared accurate reporting on sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant, shortly after the basketball player’s death. Marty Baron, the newspaper’s executive editor, castigated her for ‘hurting’ the institution and she was put on administrative leave. She was later reinstated and the Washington Post admitted that she had not violated any of its policies. But the damage was done — reporters at the paper now knew their bosses would not back them.

Then in February 2020, ABC News suspended journalist David Wright after he was secretly recorded by the right-wing group Project Veritas saying he was “socialist” and complaining that his organisation’s coverage of Trump (“We don’t hold him to account. We also don’t give him credit for what things he does do.”) and ABC’s willingness to overly promote content from its parent company Walt Disney. The video was choppily edited and Project Veritas has a proven history of deceptively editing for effect. Regardless Wright was suspended and reassigned from political coverage.

In a statement, ABC News said:

“Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved.”

On a shareholder call, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek said:

“[Wright] said some things that made us question his objectivity and obviously when you’re reporting the news, there’s no place for someone who’s got a heavily subjective opinion.”

Only Wright’s words weren’t biased — he was complaining that ABC both failed to properly scrutinise Trump and that it didn’t give him enough credit for things he did get right.

The truth in Wright’s case is that he did two things that Disney couldn’t ignore: He criticised the House of Mouse and he admitted to having left-wing politics. The Right’s position on free speech is that it supports the right free speech and that left-wing people using their free speech are “biased” and must be silenced.

We see the same double standard in the UK where the right cry foul if they suspect anyone with a TV, radio, or newspaper platform might be sympathetic to left-wing ideas but are entirely comfortable with BBC employees writing for The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, or the cursed cow site UnHerd.

While The New York Times has seemingly bowed to right-wing howling on Twitter and elsewhere about those three words in Wolfe’s tweet that stayed up and the substance of the foolish tweet that got deleted early on, the paper has published multiple stories about Joe Biden’s Rolex and his ‘security risk’ Peloton. That’s after a President whose home before the White House was a golden shrine to his own ego. Of course, those stories are just stating the ‘facts’, right? There’s certainly no spin, emotion, or perspective in action there…

I happen to think that the collective media love-in for Biden was unseemly, unprofessional, and just downright creepy. I thought the same of the right(er) wing of the media’s obsessional coverage of Trump early on, particularly it’s fannish treatment of Melania (“She was a supermodel!”). Wolfe’s tweets were arguably unwise from someone working at The New York Times, but to fire her was an obscenely cowardly move by executives who care only about covering their backs and keeping the heat off them.

The Right doesn’t care about free speech; it cares about it’s right to say whatever it likes and silence whoever it likes.

Right-wingers don’t care about bias when it goes in their favour and the notion that they even remotely care about impartiality in the media is belied by the continued success of Fox News in the US and The Daily Mail in the UK.

The Right jumps on tweets like Wolfe’s because they are fodder for campaigns of bad faith activism and online abuse. It’s a programme of intimidation designed to ensure that right-wing views dominate and left-wing thoughts are kept quiet. And unfortunately, it works…