Last night Politico announced the suspension of one of its reporters for — what else? — comments and tweets. Yesterday, Joe Williams, who covers domestic policy, appeared on Martin Bashir’s MSNBC show, which was addressing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s positions toward Latinos and others. The conversation turned toward the candidate’s frequent appearances on the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends.” Williams said this:
It’s very interesting that he does so many appearances on “ Fox & Friends .” And it’s unscripted. It’s only time they let Mitt off the leash, so to speak. But it also points out a larger problem he’s got to solve if he wants to be successful come this fall. Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That’s one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in some town hall settings, why he can’t relate to people other than that. But when he comes on “ Fox & Friends,” they are like him, they’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company, so it really is a very stark contrast, I think, and a problem that he has not been able to solve to date, and he’s going to have to network harder if he’s going to try to compete.
Breitbart.com didn’t like those comments one bit:
Politico, the unofficial web-branch of MSNBC, and whose staff spends more time on MSNBC than Chris Matthews, has a so-called reporter named Joseph Williams who all but called Mitt Romney a racist on Martin Bashir’s show today.
But there was more, as Breitbart.com pointed out. Tweets, that is. Here’s one of them:
GOP definition of “voter fraud” @LOLGOP: Breaking: If people are able to vote, Obama will win. fb/me/1cby5M4ur
Or both @utaustinliberal: Either Ann Romney meant Mitt is flaccid or that when we “unzip him” we’ll find he’s a dick. abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics...
Williams’s Twitter account is “protected,” which means that only ”confirmed followers” have a view of what he’s tweeting. Perhaps a more public following would have resulted in earlier publicity on his tweeted thoughts. (The tweets above were copied from the Breitbart.com write-up, which has a wide assortment.)
In announcing Williams’s suspension, Politico top editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei assert that their people have “a clear and inflexible responsibility to cover politics fairly and free of partisan bias.”
Regrettably, an unacceptable number of Joe Williams’s public statements on cable and Twitter have called into question his commitment to this responsibility. His comment about Governor Romney earlier today on MSNBC fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment in an especially unfortunate way.
Joe has acknowledged that his appearance reflected a poor choice of words. This appearance came in the context of other remarks on Twitter that, cumulatively, require us to make clear that our standards are serious, and so are the consequences for disregarding them. This is true for all POLITICO journalists, including an experienced and well-respected voice like Joe Williams.
Impetus for that memo appears to have come from the Breitbart.com story on Williams’s remarks. According to a source with knowledge of last night’s events, Harris raised the question with Williams around 7:30 p.m., hours after Williams’s appearance on the 3 p.m. MSNBC program and not long after the Breitbart.com piece splashed down. Harris referenced a “really bad” situation, not to mention a “[expletive]storm” on the Internet.
As for Williams’s tweets, a Politico source says that leadership at the paper had addressed the situation in early May, asking that Williams cool it with the opinionated outbursts.
The suspension of Williams remains in place pending an internal review. Politico has canceled two scheduled TV appearances by Williams, one from last night and another today, according to a Politico source.
The handling of this matter may signal an emerging policy at Politico when it comes to personnel issues: Deal with them quickly, decisively and, if possible, at night. Last year, Politico published an evening editor’s note on the resignation of Kendra Marr after plagiarism findings.
More to come on this story.