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Opinion AP editor digs in on Emily Wilder’s ‘clear bias’

(Hiro Komae/AP)

Associated Press Managing Editor Brian Carovillano on Sunday defended the wire service’s controversial decision to fire Emily Wilder, a 22-year-old staffer who had come under fire from some conservatives for being a member of Students for Justice in Palestine while attending Stanford University. “Emily Wilder was let go because she had a series of social media posts that showed a clear bias toward one side and against another, in one of the most divisive and difficult stories that we cover anywhere in the world,” Carovillano told Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “It was a difficult decision. It was not an easy decision. And it was not a personal decision, and we wish her all the best.”

Carovillano’s well wishes come off looking a bit disingenuous considering the circumstances: The AP fired Wilder two weeks ago, while she was working as a so-called news associate at the AP’s Western U.S. bureau, after the Stanford College Republicans raised concerns about her. Though the AP said it didn’t penalize Wilder for her work in college, it did tell Wilder in its dismissal letter that the campaign against her prompted a probe of her social media conduct. Five days before Wilder’s dismissal, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the Gaza Strip building containing AP offices. She tweeted about the conflict, including this riff on media coverage:

In a previous statement sent to the Erik Wemple Blog last week, the AP stopped short of accusing Wilder of “clear bias,” suggesting instead that Wilder’s posts were her opinion: “Because we’re a global news organization, we recognize that expressing opinion in one part of the world can compromise our ability to report a story in another. It can limit our access to sources and information. In some cases it could endanger our journalists on the ground. So we do our best to protect against even the perception of bias.”

As we’ve noted on previous occasions, the difference between opinion and bias matters a lot to news organizations. Everyone has opinions — on food, on politics, on family, whatever. Biases, though, are something different; they result from a “failure to suppress your opinions” when you’re called upon to be fair. That duty falls on journalists, of course, as well as citizens who serve on juries.

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Based on the AP’s explanations, it found Wilder biased after working with her for just 16 days. In an interview last week, Wilder said she was eager to comply with the company’s hardcore newsgathering rules. In response to feedback from editors, she said, she removed “Black Lives Matter” from her Twitter bio. (She restored it after her dismissal.) Carovillano told Stelter that the sort of bias demonstrated by Wilder could have affected the organization’s output: “If you’re a news associate in Phoenix, and there is a protest, an anti-Israel protest, an anti-Palestine protest, you’re probably the person that the AP is going to go and send out to cover that,” said Carovillano.

We asked the AP if there were any complaints about Wilder’s tweeting that came to the attention of the wire service independently of the attacks from the Stanford College Republicans. Spokeswoman Lauren Easton responded, “Yes.” “AP provided extensive social media coaching to Emily Wilder beginning on her first day” noted Easton. Wilder told us last week that she didn’t know about other concerns regarding her tweets.

As The Post’s Jeremy Barr reported, AP leaders told staffers in a town hall meeting last week that they’d made mistakes in the Wilder case, but they were careful in qualifying them: “mistakes of process, and not of outcome,” Carovillano said in the meeting.

“We failed to see that our efforts to move the conversation beyond Emily’s firing and quickly focus on discussions of AP’s social media policies would be seen as cruel and dismissive of what the staff was experiencing, and what you had experienced in the past,” said Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace in that meeting. “We didn’t see the connection between the attacks that Emily suffered online and the experiences that many of you have had. We didn’t anticipate that our own handling of the situation would be seen as an indication that we don’t have our staff’s back.”

Now the AP is reviewing its social media guidelines as well. A town hall meeting, a top editor on CNN and a potential revision of a key set of standards — that’s a lot of commotion over a couple “mistakes of process.”

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