Donald Trump is no stranger to journalistic criticism and mockery—and isn’t shy about hitting back hard.
But this is way over the top.
A journalist took to Twitter to demand a boycott of Trump’s businesses. And he’s not just some columnist or commentator. He’s the executive editor of the Daily Beast.
In other words, Noah Shachtman, a top editor at a news operation, sees no problem with attacking the Republican front-runner and trying to damage his corporate interests. That sounds like something a political activist would do.
Wouldn’t that make readers of the Daily Beast (where I once worked) feel skeptical of its reporting and commentary on Trump, overseen by Shachtman?
He began his Twitter rant with this:
“Let's get real: if you're renting in a Trump building or playing a round of golf at a Trump resort, you are supporting racism & neo-fascism.”
All right, so Shachtman, the executive editor for news, believes Trump is an out-and-out racist and practically a modern-day Mussolini. So now hitting the links at one of his courses makes a golfer implicit in racism?
Then: “Seems to me it's time for a boycott of Trump's businesses - and a public calling out of those who choose to work with him.”
As if that weren’t enough:
“6 months ago, you could say you were doing business w Trump w/o endorsing his views. 8,000 racist moments later, that's no longer feasible.”
Eight thousand? Hmm. All right, we’ll give him some literary license on that. But Trump has been leading the GOP contest for months, so obviously many Republicans (and others) disagree.
John Avlon, the Beast’s editor-in-chief and a CNN contributor, came to Shachtman’s defense.
“First, all Beasts are entitled to their own opinion on social media.”
“Second, a core part of our mission is to stand up to bullies, bigots and hypocrites.”
And because The Blaze did a story on this:
“Third, we sure as hell aren’t going to get lectured on journalistic ethics by a site run by a professional polarizer like Glenn Beck.”
I’ll leave Beck to defend himself. But on the first point, most news organizations give their journalists wide latitude on Twitter and Facebook. But you can’t escape the fact that you’re identified with a news outlet. That’s why CNN, for instance, suspended global affairs correspondent Elise Labott for two weeks for tweeting that “Statue of Liberty hangs head in anguish” after the House passed a measure to tighten security checks on Syrian refugees. It’s why numerous other journalists have been fired or suspended for saying intemperate things on Twitter.
I understand Avlon’s argument that these are personal accounts, but when you’re the executive editor of a major news site, what you post in public is not truly personal. And would journalists amass a large number of social media fans if they didn’t have prominent platforms? (Shachtman has 59,000 Twitter followers.)
On the second point, Avlon has now said pretty directly that he considers Trump a bully, a bigot and a hypocrite. He’s entitled to that view, of course. But he runs the Beast. Should Trump’s campaign, or Trump supporters, believe the site will be fair-minded toward him? Or rather beastly?
By my count, there were five anti-Trump pieces on the home page yesterday, from “First Trump Came for the Muslims” to liberal columnist Michael Tomasky’s lead sentence, “I’m still not sure it’s 100 percent clear that Donald Trump really understands that he’s a neo-fascist” (that must be a popular phrase around the office). I’m not challenging the editorial judgments involved, but some readers might view it differently in light of the call for a boycott.
Avlon likes to say that the Daily Beast is nonpartisan but not neutral, not a place that does the on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand thing. He boasts about the site’s record in hitting the left as well as the right.
Avlon himself spent seven years working for Rudy Giuliani, and he has added a number of conservatives as contributors, including former Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens and Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis. Reporter Betsy Woodruff was hired from National Review.
Shachtman, who is on vacation, obviously leans left. He worked for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and has been a non-resident fellow at Brookings. He’s also the former executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. (Shachtman has, however, criticized President Obama’s secrecy in fighting the war on terror.)
Now lots of media outlets dish out strong opinions, including Fox News. Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the folks on “The Five,” for instance, are hardly fans of Obama or Hillary Clinton (though Trump’s harshest critics include Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Jonah Goldberg).
But they’re in a very different category than such journalists as Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, as they made clear during the first Republican debate. If they sent out highly opinionated tweets, believe me, people would make an issue of it, and rightly so.
The Beast’s commentators and columnists can say, and tweet, whatever they want. An executive editor, it seems to me, should be held to a different standard.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.