One of the stranger stories to come from the mass shooting at the newspaper office in Maryland this week didn’t originate anywhere near the scene of the crime. A reporter from another small newspaper outlet in Massachusettes, The Republican, decided to tweet something during the height of the tension surrounding the attack which didn’t go over very well (to put it extremely mildly). Conor Berry tweeted a picture of a Donald Trump campaign “Make America Great Again” hat, stating that the shooter had dropped such a cap on the floor of the newsroom before murdering five people and injuring two others. This turned out to literally be “fake news” and the tweet has since been deleted, but the reporter has now resigned from his position. (Fox News)
Backlash was swift. Berry deleted the tweet and apologized in a follow-up tweet Friday morning.
“Folks, My 21-year career as a “journalist,” a fancy term that makes my skin crawl, frankly, came to a screeching halt yesterday with one stupid, regrettable tweet,” Barry wrote. “Can’t take it back; wish I could. My since apologies to all good, hardworking reporters and to POTUS supporters.” …
In his resignation letter, Berry conceded that his tweet “taints the good work of fair-minded journalists everywhere.”
Wayne Phaneuf, executive editor of the Republican, said journalists must be “more vigilant than ever” in their efforts to be fair and accurate.
Was the tweet a good idea? Obviously not and Berry admits as much. Was it a firing offense? That’s a different question, though it doesn’t matter since Berry technically resigned. (We have no idea if that was his idea or “suggested strongly” by his editor.) But the incident indeed raises a couple of disturbing questions.
I should first point out that I’m coming to this conversation as a person who also writes about these subjects for a living, but let’s face it… I’m a blogger. My Twitter profile includes a warning that the contents probably include sarcasm. And most of our readers are familiar with my frequently inappropriate sense of humor. But even I would have felt a cold chill running down my spine before hitting the “tweet” button on that item Berry sent.
Along the same line of thinking, Berry isn’t a blogger. He’s a conventional, old media journalist. If he tweets out an image of a hat with a flat statement of something which allegedly happened right in the middle of the mass shooting coverage, people would probably have no reason to suspect that it was anything other than an accurate report. And plenty of people did precisely that and ran with the completely fictitious story.
Add all of that up and I suppose there’s a definite reason for Berry to face some sort of serious repercussions from his decision. If you’re a Trump supporter that’s probably an easy call to make. Even if you’re a NeverTrumper you’ve got to have some uneasy feelings about that tweet coming from the account of a journalist.
But should it tank his career? I’m regularly accused of being a Trumpian or a Trump apologist (when I’m not being accused of being a Trump hater when I criticize one of his policies such as the RFS). But even from my perch, I’m bothered by the idea. It was a joke. Yes… it was a terrible joke and it led to a short-lived flurry of accusations and shouting in the social media wars. But the rumor was squelched pretty quickly. The timing couldn’t have been worse and, to be honest, it wasn’t even funny. But it does seem as if it was just a stupid (really, really, tremendously, shockingly stupid) attempt at getting a rhetorical shot in at the President and his supporters.
It’s the sort of thing which should make all readers immediately aware that Berry is not an even-handed player in journalism and that he very much hates President Trump, which likely colors his reporting. But is that really any sort of unique feature in the MSM today? If we fired every journalist with an ax to grind against Donald Trump most of the cable news network sets would look like ghost towns.
I just don’t know. I find what Berry did alarming and worthy of strong criticism. But we’re sort of sending the message that reporters have to be 100% grim and serious in every moment of their lives and they can’t be allowed to be boorish jackasses once in a while like everyone else.