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Updated Nov 26, 2023, 8:31pm EST
mediaNorth America

WSJ, Times journalists pull union away from Gaza statement

Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images
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The Scoop

Influential members of the country’s largest journalist union are resisting calls to release a statement supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

The leaders of the union representing The Wall Street Journal sent a letter to its parent union, the NewsGuild, noting that journalists are afforded protected status in war zones, and appearing to take a side could block reporters from attending briefings or speaking to officials – and could even make them military targets.

“Readers, viewers and listeners far from a conflict zone depend on credible journalists on the scene to provide fair and unbiased reports, including facts that may not align with an individual’s preconceptions,” the board of directors of The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, the NewsGuild local that represents Dow Jones journalists, wrote.

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“Taking public positions on news events we cover damages the confidence our members have earned through decades of impactful reporting in war zones and throughout the world, fueling the misconception that reporters are advocates rather than observers.”

The letter continued: “We believe the news we report from Israel, Gaza and throughout the world speaks for itself. There is nothing for The NewsGuild to add.”

The New York Times union leaders are discussing issuing a similar statement, a person familiar with the plans said. A representative of the AP’s NewsGuild chapter, another large traditionalist unit of the union, said they hadn’t yet discussed a statement.

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During a meeting last week, the Guild’s national executive committee discussed a proposal for the journalists’ union to adopt a statement calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and a ceasefire. The same evening, the Guild’s influential New York chapter met to discuss the same topic, including a proposed statement presented by the union of New York Times tech employees — who are organized separately from its journalists — that would have condemned Israel for the deaths of children and journalists in Gaza.

“This violence is mirrored by a chilling effect across newsrooms in the United States and Canada,” the proposed national Guild statement said, noting the dozens of journalists who have been killed there since the military operation began last month. “Our members are increasingly bearing its brunt, working in environments where perspectives normalizing the Israeli assault are endorsed as objectivity, and reporting on the collective punishment is marginalized, dismissed, or penalized as bias.”

The proposal continued: “We join thousands of our colleagues and millions of others around the world in calling, in no uncertain terms, for an immediate ceasefire.”

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Know More

The leadership of the New York NewsGuild, which represents some of the biggest names in news media including the New York Times, the New Yorker and other publications at magazine publisher Conde Nast, and NBC News, among others, discussed and ultimately rejected the proposal. Instead, it opted to form a working group to craft a statement for release next month that does not call for a ceasefire, and focuses on the rights and protections that unionized workers have to express personal views without professional repercussions.

But the national NewsGuild has seen increasing external and internal pressure to speak out vocally against Israeli military action, partially reflecting the Guild’s growth over the past several years, and the divergence between old-school newsrooms and the union’s growing progressive wing.

The NewsGuild, once called the Newspaper Guild and representing traditional daily newspaper employees, has reacted to the decline of its own industry by also organizing adjacent, more overtly progressive organizations, some of which are outside journalism. The Washington-Baltimore local has organized employees of political organizations including the Democratic Socialists of America and the AFL-CIO itself — not always an easy fit with the reporters at places like the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A group called CWA Palestine Solidarity (The NewsGuild is itself part of the Communications Workers of America) has attempted to rally the more activist parts of the union, organizing an email petition calling on members of the NewsGuild to support a ceasefire. After last week’s national NewsGuild meeting, the group said that the overwhelming “megamajority” of people in attendance at the meeting supported its petition for a ceasefire.

“EC members acknowledged this was the biggest turnout they’d ever seen for an EC meeting. (The previous record: 5 guests.) The IDF is responsible for 75%+ of journalist killings in the world this year, and promising to do more. We urge the @Newsguild EC to reflect that urgency,” the group wrote in a tweet.

That’s a long way from the more traditional, removed stance of journalists at Dow Jones, Reuters, and the Times, and could create fissures in the journalists’ union itself.

In an email to Semafor on Wednesday, national NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said that no decision has been made about issuing another statement.

“Any time there is an issue that our members care about, we listen. We held a session for members this week and have heard from hundreds of members over the last several days, some supporting a call for a ceasefire, some not,” he said. “No one should be disciplined or have their job security threatened for raising questions in their workplace or in our industry. We’re continuing to talk and listen with members through the holiday.”

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Notable

  • More than 750 journalists signed a letter holding newsrooms “accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
  • The Los Angeles Times barred journalists who signed from covering the conflict.
  • An Israeli minister proposed ending government “advertising, subscriptions or other commercial connections with the Haaretz daily newspaper, citing what he described as the publication’s ‘defeatist and false propaganda’ against the State of Israel during wartime, though the plan isn’t going anywhere right now.
  • At least 57 journalists and media workers have been killed in the conflict.
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