Even when politics is your job, expressing an opinion about those politics may not be in your best interest. In today’s age of instant vilification on social media expressing an opinion that may be even tangentially connected in any way with your employer can land you in hot water … even if, strictly speaking, expressing an opinion is your job.
Journalists have faced this conundrum since the job was invented. You want to report on a story, so you gather the facts. The process necessitates an understanding of those facts, and understanding leads to a personal opinion about that situation. It’s inevitable. Also inevitable? Occasionally – or frequently – coming to a different opinion than your editor, publisher or, worst case, a large contingent of your advertisers.
While it’s not fundamentally clear this is what happened to CNN reporter Elise Labott, she’s been suspended, and it sure looks like cross-purposed points of view is the cause.
During the height of the Syrian refugee news cycle, Labott tweeted the following: “House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish.”
Now, we’ve spoken before about considering the cost before posting inflammatory stuff on social media. It may be a convenient place to get your opinion out, but it is NOT the forum for understanding and open dialogue. Social media works like the infamous “poke” would in real life. You tweet someone, and they tweet back. Times ad nauseum. When that happens, there is no escape. Thus, media outlets and most major brands have borrowed the “zero tolerance policy” from public school systems. Tweet something that could Hurt The Brand, and you get bounced. No questions asked, no apologies considered.
Labott is the current poster child for this reality. As the global affairs correspondent for CNN, it’s a shoo-in she has more perspective than most on the issue. She also has a predetermined moral perspective that certainly influences her reporting. Because the appearance of neutrality is important to networks (other than FOX and MSNBC), CNN could not let the tweet pass.
Notice, Labott didn’t call anyone out specifically. She didn’t attack anyone. She just expressed sadness using a word picture. Anyone even slightly aligned with reality could never construe that relatively innocuous tweet to be the Opinion of CCN … but, again, this cannot be said enough … social media, Twitter, in particular, is not the domain of reasonable people with circumspect behavior. It is a megaphone for raw nerves and a repository of knee-jerk unpleasantness. If you don’t believe me, just Google “Mean Tweets.”
Understand this and adjust your behavior accordingly … or suffer the fate of Labott and many others before her.
Roman Temkin is a real estate developer from NYC.