Editors and executives at Newsweek, a formerly prestigious and popular magazine that in recent years has suffered from self-inflicted wounds and even a criminal investigation of its business practices, are once again digging themselves out of a public relations hole.
Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Nancy Cooper and the magazine’s recently hired opinion editor, Trump-backing conservative activist and attorney Josh Hammer, apologized on Friday after nearly a week of defending a right-wing law professor’s op-ed questioning Sen. Kamala Harris’ U.S. citizenship and her eligibility to be Joe Biden’s running mate.
“This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize,” read the editor’s note that replaced their earlier detailed defense of the op-ed. “[T]o many readers, the essay inevitably conveyed the ugly message that Senator Kamala Harris, a woman of color and the child of immigrants, was somehow not truly American.”
Cooper didn’t respond to email and text messages from The Daily Beast, with which Newsweek was partnered from 2010 to 2013 when IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company, sold the money-losing magazine to IBT Media’s owners, Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis. The two entrepreneurs have a close and controversial financial connection to a charismatic South Korean evangelical minister named David Jang, touted by some of his followers as the messiah.
Hammer—a former Ted Cruz aide and member of the Federalist Society and the right-leaning Claremont Institute, who joined Newsweek in May after writing for Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire—declined to comment, telling The Daily Beast in a brief phone conversation, “I’m not interested in speaking. Thank you.”
And then hung up the phone.
Several of Newsweek’s journalists were alarmed by Hammer’s arrival because of his hyper-partisan leanings—and especially because former Trump adviser and Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, perceived as a Hammer ally, apparently continues to hope that he will one day buy the magazine.
The Newsweek Media Group’s CEO Dev Pragad and its chief content officer Dayan Candappa—who joined the magazine in 2016 after he was fired from Reuters amid sexual harassment allegations—could not be reached.
“The updated editor’s note that tops the op-ed attached here is our response to your query,” Newsweek spokesman Ken Frydman texted The Daily Beast. “Please note that both editor’s notes were written by Nancy Cooper and signed by Josh Hammer. Not the other way around, as you suggested. Also, Josh Hammer denies having Steve Bannon’s contact information.”
The essay—by Chapman University law professor John C. Eastman, also a Claremont Institute denizen, and headlined “Some Questions for Kamala Harris About Eligibility”—prompted widespread disgust both inside and outside Newsweek, as well as letters demanding a retraction from members of the magazine’s staff for its whiff of birtherism and racism; it was predictably weaponized by Donald Trump and his supporters.
During a Thursday press conference/campaign rally in the White House briefing room, a reporter asked Trump about social media rumors—apparently stoked by Newsweek—that Harris was “an anchor baby” and thus ineligible to run.
“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Trump answered. “I have no idea if that’s right. I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”
Cooper and Hammer’s apology—which acknowledged that “we should have recognized the potential, even the probability, that this could happen”—nevertheless fell far short of staffers’ demands that the magazine retract and remove Eastman’s supposedly erudite exploration of 19th century Supreme Court rulings.
Those ancient high court decisions, Eastman claimed, raised “a significant challenge” to Harris’ American citizenship and eligibility to run as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, even though she was born in Oakland, California, to a Jamaican father and Indian mother.
“To see this piece run on Newsweek’s website was beyond devastating,” London-based Newsweek correspondent Chantal Da Silva tweeted on Thursday, as members of the magazine’s London bureau sent an anguished and angry letter to top editor Cooper demanding that the essay be taken down. “It is inaccurate and it is dangerous. Journalism should be about informing, not inflaming and certainly not about spreading baseless claims that can only fuel the flames of racism and hatred.”
Christina Zhao, a New York-based senior breaking news editor, tweeted: “This is an inflammatory and racist op-ed that should never have been published. That is my opinion.”
In their note of apology, Cooper and Hammer persisted in disagreeing.
“Many readers have demanded that we retract the essay,” they wrote, “but we believe in being transparent and are therefore allowing it to remain online, with this note attached.”
Senior Newsweek reporter Jason Lemon tweeted: “I’m glad to see my employer Newsweek issue this apology over the op-ed questioning Harris’ eligibility to be VP. But deeply disappointed it was published in the first place.”
However, a prominent former Newsweek staffer, who asked not to be further identified, quipped that the magazine’s owners and upper management “are probably loving the clicks and the fact that it’s an editorial controversy unrelated to Jesus and Seoul.”