More than 100 Politico staffers signed onto a letter sent to publisher Robert Allbritton, expressing disgust with allowing right-wing firebrand Ben Shapiro to guest-author one day’s edition of the Playbook, and with the outlet’s subsequent handling of the fallout.
Earlier this month, the Beltway news outlet handed over the keys to its signature news product to Shapiro, a talk-radio host and pundit who has long been one of the most controversial voices in right-wing media, thanks in part to his incendiary comments about the LGBT community, Muslims, Black Americans, and Jews who support Democratic politicians.
The guest appearance—part of a series of guest appearances by political media figures including Chris Hayes and Chuck Todd—sparked immediate backlash and criticism from many in the media industry, including within Politico’s own newsroom, where employees expressed outrage on Slack and during an all-staff editorial meeting following the guest column’s publication.
But the resulting response from Politico brass was unsatisfactory to a number of employees.
According to multiple Politico insiders familiar with the situation, the letter to Allbritton criticized the decision to publish Shapiro, claiming it had demoralized a substantial portion of the newsroom, but also railed against the responses to criticism offered by Editor-in-Chief Matt Kaminski.
“It’s an internal matter and will be handled as such,” a Politico spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
During a combative meeting on Jan. 14, the day of Shapiro’s publication, the top editor defended the editorial decision to irate staffers by claiming, “Mischief making has always been a part of Politico’s secret sauce. We were an upstart. Some of that sensibility is always going to be a part of this publication.”
The staff letter, sent 10 days ago to Allbritton, maintained that Kaminski had not appropriately apologized for his responses, additionally referencing an email he sent to staff on Jan. 15, which was obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast. In the email, the top editor expressed regret for his initial response about “making mischief,” but reiterated that publishing Shapiro was part of his hopes to “experiment and mix things up” in order to keep Politico “vital and vibrant” to its readers.
In response, the letter’s signees asked Allbritton how Shapiro’s extensive record of bigotry can be considered “vibrant” or “vital.”
Elsewhere in the note to their publisher, the Politico staffers called for a commitment to clarify and improve the outlet’s editorial standards; an increase in newsroom diversity; an editor’s note on Shapiro’s edition of Playbook; and an internal apology for the management response to staff criticism of publishing Shapiro.
Despite the 100+ signatures to the note, some Politico staffers stressed to The Daily Beast that it did not represent the overall mood at the publication. Several of the company’s 300 editorial employees said they hadn’t heard about the effort, or weren’t asked to sign the letter.
Others said they were encouraged that Kaminski and other top editors have been meeting over the past several days with newsroom employees in attempts to avoid blow-ups like the Shapiro saga.