Journalists at the Toledo Blade, supported by guild colleagues at their sister publication the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, say the Blade’s top bosses edited coverage of this week’s right-wing riot on Capitol Hill to appear more favorable to Donald Trump, reflecting ownership’s rabid support for the outgoing president.
“You have management manipulating reality, and it’s just so unbelievably unethical,” Jay Skebba, a reporter at the Blade, told The Daily Beast in an interview on Thursday evening. “To know that managers in the newsroom with decades of experience would ever allow something like that to happen is so embarrassing. I’ve worked here for seven years, today was the most upsetting.”
In a news conference on Friday organized by the NewsGuild, the union representing staff at both outlets (as well as others like The New York Times and The Daily Beast), Blade reporters said their editors made specific changes to soften language about the outgoing president’s involvement in inciting Wednesday’s riots on the Capitol, which left five people dead, including one police officer.
According to Skebba, the paper could not refer to the rioters as “Trump supporters,” or “Trump protesters,” which reporters viewed as an editorial attempt to distance the president from the riots that followed an event in which he encouraged his fans to march to the Capitol and “fight” for him.
Staffers said that the paper’s managers also “inserted the qualifiers ‘a majority,’ ‘mostly,’ and ‘some’ in front of references to Trump supporters, both in wire copy, wire photos, and a story written by a Blade reporter”—an implication, staff said, that seemingly hinted at the right-wing conspiracy theory that the mob was infiltrated by left-wing political activists.
The edits, staffers at both papers said, stemmed from ownership’s zeal for Trump.
Both papers’ opinion pages endorsed Trump for re-election, but journalists expressed fear that the deference to Trump has seeped into the editorial news coverage. The papers’ publisher John Robinson Block openly supports Trump, having flown with him on his campaign jet during the 2016 election cycle and posed for photographs with the president. And according to Open Secrets, individuals who list Block Communications, the ownership company, as an employer donated nearly $60,000 to Trump and loyalist candidates and Hill committees in the 2020 election cycle.
Over the last several years, staff at the Post-Gazette have clashed with the company’s ownership over how its owner’s political learnings have impacted the publication. In particular, employees have scuffled with Block when he asked them to remove a reference to Trump’s description of places like Haiti and Somalia as “shithole countries,” and protested when the publication fired a cartoonist whose anti-Trump cartoons were spiked. Staff were also horrified when the Blade and Post-Gazette’s joint editorial page ran an un-bylined op-ed in 2018 lamenting what the author argued was a public overuse of the term “racist.”
In a statement later on Friday, the paper denied the edits stemmed from political bias. “The Blade’s reporting was thorough, complete, accurate, and in line with our standards for unbiased reporting of facts,” a spokesperson said. “Ultimately, it is ownership’s right and responsibility to ensure the accuracy and protect the journalistic integrity of our newspaper’s content- not the Toledo News Guild CWA Local No. 34043.”
Still, staffers at both the Blade and the Post-Gazette said they were particularly horrified and spurred to action this week by a Facebook post from a member of the ownership's family.
On Wednesday, following the violent MAGA mob, John Block’s sister-in-law Susan Allan Block posted an all-caps screed on the social-media platform, questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
“NO PEACE! NO UNITY! NO CONCESSION! NO LEGITIMACY TO A STOLEN ELECTION! THERE ARE 70 MILLION TRUMP SUPPORTERS WHO WILL NOT FALL IN LINE. THERE WILL BE NO ‘HEALING,’” she wrote. “WE WILL DRAG THIS ILLEGITIMATE PRESIDENT, HIS WHORE VP, AND ALL OF THE DEMOCRATS THROUGH THE SAME SHIT THEY DRAGGED PRESIDENT TRUMP & HIS SUPPORTERS THROUGH FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS.”
While a spokesperson for the paper said Block’s comments do not represent the views of the company, the post enraged the papers’ journalists, who said the remarks reflected the overtly pro-Trump sentiment that had seeped into news coverage.
“Calling our incoming vice president a whore is beyond the pale and perpetuates the sexism and racism that plagues our society and this nation,” Post-Gazette reporter Ashley Murray said Thursday night.
She added: “For the last several years, extremists have been encouraged to threaten journalists. Susan Allan Block peddles the very conspiracy theories and rhetoric that endangers the people employed by Block Communications.”
This article previously referred to Susan Allan Block as John Robinson Block’s wife; she is his sister-in-law. We regret the error.