Seung Min Kim, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, has found herself under vicious attack this week because she had the temerity to show Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (left) a critical tweet from President Joe Biden’s for budget director, Neera Tanden. Kim was seeking a comment from the key senator on whether the tweet criticizing her in personal terms would influence her vote. Kim was then attacked as a “dumb**s snitch” for undermining the nomination of a person of color.
The attacks began after HuffPost Capitol Hill reporter Igor Bobik posted the picture of Kim asking Murkowski about the tweet in which she accused Murkowski of being “high on your own supply” for supporting Trump’s massive corporate tax cut.
Kim was immediately set upon by a digital mob. One person reportedly wrote “Hi. What a coonish thing to do to fuck up another POC nomination on behalf of whites. Dumb**s snitch.” Vox senior correspondent Matthew Yglesias posted, in a now-deleted tweet, that “I do not approve of harassing @seungminkim, but just FYI to everyone covering the Hill the reason many people were triggered by that image is there were so so so so many instances of republican members of congress saying they hadn’t seen Trump tweet X.” Kim shot back in a tweet that said “When you have to add a ‘but,’ after saying you don’t approve of harassment on someone, just take a moment and think about that.” Yglesias then deleted his tweet.
Columbia University lecturer Tom Watson joined the criticism. Watson is the President of Cause Wired where cites his past work with the New York Times as a writer. Watson tweeted “@seungminkim decided to try and sink the nomination. Good lord.”
The story surrounding the Tanden nomination is a long list of deleted tweets that attacked members of Congress and particularly Republicans. I have not read all of the tweets, but I am not convinced that the tweets make her unqualified for this position. I am concerned when members are influenced by criticism of themselves in voting against a nominee. They are public figures and Tanden clearly holds opposing views. I do not see why such tweets should be determinative in a nomination vote and could send a chilling message to others not to criticize people in power.
However, the legitimate story is how these tweets are impacting key senators and Kim wanted to see how this tweet would influence Murkowski, a key swing vote in the Senate. That does not mean that Kim “decided to try and sink the nomination.” She was doing her job as an independent journalist opposed to being an advocate.
Watson’s criticism reminded me of the recent position of a leading journalism professor at Stanford. Professor Ted Glasser publicly called for an end of objectivity in journalism as too constraining for reporters in seeking “social justice.” He insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that the journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.” Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” Good lord.
The attacks on Kim is another example of this age of rage, as I discussed his week in my testimony before the House. There is a growing distemper where academics engage in vulgar or religious attacks and others endorse violence. Our most basic values of free speech and the free press are under attack. When a reporter like Kim must face such disgraceful abuse, we have become untethered from those values that define us.