Politico faced an internal uproar on Thursday after its decision to let right-wing podcast host Ben Shapiro write a guest column in its widely read Politico Playbook newsletter, with staff asking editors why a pundit with “a long history of bigoted and incendiary commentary” would be given such a massive platform.
Shapiro, who rose to prominence as an editor at far-right media outlet Breitbart before founding right-wing aggregation site The Daily Wire and becoming a YouTube and talk radio personality, routinely courts online outrage through bigoted rhetoric. After supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the country’s democratic elections last week, Shapiro made the false equivalence of comparing the far-right siege to recent anti-racism protests, and blamed President-elect Joe Biden for being “divisive” when Biden mentioned race in his condemnation of the insurrection.
During a 3 p.m. newsroom-wide Zoom meeting, Politico Editor-In-Chief Matt Kaminski defended the decision to publish the column while telling staff that the publication was “above the ideological warfare” and that “a lot of care went into trying to identify potential contributors,” a Politico staffer told HuffPost.
But many employees were furious at management’s decision to give Shapiro their platform, and expressed their opposition during the meeting and in emails to management.
“This is one of the most disappointing days, if not the most disappointing day, that I’ve been a part of this company,” one person said during the meeting.
When staff asked Kaminski if he had any regrets or wanted to apologize for anything, he reiterated his defense of the column.
“A couple things that may sound familiar to you, and I’ll say them again. This publication has reporters and editors and we do our best every day to make calls. We stand by this piece. I don’t see any reason to apologize for having published Ben Shapiro,” Kaminski said, according to the staffer.
“That’s pretty much all I would want to say on that,” he added.
In a company Slack channel earlier in the day, staff called for management to explain the column, according to messages reviewed by HuffPost.
“I think a lot of us in the newsroom today are wondering why POLITICO decided to lend its biggest platform, the Playbook author slot, to Ben Shapiro, who has a long history of bigoted and incendiary commentary, particularly in the aftermath of last week’s violence,” one reporter wrote.
“It has clearly generated a wave of negative attention, and I fear it’s already overshadowing a lot of great work being done by journalists across this newsroom. I was wondering if anyone involved in this decision might be willing to speak to this choice here, or if there will be another forum where this can be discussed?”
The comment received over 50 supportive emoji responses as of early Thursday afternoon.
“This is especially confusing given the newsroom’s welcome efforts over the last year to cover issues related to race in a more intentional, elevated, thoughtful way,” The Daily Beast reported another staffer responded.
During an already-scheduled meeting on diversity and inclusion before the 3 p.m. meeting, Kaminski tried to address staffers’ concerns and stood by the column, according to The Daily Beast, claiming that “mischief making has always been a part of Politico’s secret sauce.”
Shapiro has a history of making false and bigoted comments. In 2014, he claimed that there are “800 million Muslims radicalized” in the world — a majority of the Muslim population. He has repeatedly made fearmongering arguments about Muslim refugees, and has pushed far-right, anti-Islam narratives framing Muslims as a threat to “Western civilization.”
After a mass shooter killed six people and wounded 19 others in an Islamophobic attack on a Quebec City mosque in January 2017, investigators found he had checked Shapiro’s Twitter account 93 times in the month before the attack. (Shapiro condemned the violence and rejected the idea that his rhetoric helped incite the killings.) Shapiro has also claimed that transgender people are “suffering from a significant mental illness” and mocked the killings of Black Americans.
“Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 today if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot,” Shapiro tweeted in 2016.
Shapiro and The Daily Wire relocated to Nashville late last year, a fact that he referenced in the first line of his Politico column, saying “Howdy from Nashville, y’all!” Nashville Scene, the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, announced his relocation under the headline “Asshole Moving to Town.”
Shapiro appeared on Thursday to be basking in the attention and backlash that his column caused, retweeting others who claimed that it was “triggering” for liberals.
Politico did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.