The press is supposed to report stories, not become stories, but that standard has shifted in today’s media landscape. These days, members of the media are facing relatively unprecedented scrutiny. One of the more recent examples of this phenomenon is the curious case of “Merry Impeachmas.”
When a group of Washington Post reporters went out for a drink after a long day covering the impeachment hearings, they probably didn’t expect to be the lead story for many cable news programs the following day. But they were.
One of the Post staffers, congressional reporter Rachael Bade, posted a group selfie to Twitter featuring colleagues having a good time and blowing off steam hours after President Trump had been impeached by the House of Representatives. In her social post, Bade captioned the photo “Merry Impeachmas from the WaPo team!”
Those close to the White House quickly grabbed that photo and used it to create a different narrative. Both Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham and Donald Trump, Jr. shared the photo, with the latter claiming the image depicted several Post reporters “celebrating” the impeachment of the President. At first glance, that position appeared to have some merit, given the context of the photo.
Soon, the message “Merry Impeachmas” became a byword on social media, with people weighing in on both sides of the issue. One of those people happened to be the editor of the Washington Post, Marty Baron, who was in the middle of an interview with CNN when the furor hit fever pitch.
Baron initially called the reporter’s tweet “ill considered,” implying it was probably a bad idea to put that photo on social media, but Baron went on to defend the reporters, saying: “What they were doing was that they were celebrating being able to go off the clock after a long day … That’s what she intended to convey … It’s unfortunate that this has been distorted …”
Bade followed this up by deleting her post, saying it was being “misinterpreted by some as an endorsement” of the impeachment process. “To be absolutely clear, we at the Post are merely glad we are getting a break for the holidays after a long three months …” Media critics and members of the White House inner circle continue to push the “impeachment celebration” narrative the following day, though, giving the controversy new life.
While there’s no clear-cut “solution” for this kind of thing, one of the takeaways is “be more careful when and what you post.” In partisan times, ambiguity can come back and bite you.