Columbia University hired a former Washington Post columnist who embodies everything wrong with the media to serve as the school’s ethics chair.
On Jan. 1, Margaret Sullivan will start a new role as the Executive Director for the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security at the Ivy League university.
“Margaret has spent her career protecting our country, shining light on our democracy and those who threaten it,” said Craig Newmark, a member of the Columbia Journalism Review Board of Overseers, in a university press release. “That patriotism and her lifelong commitment to trustworthy journalism make her the ideal person to lead the Center and its critical work.”
Sullivan’s prestigious role at the East Coast Ivy is the culmination of more than a decade covering media and politics as a hardcore activist cloaked as a truth-seeking journalist. If Newmark means “Republicans” for “those who threaten” said “democracy,” Sullivan, with six years spent at The Washington Post, is a natural fit. A thorough examination of Sullivan’s history at the capital paper self-righteously branded as a final beacon for democracy reveals an incoming ethics chief eager to preach about the perils of her political opponents.
In her first year at WaPo, Sullivan offered readers an ominous warning about the election of Donald Trump and the implications for the First Amendment.
“Everything we have — everything that makes us unlike any other nation — flows from those words and the protections they offer for free expression,” Sullivan wrote. “Donald Trump’s presidency is very likely to threaten those First Amendment rights.”
As a self-professed champion of free speech, one might expect Sullivan to be an ardent opponent of the censorship industrial complex created to crack down on the free expression of political rivals. Sullivan, however, spent years writing in defense of efforts to implement a censorship regime to impose monolithic narratives from the establishment press. In a 2017 column, Sullivan mused journalists must “figure out new ways to uncover and present the truth.” The answer apparently lies in censorship. In 2020, Sullivan mourned, “This was the week America lost the war on misinformation,” in a column complaining about “fringe doctors spouting dangerous falsehoods about hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 wonder cure.”
“Week after week, Fox News, Breitbart News, and others of their right-wing ilk reign at the top of Facebook’s list of the most engaged-with content,” she wrote. “And Facebook doesn’t do nearly enough to keep harmful lies — often promoted by the far right — off its platform.”
Documents later revealed by the “Facebook Files” made public by GOP House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan show the platform has been a primary vehicle for federal censorship. Sullivan wrote in 2021 that it is not a “subversion of free-speech values” for “social media platforms to make and enforce rules.”
Sullivan went on to spend Trump’s first term demanding reporters adhere to industry standards set by leftist propagandists, whether it be the abandonment of the phrase “pro-life” or a commitment to quit “old-style journalism.”
“If Trump Runs Again, Do Not Cover Him the Same Way,” she headlined a supposed “Journalist’s Manifesto” last fall.
“As Trump prepares to run again in 2024, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the lessons we’ve learned — and committing to the principle that, when covering politicians who are essentially running against democracy, old-style journalism will no longer suffice,” Sullivan advised readers.
Federalist columnist Eddie Scarry paraphrased her admonishment of the press last November.
“Instead, she said all her little friends should ‘be thinking about what coverage serves the public best,’” Scarry wrote. “In other words, what coverage serves her interest— the media’s interest.”
Sullivan’s columns reveal her new style of journalism could be synonymous with the adoption of leftist framing to parrot left-wing narratives. In 2016, she called on debate moderators to adopt what Federalist Editor-in-Chief Mollie Hemingway described as “autistic literalism.” During the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, Sullivan went on to complain debate moderators were pressing the candidates too hard on the specifics of their proposals.
“Journalists are kindly doing President Trump’s work for him when they insist on trying to pin down Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), the new front-runner, to declare she’d raise taxes to fund Medicare-for-all,” she wrote.
Several months later, Sullivan demanded networks turn off Trump’s coronavirus press briefings and lamented Trump’s “disdain for scientists, medical experts, intelligence officials, journalists and others who deal in fact-based reality.”
Columbia University’s incoming ethics chief has promoted an advertiser boycott of Fox News and defended the outright politicization of Voice of America (VOA), the federal government’s news service aimed at reaching foreign audiences. Of course, the Washington Post’s former media columnist-turned-ethicist also said the paper should be “proud” of its role in the Russia hoax that she participated in herself.
“There are calls for a ‘reckoning’ on news coverage,” Sullivan wrote in 2019. “I reckon that American citizens would have been far worse off if skilled reporters hadn’t dug into the connections between Trump’s associates — up to and including his son Don Jr. — and Russians. That reporting has not been invalidated.”
Even before she joined the Post, Sullivan defended The New York Times’ blackout of coverage surrounding the Philadelphia murder trial of Kermit Gosnell before mildly backtracking with a brief article in the paper’s Editor’s Journal.
While she complained the Trump White House was a “thicket of lies” for journalists to navigate, she participated in the Post’s smear campaign against Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a serial gang rapist.
“Are enough people,” she wondered in 2018, “reasonable, informed and, above all, open-minded enough to absorb credible reality when it’s presented to their eyes and ears, and then to act on it, even at this late date?”
Finally, no incoming ethics chair at Columbia would pass without an explicit commitment to identity politics. In 2019, Sullivan wrote that “tiptoeing around Trump’s racism is a betrayal of journalistic truth-telling.”
“When confronted with racism and lying, we can’t run and hide in the name of neutrality and impartiality,” Sullivan wrote. “To do that is a dereliction of duty.”
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