/ 22 February 2018

Journalists fired when US magazine tried to hide exposé

A copy of Newsweek magazine sits on a newsstand in New York
A copy of Newsweek magazine sits on a newsstand in New York

Editors and journalists at renowned Newsweek were fired as the company that owns the magazine sought to suppress an exposé into its co-founder and his family.

On Tuesday, Newsweek published an article exposing the relationship between its owner and evangelical school Olivet University, which was founded by David Jang, a controversial pastor.

The magazine’s parent company attempted to influence its editorial staff and prevent the exposé from being published.

Above the article, an editors’ note was published which detailed the extent to which journalistic ethics and confidentiality were breached.

Reporters were asked to identify confidential sources in an internal review and sources that were on the record were contacted and “questioned about their discussions with the Newsweek Media group reporters”.

Many of the reporters wished to resign from the pressure that company executives placed on them. However, after resisting efforts to have the story influenced, Newsweek reporters were told that there would be an independent review and more editorial autonomy “going forward”, yet by the time the exposé was published, Newsweek editor Bob Roe, executive editor Ken Li and senior politics reporter Celeste Katz had all lost their jobs.

In early February, veteran Newsweek reporters Matthew Cooper and David Sirota were among the 12 staffers to have resigned “under difficult circumstances” when the magazine began investigating its parent company over its financial relationship with Olivet.

According to Newsweek’s exposé “Why is Manhattan’s DA looking into ties at Newsweek’s ties to a Christian university?” the magazine’s owner Newsweek Media Group was aiding the university to get tax breaks and construction permits to build a satellite campus in upstate New York by offering county officials free full page ads.

The deal led the financially struggling Newsweek to run 10 full-page spots — worth about $149 000- over a period of three months last year.

The full-page ads was just the tip of the iceberg in exposing a fraudulent relationship between the magazine’s owners and the university.

Newsweek reported that DA investigators raided their company’s lower Manhattan headquarters in January where 18 computer servers were removed in a probe which is investigating the company’s financial transactions and the loans it used to purchase the equipment.

At a time when the magazine was facing increasing financial strain and laying off writers, failing to pay its staff, utilities and tax, records indicate that Newsweek Media Group paid Olivet university millions of dollars for licensing and research and development agreements.

The parties involved in the fraudulent transactions appear to be Newsweek Media Group co-founder Jonathan Davis and his wife Tracy, who is president of Olivet university.

Newsweek was bought by Newsweek Media Group, formerly IBT, in 2013.

Below is the full note:

“Note From the Editors: As we were reporting this story, Newsweek Media Group fired Newsweek Editor Bob Roe, Executive Editor Ken Li and Senior Politics Reporter Celeste Katz for doing their jobs. Reporters Josh Keefe and Josh Saul were targeted for firing before an editor persuaded the company to reverse its decision. As we continued working on the story, we were asked to take part in a review process, which, we ultimately learned, involved egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics. We believe that subjects of the story were shown parts of the draft, if not the entire piece, prior to publication by a company executive who should not have been involved in the process. At an on-the-record interview with the subjects of this story, a company official asked editors to identify confidential sources. On-the-record sources were contacted and questioned about their discussions with Newsweek Media Group reporters. We resisted their efforts to influence the story and, after learning of the review’s ethical failings, the reporters and editors involved in this story felt they would be forced to resign. At that point, a senior Newsweek Media Group executive said the company’s owners would ensure independent review and newsroom autonomy going forward. This story was written and edited Tuesday, free of interference from company executives.”