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Was AOL Reporter Tommy Christopher Sacked For Criticizing Misogynist Playboy Piece?

First Posted: 07/06/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

Mvp

Earlier this week, we mentioned how Playboy had published a sociopathic, hateful, and unfunny listicle by Guy Cimbalo, listing the ten conservative women he most wanted to "hate fuck" that was replete with some of the most execrable and misogynistic drivel you are likely to ever see. By the looks of things, decent people on both the right and the left have decried the content of the posting. This is a good thing. But you know what is a bad thing? A writer has apparently been fired over this. Why is this a bad thing? Because the sacked writer is not Cimbalo, but rather, a passionate critic of this disgusting article.

I speak, of course, of Tommy Christopher, who up until yesterday was a political reporter for AOL's Politics Daily, and who also blogs at a site called Tommy Christopher's Daily Dose. Eat The Press enthusiasts may remember Christopher as being one of the first reporters in the White House Press Room to take on Robert Gibbs over the issue of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (You might also recall the way I failed to recognize Christopher despite having followed him on Twitter.)

Politics Daily has not made the reasoning behind Christopher's dismissal clear, but it's hard not to see it as stemming from his criticism of Playboy. Christopher attempted to publish a story on the matter at Politics Daily the day Cimbalo's piece hit the web. And that's where Christopher's troubles apparently began. Newsbusters reports the sequence of events thusly:

Christopher had first attempted to post this criticism of Playboy's sick list the day it was published on their website. However, he was surprised to find that shortly after putting his article on Politics Daily it was deleted by an editor.


His surprise stemmed from the fact that in his two years of writing for the site not one other post had ever been deleted by an editor.

Another former Politics Daily writer NewsBusters spoke with, Caleb Howe, confirmed that fact. And while Tommy Christopher released a statement to NewsBusters criticizing AOL's decision to let him go Caleb Howe went further than Tommy in his opinion of AOL's motives.

"His coverage of the Playboy "hate f***" list must have had a lot to do with Tommy being fired, if not everything to do with it" Howe told NewsBusters. "It would be absurd to think the timing is coincidental" referring to the fact that Christopher was fired three days after his original Playboy story and only hours after pitching a new story on the same topic.

This morning, Christopher confirmed the accuracy of this timeline in a Tweet to ABC News' Jake Tapper.

One of the broader questions here is whether or not the article's deletion and Christopher's firing stem from the fact that Playboy Magazine is a property of Time Warner, AOL's corporate partner. What muddies those waters is the fact that Time Warner has announced plans to spin off AOL by the end of the year. CORRECTION: I have been offered a clarification on this point: "Playboy is a standalone company, and not at all affiliated with Time Warner." My apologies, call this a correction to the correction: NewsBusters has what appears to be "a marketing and distribution contract between Time Warner and Playboy's print division" that "establishes a working relationship from January 2006 through January 2009." The contract copy is being hosted by a website called OneCLE, who have confirmed that "the contract was taken from Playboy's SEC filings."

As of this writing, the precise rationale behind Christopher's firing is not known. But it's really difficult to imagine an alternative conclusion that doesn't involve Christopher's criticism of the Cimbalo piece.

I would have to imagine that it would be nearly impossible to justify sacking a productive reporter for the sake of defending another publication's graphic depiction of women being "hate fucked." But here's my email, Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief of AOL's Politics Daily! You may feel free to jolly well give it your best shot!

UPDATE: Newsbusters has a screenshot of an email from AOL editor Michael Kraskin to Elizabeth Blackney, who submitted this question, "does Playboy empower or exploit women," to AOL's Hot Seat Poll. Kraskin's response read:

Do you happen to have another article/question we could use? This Playboy story is something we have internally decided not to address.

MORE UPDATES: Melinda Henneberger, at last, responds:

Does it make a lick of sense to you that I would fire anyone for standing up for women, or for taking on that disgusting story in Playboy? [ED. NOTE: Uhm...no, Melinda, it doesn't, which is sort of why I asked the question!] The bloggers for the old AOL site, Political Machine, weren't retained for the new site, Politics Daily, which has only been in existence for the last five weeks, and which we're just staffing up. Sorry so dull, but there's nothing more to it than that.

STILL MORE UPDATES:

In emails to me asking for clarification after Newsbusters published this item, Melinda Henneberger repeatedly suggested that she valued Christopher's contributions and asserted that every effort was made to keep him employed at AOL, in some capacity. That means two alternative stories as to why he was released from contract have been proffered. In one version, it was a part and parcel to staff reductions and realignment, part of a wave of firings, and it had nothing to do with the original article on Guy Cimbalo. In the other version, it was because Christopher "trashed" AOL. I suppose one should pick the explanation that suits them best.

Henneberger tells the Huffington Post that, "THE REALLY SAD THING ABOUT THIS -- OR ONE OF THEM, ANYWAY, IS THAT EVERYBODY LIKED TOMMY SO MUCH THAT WE ALL REALLY WANTED THIS TO WORK OUT, AND EVEN WHEN IT DIDN'T, THE FIRST THOUGHT I AND OTHERS HAD WAS HEY, MAYBE HE COULD STILL HELP US DO THE SOCIAL NETWORKING HE'S GENIUS AT." She goes on to say that the sticking point was Christopher "RUNNING AROUND TRASHING AOL." I've not been able to find any instance of "trashing" occurring prior to Christopher's actual firing, at least not a public instance. Henneberger maintains that she sees "A LOT OF POTENTIAL IN TOMMY" and maintained hope "THAT WE COULD MAKE IT WORK."

With regard to the deletion of Christopher's story, Henneberger cops to being the one who deleted it. She says that she received word from an "editor" that read: "Hey chief, whole lotta f*** in this Christopher piece; that OK?" She tells me, "I NEVER DID READ IT, NO. BUT I DID DELETE IT, YES." It's not clear why the aforementioned, unnamed editor did not tend to the deletion themselves.

Bear in mind that there was no actual profanity in the article -- we are literally talking about "f***" being used in place of the actual obscenity, and in all cases quoting Guy Cimbalo. Naturally, Henneberger, who admits to having deleted the article site unseen, could not have known this.

It is not clear to me why Christopher's article had to be deleted, instead of simply being revised to omit usages of the censored word "f***." I asked Henneberger if she was ever informed after the fact that the piece she did not read did not contain profanity. I also asked if she could identify the person who said, "Hey chief, whole lotta f*** in this Christopher piece; that OK?" As of this writing, she has declined to answer these questions, referring me instead to AOLs flacks.


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