Photo courtesy of Stacy Washington
Former Post-Dispatch freelance columnist Stacy Washington, shown here at at the recent NRA convention in Atlanta.
April 26 was a rough day for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial page, and particularly so for the page's director, Tod Robberson. His own column, about protesting, was seriously flawed on multiple levels and drew rebuke from a St. Louis state representative. But that same day, the editorial page's lone local conservative voice, Stacy Washington, submitted her final column. She just didn't know it at the time.
Ironically, Washington's column, "Guns and the media," took aim at the low representation of conservative journalists in U.S. newsrooms. It also took on a St. Louis American column advocating gun control and a Mizzou professor invoking ISIS in his criticism of the NRA.
"It’s understandable that we seek out opinions and news that support our viewpoint," Washington wrote in the column, which was published April 28. "Confirmation bias is a very real part of how people consume news and media. However, we should be appalled to see neighbors with whom we work, attend church, people who have children defending this country through military service — in other words, good decent people — portrayed in the same light as demonic murderers for the simple act of owning a firearm."
Hours after Washington's column ran, she received an email from Robberson. She was being suspended.
"You did not disclose in your column published today that you served multiple times as a co-host and commentator on Cam & Company
on NRA TV," he wrote. He noted that her column was "problematic in many ways," but it was her work with the NRA that represented an unforgivable ethical breach.
"Advocating for the NRA," he wrote, "while failing to disclose that you did media work on this lobbying organization and its television station goes far beyond the bounds of any acceptable journalistic standard."
However, Washington says she has never been paid by the NRA. And beyond that, her ties to the organization shouldn't have surprised Robberson.
Her credits for co-hosting shows on NRA News are highlighted her own website
— and, even closer to home, the Post-Dispatch
's own Joe Holleman had reported on Washington's contribution to an NRA documentary
in August 2016, just a few months before she joined the paper on a freelance basis.
In fact, on the day her column ran, Washington was in Atlanta to attend NRA's annual convention.
In an interview with Riverfront Times
, Washington says the suspension came as a total shock. "I'm a second amendment supporter, it is known to people at the Post-Dispatch
that I am a supporter of the NRA, I’ve never hidden it," she says. "I was never paid by the NRA."
Washington maintains that the NRA only paid her expenses for her work on the documentary, and that her stints as a fill-in co-host on NRA News programs were similarly unpaid.
Washington says she told Robberson as much, but that only resulted in a promise to discuss her suspension with the paper's publisher. The next day, Washington emailed Robberson to inform him that she was terminating her contract with the Post-Dispatch
On Sunday, she tweeted the news of her suspension using a conservative meme initially created as a reference to attempts to ban AR-15 rifles.
But that wasn't the end of the story.
On Monday, the Post-Dispatch
's editorial page ran a letter to the editor
whose author accused Washington of being a "shill" for the NRA and shaming her (and the paper) for not disclosing her relationship to the pro-gun group.
"Now I have people calling me a liar on Twitter, saying that I’m paid by the NRA, even though no one has any proof," Washington tells the RFT
. And while she insists that she has "nothing against" Robberson, she chafes at the heavy-handedness of the punishment. A suspension is generally the sort of the thing levied against a writer busted for plagiarism or fabrication, but in Washington's case, instead of adding a correction or update, the paper simply gave her the boot.
"It’s absolutely ludicrous to me that being openly supportive of the second amendment calls into question what I wrote on Friday. It just doesn’t comport. This is just not a thing. I just don’t understand it," she says.
Her confusion is understandable. The April 28 column only defended the NRA only so far as Washington argued that the group wasn't comparable to ISIS. Add in the fact that the column went through the normal editing process, and that, again, her volunteer work for the NRA had already been featured in Robberson's own paper, and it's hard to understand why her reference didn't result in a "full disclosure" update and an admonition to note any organizational membership in future columns.
The irony that a column calling out the lack of conservatives in the mainstream media got a conservative suspended from a mainstream newspaper isn't lost on her, either.
"What they’re losing, according to their own readers, is the juxtaposition between what their current editorial side is putting out, which is coming from the Democratic side, from the left, and then someone on the right," she says. "I’m not ashamed that I’m an NRA supporter, a Bible-thumper, that I love Jesus Christ. I’m all the way out there. There's nothing else that I can do to articulate my perspective any more on clearly on where I stand."
Reached by email yesterday, Robberson confirmed that Washington's column will no longer appear in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Her active promotional activities and professional association with the National Rifle Association represented an unacceptable conflict of interest in her most recent column, which resulted in our suspension of her work. Ms. Washington chose to terminate her contract. Columnists are expected to fully disclose conflicts of interest when writing about topics where such a conflict might arise. We apply this standard regardless of the lobbying or advocacy group being written about in a column.
Shortly after sending the statement to RFT
, Robberson's statement was published as an editor's note
on the Post-Dispatch
's online opinion's page, and links to his editor's note now appear on all of Washington's 25 published columns.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Washington's final column was published April 28, not April 26. We regret the error.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com