Liberal Writer Fired By AOL News For Reporting Vile Playboy List

June 4th, 2009 10:29 PM

Editor's Note/Update below: AOL editor's email and further business connections revealed.

AOL News has been bending over backwards lately to make sure that they do not cover the controversy surrounding writer Guy Cimbalo's vile attack on conservative women. AOL News has taken some drastic steps to censor any mention, let alone criticism, of Playboy's screed. They have deleted posts about the article, banned contributors from mentioning it, and even fired one of their liberal writers over it.

The fact that banning reporters from, well, reporting is so contrary to the purpose of a news organization it really is puzzling. It seems to be in direct contrast to their commitment to "traditional journalistic values".

The evidence is stacking up quite high that AOL News fired liberal writer Tommy Christopher today due to his repeated attempts to get coverage of the Playboy attack list on AOL's Politics Daily. 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. Further allegations of AOL censoring coverage of the Playboy controversy came to light when Christopher and Howe appeared on Media Lizzy's show this afternoon.

At the 74:50 mark of the show Media Lizzy (Elizabeth Blackney) claimed that her editor, Michael Kraskin, sent her an email regarding a question she submitted for the AOL Hot Seat Poll. Her original question was going to be "does Playboy empower or exploit women". In his response email Media Lizzy claimed that Kraskin asked for a different question and said "This Playboy story is something we have internally decided not to address".

Tommy Christopher claimed on the show that AOL told him the story was pulled because the Playboy story was too profane. However, Christopher's story censored out all of the profanity and given Media Lizzy's claims it seems that no mention of the Playboy story would be acceptable to AOL. Plus there is a post by Christopher that has been on AOL's Politics Daily (until recently called Political Machine) for nearly a year with several uncensored curse words and was not mentioned as a problem by anyone NewsBusters contacted.

NewsBusters contacted Politics Daily's editor in chief, Melinda Henneberger who both deleted Tommy Christopher's original story and fired him, for comment but she never returned our email.

As Christopher notes in the statement he released to NewsBusters he was a productive and successful writer for AOL. He is a well respected, widely read, and widely linked writer. His stories and opinions have been featured on Bill O'Reilly, Hot Air, Red State, The College Politico, The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and even NewsBusters. It seems highly unlikely that AOL fired him for lack of performance and it is important to note that nobody has claimed that as of now.

With all of this it seems that coincidental timing is an extremely hard sell for why Tommy Christopher was fired by AOL News today. It appears that Christopher was intent on covering a story which he found to be particularly important but that Aol News had "internally decided" was off limits.

Has the fact that AOL's parent company, Time Warner, has a business relationship with Playboy affected their editorial decisions? After all Time Warner is a major national distributor of Playboy TV through their cable company.

Editor's Update (Ken Shepherd | 10:30 EDT): Michelle Malkin has an excellent idea:

I certainly don’t agree with the left-leaning Christopher’s politics. But he showed guts blogging about the Playboy “hatef**k” list when few others on his side paid attention or cared. I think U.S. News should trade in tired old Bonnie Erbe and hire Tommy Christopher.

Update | AOL editor's email revealed

Media Lizzy has forwarded the email she was quoting from to NewsBusters. Here is a screen shot of the email from AOL editor Michael Kraskin to Media Lizzy which confirms her claims:


Update | Further Time Warner/Playboy business connections uncovered

NewsBusters has uncovered a marketing and distribution contract between Time Warner and Playboy's print division.The contract establishes a working relationship from January 2006 through January 2009. NewsBusters contacted OneCLE, the site that is hosting the copy of the contract, and they confirmed that the contract was taken from Playboy's SEC filings. This new fact shows that the two companies have a deeper and broader connection than first reported.

NewsBusters also contacted Time Warner for comment on the extent of their business relationship with Playboy but has yet to receive a response.