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More than 100 Politico staffers signed an angry letter addressed to publisher Robert Allbritton, expressing disgust that conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro was permitted to guest-write the daily edition of the "Playbook."
On Jan. 14, the Beltway-centric outlet handed the keys to its signature news product for the day over to Shapiro, editor emeritus of The Daily Wire and right-wing pundit who has vanquished the collective minds of numerous liberal college students. In place of an editor, Politico has filled the temporary vacancy by inviting high-profile commentators to author its marquee newsletter.
The guest appearance—part of the ongoing series featuring political media figures such as MSNBC host Chris Hayes and documentarian Ken Burns—was not well-received on the political left and sparked backlash from within Politico's own newsroom.
"We published a piece by a very prominent writer, provocateur, and podcaster. We stand by every word in there, it was very closely edited," Politico's top editor Matt Kaminski said at the time during the emergency news conference.
Employees expressed outrage on Slack and during the all-staff editorial meeting following the guest column's publication. One staffer claimed on the company-wide Slack channel that Shapiro has a "long history of bigoted and incendiary commentary, particularly in the aftermath of last week's violence," alleging that it was inappropriate to elevate his writing in the wake of the Capitol Hill riot. The comment received dozens of upvotes on the internal messaging platform. More than 80 colleagues signaled agreement.
However, the resulting response from Politico leadership left many dissatisfied. According to multiple Politico insiders, The Daily Beast reported that the letter sent to Allbritton criticized the top-level decision to publish Shapiro, claiming that the move demoralized the newsroom. The memo also railed the rebuttal offered by Kaminski.
During the combative meeting on the day of Shapiro's publication, the top editor defended the piece: "Mischief making has always been a part of Politico's secret sauce. We were an upstart. Some of that sensibility is always going to be a part of this publication."
Hours later at the staff-wide Zoom call to address the controversy, staffers demanded answers for why company brass published Shapiro the day after Congress voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time. "We're not going to back away from having published something because some people think it was a mistake to do so," Kaminski replied.
Shapiro used the space to make the case that the House Republicans who voted against impeaching Trump are right to feel aggrieved. "If you supported Trump in any way, you were at least partially culpable, the argument goes. It's not just Trump who deserves vitriol—it's all 74 million people who voted for him,” Shapiro wrote, further arguing: "Opposition to impeachment comes from a deep and abiding conservative belief that members of the opposing political tribe want their destruction, not simply to punish Trump for his behavior."
Several employees compared Shapiro to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and questioned Kaminski's volley that such comparisons are false equivalences. Another insisted that Kaminski was "dismissive" of the concerns brought up throughout the chat.
The letter, sent 10 days ago to Allbritton, maintained that Kaminski has not apologized properly for his remarks, also referencing an email he sent to staff on Jan. 15. Kaminski expressed regret for his initial reaction, but reiterated that publishing Shapiro was part of his hopes to "experiment and mix things up" in order to keep Politico "vital and vibrant" to the community's readers.
The letter's signees then asked Allbritton how Shapiro's purported record of bigotry can be considered "vibrant" or "vital."
Elsewhere in the note, the critics called for Politico's commitment to clarify and improve the news outlet's editorial standards, an increase in newsroom diversity, an editor's note on Shapiro's edition of the "Playbook," and an internal apology for the management's response to the staff's criticism.
Despite over 100 signatures, some Politico staffers stressed to The Daily Beast that the message did not represent the overall mood at the publication.
Several of the company's 300 editorial employees said they were not informed of the effort or were not asked to sign the letter. Others expressed hope after Kaminski and other top editors over the past several days met with newsroom employees in attempts to avoid blow-ups like the Shapiro saga.
"It's an internal matter and will be handled as such," a spokesperson for Politico told The Daily Beast.