March 17, 2017

After buyout, Gothamist deletes posts critical of its new owner


For anyone unfazed by the news that Gothamist has been bought out by a site owned by conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, the fact that the site subsequently scrubbed all its negative reporting on Ricketts should be cause for concern.

Sometime before DNAinfo, a Ricketts-owned local news and culture site, announced that it had bought Gothamist LLC, editors at Gothamist and its sister site Chicagoist deleted five stories published between 2010 and 2012 that were critical of the Ricketts and his family’s political activities, primarily their efforts to discredit Barack Obama. The news was reported last week by Brendan O’Connor at Jezebel. Cached versions of those articles, with titles like “DNAinfo’s Billionaire Founder Really Wants to Crush ‘Barack Hussein Obama’” and “Billionaire Cubs Owner Joe Ricketts Commissions Study to Destroy Obama” are still online.

You may recall that Ricketts made headlines in the fall for donating at least a million dollars to a super PAC supporting Donald Trump’s campaign, though he’d originally opposed Trump’s nomination (after his wife Marlene donated three million dollars to an anti-Trump group, Trump tweeted that the Ricketts family “better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”). As the New York Times’ Eli Rosenberg notes, another Ricketts son, Todd, has been nominated by the Trump administration to serve as deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce.

The whitewashing of Ricketts coverage wasn’t total. O’Connor notes that Chicagoist had “not deleted its Ricketts coverage entirely,” leaving several stories involving Joe and Tom (owner of the Chicago Cubs) untouched.

“If the posts were scrubbed in an effort to avoid angering Ricketts, it doesn’t bode well for the editorial independence of the newly merged news organization,” O’Connor writes. He should know: Jezebel is owned by Gawker Media, which was forced to do its own editorial extractions after Univision bought its non-flagship sites in the aftermath of the Hulk Hogan debacle. If nothing else, buyouts can reveal discomfiting limits to journalistic freedom.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.