The ballad of Julia Ioffe
Julia Ioffe is, by all accounts, a sharp and insightful journalist. If her name is familiar to you, that may be because she spent a good part of 2016 chained to the rise of Donald Trump. Her April GQ profile of Trump’s wife, Melania, led to a torrent of abuse and threats against the 34-year-old Jewish reporter from neo-Nazi and alt-right Trump supporters. She received anonymous phone calls playing Nazi music and tweets calling her a “filthy Russian kike.”
This hate attack was part of a campaign against Jewish journalists by Trump-supporting right-wing extremists in the months leading up to the election. Unfortunately, Trump did not condemn the threats or admonish his supporters, and Melania Trump blamed Ioffe for provoking the death threats she received by writing the article.
All this provides some context with which to view Ioffe’s reckless and crass tweet last week in response to news that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, will be receiving the White House office usually occupied by the first lady: “Either Trump is f—-ing his daughter or he’s skirting nepotism laws. Which is worse?” Ioffe wrote.
With the prominence of discussion about whether or how Trump may divest himself from his businesses; lingering concerns about Trump’s tax returns; and his apparent plan to bring his relatives into government service, Ioffe’s focus on nepotism laws was relevant. (It should be noted that Trump would not be the first president to have secured jobs for his kin: When he was vice president, John Adams secured a diplomatic post for his son and future president, John Quincy Adams, who continued to serve when his father became president; and John F. Kennedy famously made his brother the attorney general.)
But relevance is not the only lens with which to view Ioffe’s tweet. Until now, Ioffe was a respected journalist. The tweet was beneath her and unprofessional — and remarkably offensive. Yes, she did a walk back: “I guess my phrasing should have been more delicate.” But serious journalists — those who seek to get to the bottom of things, as opposed to the journalism of partisan hacks — cannot afford to cross the line of fairness and propriety, as Ioffe unfortunately did.
Her employer, Politico, was not overreacting by firing her. “Incidents like this tarnish [the publication] and the great work being done across the company,” it stated. There may, however, be some sleight of hand here, since the Atlantic just announced that Ioffe will begin work there early in 2017. However that reshuffling works out, after this tumultuous year, we look forward to seeing Ioffe back in form. But it will be hard to forget the ugliness of her words and her incredibly poor judgment in last week’s tweet.