Thursday night, BuzzFeed news editor Rachel Zarrell reacted to a deadly shooting at a Louisiana movie theater by tweeting, “Don’t pray. Push for gun control” and “If this were someone in my family I’d want every person alive screaming about gun control to anyone who would listen.” Within an hour, however, Zarrell suddenly reversed course by tweeting an apology of sorts to the conservative activist Stephen Miller:
Miller had highlighted a discrepancy between Zarrell’s tweets and BuzzFeed’s “ethics and standards guide,” which prohibits editorial news staffers from “commenting in a partisan way about candidates or policy issues.”
Now, in an alternate universe, Miller’s observation would have forced BuzzFeed to realize the essential silliness of forbidding staffers from engaging in political speech. But in this universe, the one containing the BuzzFeed we all know and love, Zarrell had committed an error. Gun control, you see, is not one of the issues (e.g., civil rights and gay marriage) for which BuzzFeed, as an institution, believes there is only one correct side.
As Zarrell’s boss and BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote on Twitter (largely in response to conservative commentators):
@BecketAdams She acknowledged an error. Many people make them. Even in your shop once in a while perhaps.July 24, 2015
@redsteeze people make mistakes. Not, perhaps, you. The rest of us.July 24, 2015
@ellencarmichael she acknowledged a mistake. wish your friends would stop gross personal attacks in her TL. & back to the actual horrors.July 24, 2015
Zarrell’s about-face might seem, well, forced. After all, highlighting the efficacy of stricter gun control policies over prayer is hardly an “error” or a “mistake.” But Smith assures Gawker that Zarrell retracted her statements out of her own volition: “She did it on her own.”