PITTSBURGH (CN) — A black reporter filed a federal lawsuit against her employer the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tuesday, alleging it refused to allow her to cover George Floyd protests because of a tweet she made from her personal account calling attention to racial biases.
Alexis Johnson posted a tweet on May 31 comparing the damage left in the wake of George Floyd protests and subsequent lootings with photos of the debris-strewn aftermath of a white country music star’s annual concert in Pittsburgh.
“Horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS who don’t care about this city!!!…oh wait sorry,” Johnson tweeted. “No these are pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. Whoops.”
According to the federal suit, three editors of the Post-Gazette on the following day, including its managing editor, informed Johnson that “her tweet showed she could not cover the protests fairly and that therefore she would not be assigned to report on them.”
In response to Johnson being removed from protest coverage, members of Johnson’s union, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, started their own protest on Twitter. They reposted Johnson’s original tweet word-for-word with the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis. The post now has more than 56,000 retweets and more than 183,000 likes.
More than 80 journalists employed by the Post-Gazette joined in the Twitter protest and were similarly barred by the publication from covering the protests. One of these journalists, the lawsuit says, was Johnson’s colleague Michael Santiago, a black Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, who has since left the newspaper.
“By sharing these photographs and commentary on her private Twitter page, Johnson intended to mock and ridicule, and thus to protest, the racial bias and discrimination in a society that condemns African Americans who oppose racial injustice by protests that result in some property damage, while tolerates similar property damage by predominately white crowds who attend Chesney concerts,” read the complaint, penned by Johnson’s attorney Samuel Cordes of the Pittsburgh-based firm Rothman Gordon.
The suit notes that a white Post-Gazette employee, Joshua Axelrod, tweeted about a man accused by police of vandalism and looting during the May protests being a “scumbag,” but was not similarly prevented from covering the protests.
Post-Gazette managing editor Karen Kane did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening, nor did Cordes, Johnson’s attorney.