Investigative reporter Yashar Ali revealed on Friday that the managing political editor for NBC News and MSNBC bullied him on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) into holding a scoop that he broke yesterday.
“Yesterday, I received a call from @DafnaLinzer who serves as managing editor of NBC/MSNBC politics,” Ali tweeted. “Dafna’s conduct during the call was highly inappropriate and unethical. So what was the purpose of her call? She called me to bully me on behalf of the DNC.”
“Dafna, who oversees the political coverage for NBC and MSNBC, was calling to bully me into delaying the publication of an innocuous scoop and at no point did she advocate for her network, it was only about the DNC,” Ali continued. “Yesterday morning I received a tip from a trusted source. The source told me the DNC would be announcing the dates of the first 2020 primary debates later that day. The source gave me the dates they would be announcing: June 26 and 27.”
“At first I thought it was just a fun tidbit that I could tweet out. But after I called several presidential campaign staffers I learn that all the Dem campaigns were desperate to learn what the dates were going to be,” Ali continued. “I decided to post the scoop as an item in my newsletter. This wasn’t a huge scoop but it was a decent one so I quickly called the DNC to fact-check the tip as I was running out of time: the dates would be announced on MSNBC in the 4:00 PM hour. It’s important to note that almost of all of my communication with the DNC was off record.”
“So I won’t share most of what was said but can tell you it’s pretty run-of-the mill stuff. I asked the DNC if my tip was accurate and they asked if they could call me back in 10 minutes,” Ali continued. “A few minutes later they called back and asked if I could delay posting my scoop. For another hour so they could go through their important notification calls to the state parties. I told them I couldn’t wait as the news would leak and leave me without a story. That’s all I can say about the call. Two minutes later I received a call from Dafna.”
“I’ve never spoken to Dafna by phone. A couple years ago she reached out to me to see if I wanted to have coffee and talk about working at NBC News but I declined as I was actively investigating NBC matters and thought it would be strange if I discussed a job,” Ali continued. “So when I saw Dafna calling I assumed she would ask me to consider delaying my post so that MSNBC could announce it first. Given that this was an innocuous scoop and not some investigative story I wouldn’t have lost sleep if I had delayed. But that’s not why she was calling.”
“After exchanging pleasantries, Dafna told me that she received a call from the DNC and was told I had a story,” Ali continued. “Now it’s not strange that the DNC called her, they were coordinating an announcement. What was strange was that she was calling me and taking a menacing tone. She asked if I could hold the story and I said I couldn’t. She was agitated, ‘why not?’ I said I’m not going to lose a scoop. Then she got angrier and said ‘Why not? It’s not a big deal, let them make a few phone calls.’ My jaw dropped.”
“I realized that @DafnaLinzer, the head of all political coverage for NBC News and MSNBC wasn’t calling to advocate for her network, she was calling to advocate the DNC’s position,” Ali continued. She wanted me to wait so they could call state party leaders. I thought to myself ‘this is how people think it works.’ It’s not. But Dafna was doing it. She kept pressing me. Now I acknowledged, for stuff that isn’t about serious investigative reporting, there is no problem holding something. But I knew once others got the call.”
“I would lose a scoop. Dafna reminded me she was a nat sec reporter at WAPO for ten years and they would hold stuff all the time (note: so people wouldn’t get killed). ‘Why can’t you just wait, let them make their calls, then you’ll be the first to put it into print,’ she said,” Yashar continued. “I couldn’t believe what she was saying. Again, it was fine for me to print the story an hour later, beat her own network by three hours, she just wanted me to let the DNC inform state party leaders. Why the hell did she care?”
“I kept telling Dafna no, that I wasn’t waiting. And she kept getting more frustrated. She was exasperated…she didn’t understand why I couldn’t wait for the DNC to make their state notification calls,” Yashar continued. “I was so surprised me that she was talking this way with a total stranger. The head of the political division was trying to bully me at the behest of the DNC over a dumb scoop (even though they may not have asked her to).”
“2/3 of the way into the conversation Dafna started a sentence with ‘this is off the record.’ She hadn’t said it at the beginning of our conversation and most important at no point did I agree when she said ‘off record’ to keep it off record,” Ali continued. “I’m not one of those gotcha reporters, I think it’s bad for sourcing relationships to make people like they constantly feel like they have to say ‘off record.’ But Dafna isn’t a source and she was calling to intimidate me, so she doesn’t get the benefit.”
“She said ‘off record’ one more time later in the call and again I just let her keep talking, I did not agree to anything. I then told her I had to go talk to my editor and she got even more frustrated and said ‘No. I want to talk to you about this,'” Ali continued. “I said ‘no, I want to go talk to my editor.’ Then she sent me over the edge and said ‘What’s your editors name, I want to talk to them.’ She was trying to intimidate me..on behalf of the DNC. I ended the call.”
“After the call with Dafna I published the stupid scoop. Then I did a gut check and over the next two hours I called 10 experienced prominent reporters and told them the story,” Ali continued. “They were all stunned by what Dafna did and encouraged me to share it publicly. I’m not naive to the fact that this incident is going to be twisted by some with an agenda to discredit the media and say they collude with political parties. But I think its more important to expose bad behavior then keep it under wraps. What Dafna did was unethical.”
“There are plenty of times reporters will introduce people in politics to other reporters or TV people. I have done it many times, that is advocating for more coverage, not less,” Ali concluded. “Dafna was advocating for me to not do something on behalf of a political party. What I can’t figure out is (and no one else I spoke to could understand), why open yourself up to this for a stupid story? How was this worth it?”
CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that NBC PR and Linzer have “no comment” on Ali’s thread.
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