Finley’s Firing. A Sign Of The Apocalypse.
Set aside the histrionics for a minute. The name calling. The gloating.
There really is just one question to ask regarding the much-publicized sacking of Denis Finley, editor of The Burlington Free Press, over Tweets questioning the need for three genders on Vermont driver's licenses:
Would Finley have been canned if - instead of expressing dismay over the proposed change - he had Tweeted enthusiastic support?
The answer is most assuredly no.
Which is why I hope Finley lawyers up and sues for wrongful termination.
A disclaimer: Finley and I are friends. We spent decades working together at The Virginian-Pilot. From 2005 to 2015 he was The Pilot's executive editor. My boss.
We sometimes clashed during those years, argued. But I respected him. Still do.
Watching Finley being maligned in the press for something left-leaning journalists do day after day without repercussions is infuriating.
Fact is, Finley led The Pilot during its toughest times: Cutbacks. Layoffs. Furlough days. Not what he envisioned when he landed the top job two years before the economy cratered. Through it all he was a hard-nosed editor who didn’t tolerate bias in news coverage and who was fiercely determined to expose local corruption.
An old friend of mine from my days in Washington emailed yesterday to ask about Finley and I told him that my former boss was the most courageous newspaperman I ever worked for. Bar none.
True. Every word of it.
When I talked to him by phone yesterday, Finley admitted he violated Gannett’s social media policy when he got into a Twitter debate with supporters of the three-gender licenses. But that wasn’t why he was terminated, he said.
“I don't think I was fired for violating the company's social media policy,” Finley told me. “I have been Tweeting from my personal account for at least a year while I was at the Burlington Free Press, but no one ever said a word to me."
“I believe I was fired because I voiced the wrong viewpoint," he said. "I dared to criticize the state's impending decision to add a third sex on driver's licenses and I became a victim of a left-wing lynching in the most progressive state in the nation.”
“I had the temerity to question the impending decision to allow a third gender on state licenses," Finley added. "A Tweeter said that was 'awesome.' I disagreed... I believe if I had replied ‘yes, that is awesome,’ which also violates Gannett's social media policy, I wouldn't have heard a thing because it's the 'right' opinion."
Shoot, even the Poynter Institute - “A global leader in journalism” - slapped Finley around, not so much because he Tweeted, but because he offended his audience.
In a Monday piece headlined “Editor of Bernie Sanders’ hometown paper riles readers with his gender tweet” Poynter’s James Warren wrote that “...as Finley, executive editor of the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press unwittingly reminds us, there’s a difference between being responsibly provocative and perhaps tone deaf to your audience.”
In other words, Finley’s sin was daring to say something that was unpopular in Vermont.
And that “tone-deaf” opinion cost him his job.
Finley left The Pilot in 2015 and after a brief stint in communications for a museum, landed in Burlington in September of 2016.
I wondered how long this brash, conservative guy would last in the land of Birkenstocks and bean sprouts.
Turns out, not very long.
For those who haven’t been following the Finley firing story, which caught the attention of Fox News, The Washington Post, CBS News, The New York Post and numerous other national news outlets, Vermont may join several other “progressive” states in allowing three genders to be noted on driver’s licenses. Male, female and X.
When a Vermonter Tweeted that this move was “Awesome” on Friday, Denis replied this way: “Awesome! That makes us one step closer to the apocalypse.”
That unleashed a Twitter storm.
Perhaps Finley shouldn’t have sent that Tweet or the ones that followed. Twitter is not a debating club. It's no place for nuance or tongue-in-cheek humor, either.
By Monday, Vermont liberals were losing their minds and screaming for Finley’s head. Predictably, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean chimed in, Tweeting “The Freeps has a habit of putting right wingers in charge. They were crummy on civil unions in 2000 too.”
Finley says he couldn’t count the number of outraged readers who were demanding his dismissal and threatening to cancel subscriptions on Monday.
By the time Alabama and Georgia kicked off that night Finley was fired.
Dismissed because he questioned why having three gender options on a driver's license is awesome.
Think about it.