The newspaper articles seemed rather meaningless.
Three were about New York City landlords and another was about a purchase of an apartment in a chic Manhattan neighborhood by an NBA official, their URLs showed. But all became inherently consequential after they were removed at the behest of Jared Kushner, the publisher, a former contract employee for the New York Observer said on Tuesday.
Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump, purchased the weekly newspaper in 2006, six years before asking software developer Austin Smith to erase four articles that had been previously published.
Smith, who was a consultant, told The Post the requests first came through a higher up and later Kushner himself. The stories were about Neil Rubler, a real-estate developer who in 2010 reached a settlement with New York City for forcing tenants out of their homes, according to BuzzFeed News, which originally reported the story. Kushner three days after Thanksgiving 2012 requested Smith erase a story about the purchase of a Manhattan apartment by now-NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
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Neither Rubler nor the White House returned requests for comment.
The executive framed the situation as a “delicate matter” and requested for the removal of three articles about Rubler, according to emails obtained by The Post. Kushner later in November requested the removal of the story about Silver.
The erasures first occurred under the leadership of then-editor-in-chief Elizabeth Spiers, who told The Post she was unaware of the erasure but said Kushner previously requested over the phone she couch stories about media mogul Rupert Murdoch, his mentor.
Spiers said it’s not unusual for newspaper owners who are less familiar with the business to request some stories be held. But it was unusual, she said, for Kushner to unilaterally erase a story from existence.
John Watson, a media ethics professor at American University, said the removal of the articles is not unethical because neither Kushner nor Smith are wholly bound by journalistic ethics because they are not journalists. But still, Watson argues, the action was extremely immoral.
“If the allegations are true, it is a sin,” Watson said. “But the erasure of story is even worse – it compounds on the sin exponentially.”
Spiers believes the forceful removal of stories is extremely problematic.
“Jared doesn’t care about ethics. He thinks it’s irrelevant,” Spiers said. “It’s not an issue of him not understanding what the ethics are. It’s him deciding they don’t matter.”
Kyle Pope, also a former editor in chief of the Observer and current publisher of Columbia Journalism Review, told The Post that Kushner never asked him to remove content. But he did request he do a “hit job” on a New York bank official. Pope said he later realized the request was not really made by Kushner, but his father Charles.
Tom McGeveran, the editor-in-chief before Pope, told The Post he has no knowledge of stories being erased under his leadership but said he often clashed with Kushner about the editorial content.
“I didn’t wat anyone to accuse Observer reporters of doing the bidding of the publisher,” he said.
Smith, who said he first wrote about the erasure in 2016, told The Post he hopes this serves as a reminder for tech people in newsrooms that the algorithms and “the work we do shapes behavior in ways that we can’t predict.”
“We really need to be cognizant of the choices we are making. We can be put in a situation where we can make a poor ethical decision and have no idea it is unethical.”