Washington Free Beacon Flexes After Columbia University Removes Deans Over Antisemitic Texts

The conservative Washington Free Beacon is winning attention after a string of stories that have embarrassed left-leaning figures or institutions, most recently Columbia University, which was forced to remove three associate deans from their positions after the revelation of their private text messages mocking antisemitism concerns on campus.

“The Free Beacon exists to do hard-hitting, fact-based reporting from a conservative perspective and to attracting and growing the talent to produce it,” editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson told TheWrap. “Generally speaking, the right has over-indexed for opinion and commentary and we think traditional reporting continues to play a vital and important role.”

The digital outlet, which currently employs 28 editorial staffers, occupies a unique position in the right-leaning media ecosystem, pursuing original reporting in a space often dominated by commentary since its founding in 2012. The Beacon’s approach has become particularly evident this year, with the outlet contributing explosive reporting on university administrators embroiled in scandal since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, which has contributed to antisemitic rhetoric and rising violence across campuses.

Debate moderators (L-R) Washington Free-Beacon Editor-In-Chief Eliana Johnson, former FOX News host Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation take the stage ahead of the NewsNation Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama Moody Music Hall on December 6, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
File: Eliana Johnson, Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Vargas (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Earlier this year, the Beacon was also instrumental in reporting on the plagiarism allegations against Harvard president Claudine Gay, who was ousted in January following a rocky appearance giving congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. The Washington Post declared Gay’s resignation a “win” for the outlet, saying it was “ahead of the pack” on the story.

According to Johnson, “The Beacon’s most impactful reporting over the past year has been on elite university campuses, from Harvard to the University of Pennsylvania and now Columbia due to the eruption of antisemitism at those schools — and the public interest in the leaders and institutions that have enabled and fomented it.”

The Washington Free Beacon’s masthead.
The Washington Free Beacon’s masthead.

Just over a week ago, the news outlet published images showing Columbia officials sending hostile text messages during a May 31 panel focused on Jewish life on campus and concerns about mounting antisemitism. The messages included administrators trading problematic commentary about the panel, including using vomit emojis as a reaction, and asserting that Jewish figures were using the attention for “fundraising potential.”

The photos were taken by an audience member sitting behind a Columbia vice dean during the presentation, where her phone was in plain sight, according to the outlet.

While a university spokesperson did not specify which officials had been placed on leave, the Beacon had reported that those involved were vice dean and chief administrative officer Susan Chang-Kim, dean of undergraduate student life Cristen Kromm and associate dean for student and family support Matthew Patashnick.

The Beacon also drew attention to the Washington Post’s foreign desk including multiple former Al-Jazeera journalists, raising concerns about how that could be impacting their coverage of recent events in Gaza, including their coverage of a recent rescue by the Israeli military of multiple hostages. They also reported on journalist Maha Hussaini’s support for Hamas and sharing of antisemitic cartoons, which led to the International Women’s Media Foundation rescinding a Courage Award they’d given the Palestinian reporter.

Much of the privately owned, for-profit digital newspaper’s funding comes from billionaire and Harvard Law School graduate Paul Singer, according to the Washington Post. Michael Goldfarb, a conservative writer who cofounded the Beacon, serves as its chairman.

The Beacon describes itself on its website as “dedicated to uncovering the stories that the powers that be hope will never see the light of day” and “committed to serving the public interest by reporting news and information that is not being fully covered by other news organizations.”

The outlet has exposed problematic power dynamics and the behavior of officials for years. One of its biggest stories early in its life included playing a massive role in unearthing old audiotapes of Hillary Clinton in 2014.

Their work continues, with Johnson pointing out Monday on social media that the Columbia administrators are set to be reassigned to new positions, even after the messages were exposed, according to New York Times reporting.

“Columbia really cracking down on antisemitism!” Johnson quipped.

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