The Independent Journal Review’s chief content officer Benny Johnson has been suspended for one week with two others for their role in publishing a conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama on the platform’s website, Business Insider first reported.
In addition, Johnson has been demoted from his role as chief content officer and will no longer manage any employees at the news website, a source said.
The IJR’s viral editor Kyle Becker, content editor Becca Lower and Johnson were all suspended for an indefinite amount of time for their role in assigning, writing and publishing the story, which was unfounded. IJR founder Alex Skatell issued a statement March 21 confirming the suspension of the three and saying that the incident is under investigation.
The IJR is a news and opinion platform that was founded in Virginia in 2012 by Skatell and Phill Musser, both former GOP staffers.
Notably, the conservative-leaning IJR is the only media organization that was granted access to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a trip to Asia this week, marking his first time doing so in the role.
Johnson’s suspension isn’t his first time making headlines in his roles within the media.
Here’s what you need to know about Johnson and his suspension from IJR:
1. The IJR’s Report on Obama Alleged he Colluded With a Judge In Hawaii
Sources familiar with the situation told Politico that Perticone “felt as though his credibility as a congressional reporter was damaged by the actions of other writers.”
The story, which was written by Becker, reported that Obama was making a “surprise visit” to Hawaii just days ahead of a ruling on Trump’s newly-issued travel ban executive order. The ruling would be handed down by U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, a former classmate of Obama at Harvard University and was appointed to the position by him in 2012.
Trump’s second travel ban was blocked in a ruling by Watson on March 15.
The IJR story seemed to point out that Obama was meeting with Watson prior to the ruling. But it claims near the conclusion that the story “is not to allege the former president met with Watson, but merely to point out the timing and the opportunity was there ahead of a controversial court ruling.”
Shortly after being posted, the story was removed with an editor’s note that said “IJR published an article that does not meet our editorial standards or represent IJR’s vision or values. We have retracted the story, and we deeply regret the error.”
Business Insider Politics Editor Oliver Darcy Darcy obtained an internal email from Becker on the story that showed him apologizing.
Business Insider reported that Johnson “had been warned earlier in Slack that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but assigned it to Becker anyway.”
2. Johnson Was Fired From Buzzfeed for Plagarism
Johnson began working for BuzzFeed in 2013 when the site continued to grow in popularity and focus more on hard news and politics. Soon, he became known by the moniker “BuzzFeed Benny.” But his time with the media platform came to a shocking halt in 2014.
As the Washington Post reported, Johnson was exposed for plagiarizing the work of others about 40 times in his 500 posts to the website.
Because of the incident, Johnson was fired from his role at BuzzFeed. Editor Ben Smith issued an apology letter to the website shortly after Johnson’s firing, confirming that after an investigation, BuzzFeed found 41 times that his work was copied “word for word” from other websites without sourcing it.
Johnson’s plagiarism was first discovered when users on Twitter and a blog investigated the matter themselves. He later told the Washington Post in a profile piece that his friends were his savior when people on Twitter “crucified him” after the incident.
Once he got past the situation, Johnson landed a job at IJR in February 2015. But, as Darcy reported in a conversation with a colleague of Johnsons, he was once again accused of plagiarism later in the year at IJR, though nothing ever came out of it.
3. Johnson Was the Only Reporter on Hand for a Trump Dinner Meeting
In February, Johnson once again made headlines by being the lone reporter to witness Trump having dinner at his Washington D.C. hotel with Tillerson and Brexit leader Nigel Farage.
The presidential press pool was not informed of his destination, but Johnson acted on a tip from a source and made a reservation at the restaurant, BLT Steakhouse and camped out awaiting Trump and his party.
Johnson gave a blow-by-blow account of him sitting “directly next to where Trump would be dining,” he wrote on IJR.
He described the night as a “wild one,” and said the restaurant was filled with other guests. Secret Service agents filled the restaurant prior to Trump arriving, and “fans” greeted him when he walked into the building.
According to Johnson, Trump ordered a well-done New York strip steak and ate it with ketchup. Upon exiting, Trump was photographed by Johnson handing a bus boy at the restaurant a $100 bill.
4. Johnson Received a Warning for Violating the IJR’s Attendance Policy
An email obtained by Business Insider’s Darcy from the IJR to Johnson showed that Johnson received a warning March 3 for violating its attendance policy. Johnson would “be gone from the office for days,” Darcy reported.
In Darcy’s exclusive report on the state of IJR, he writes that two sources said Johnson “once compared himself to Walt Disney.” He also wrote that he would yell and curse at co-workers for “small mistakes,” which led to a stressful work environment.
In addition, Darcy reported that Johhnson got into a heated conversation with Yahoo News White House Correspondent Hunter Walker. Walker accused Johnson and the IJR of having close ties with the Trump administration on Twitter.
Johnson reportedly wasn’t thrilled to read the tweets and demanded that Walker remove the disparaging claims.
Johnson emailed Walker and told him to “get [expletive].” Walker didn’t back down from his comments, but offered to make amends with Johnson “over a whiskey.” But Johnson refused, saying that he would “make peace” if and when Johnson were to delete the tweets. The tweets and accusations remained on the social media platform
5. Johnson Previously Worked for TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s Media Company
Johnson is 29-years-old and was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Before landing his current job at IJR, Johnson spent a lot of time at other conservative-based media platforms. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in psychology and went on to join TheBlaze as an editor in 2011.
TheBlaze is a conservative news network founded by Glenn Beck. It’s based in Irving, Texas and broadcasts on TV, radio and the internet.
Coincidentally, one of TheBlaze’s top talk-show hosts Tomi Lahren was suspended from her role with the company one day before Johnson on March 21. She was banned for telling ABC’s “The View” that she believed that the government should “stay out of (womens’) bodies.”
I’m someone that is for limited government, so I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government, but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.
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