On Saturday afternoon KOMO poverty porn reporter Jonathan Choe tweeted out a soft-focus montage of a Proud Boys rally in Olympia and advertised a Q&A session the hate group planned to hold afterward as if he were talking about some kind of humanitarian organization.
"THAT'S A WRAP: Proud Boys and other marchers say they will stay on the Capitol campus in Olympia for a few more hours to mingle and answer questions if anyone is interested in learning more about their cause and mission," Choe wrote, after posting a thread of Tweets presenting the group as prayerful patriots without mentioning the organization's role in planning the January 6 insurrection, nor its status as a terrorist entity in Canada.
Two sources say Choe no longer works for the station as of Monday morning. His name and photo no longer appear on the outlet's masthead.
KOMO's news director has not yet confirmed this information, though I expect a statement shortly.
In a statement, KOMO news director Phil Bruce confirmed that the station "decided to end our employment relationship with [Choe] effective today."
Bruce said the outlet "did not direct or approve Jonathan Choe’s decision to cover this weekend’s rally, nor did his work meet our editorial standards."
You can see Choe's little slideshow here:
the internet is forever. pic.twitter.com/oRp1AHmqNb
— Borwin (@Borwin10) March 20, 2022
He added to the montage's recruitment energy when he — or whoever made the video — decided to set it to a ballad called "We'll Have Our Home Again," which was written and recorded by a member of the The Mannerbund, a group The Jewish News of Northern California described as “a white separatist, ethno-nationalist men’s club.” In the YouTube comments for the song, the writer describes himself as a "nationalist," and I'm sure he's got a real nuanced explanation for what he means by that. (A sample of the lyrics: "In our own towns, we’re foreigners now, our names are spat and cursed.") For the last couple years, some Proud Boys have appropriated the song for use as an anthem at their rallies, because blasting out a tune that sounds like it could be a KKK b-side is exactly the kind of shit these violent trolls live for.
In any event, Choe's little commercial was too much even for KOMO, a formerly reputable outlet that Sinclair red-pilled a while ago. His montage tweet drew a number of complaints to the station's news desk, and he was asked to delete it for not conforming to KOMO's standards for "objectivity and professionalism." He obliged.
Choe did not respond to a couple requests for comment and then he blocked me on Twitter, but I have learned that no one at the station told him to drive down to Olympia to cover the march. He chose to cover the story because he thought the group might fight antifascists in the street, and he was interested in documenting the violence. (That said, Choe tagged KOMO's twitter handle in every one of his tweets about the march. Furthermore, editors don't assign reporters stories in all cases. Often journalists pitch stories, and editors take or reject them.)
No one at KOMO created that montage, either. One employee at the station said they were "99% sure" Choe made it himself, adding that the station's photographers have written letters to the news director saying they wouldn't work with Choe anymore, which may partially explain his penchant for recording so much video content on his phone nowadays. Three sources have said the issue of photographers not wanting to work with Choe started in 2020, and attrition increased based on recent coverage. I've asked the station's news director for comment on the letters and will update when I hear back.
The employee also described Choe as having gone "full-blown rogue."
Indeed, the day after Choe appeared on right-wing radio host Dori Monson's show, the news director sent out an email reminding KOMO News staff of company policy prohibiting journalists from doing interviews or providing content to any platform besides KOMO News without his prior approval.
A week and several Choe tweets later, the director sent out another email reminding journalists of the company's social media policy, calling the rules for posting to social media "no different than for a story or a newscast."
"We're not in the opinion blog business or on a mission built around any particular cause. We are journalists and we tell stories. And we are not ever the story. If you are reposting or retweeting posts on our platforms that do not share our professional standards, that is unacceptable," the news director wrote.
The employee also said Choe was "candid about telling people he wants to get fired." Sinclair's contracts are famously punitive. Many agreements carry a “liquidated damages” clause that imposes a large financial penalty on reporters who leave early, so it would make sense that he'd rather get fired than break his contract. Furthermore, another source at a different station said they "know for a fact" that Choe has been wanting to leave, and that their station rejected a recent application from him, so he's been looking.
If all of that is right, then it looks like Choe is setting himself on an extremely familiar trajectory. In recent months, national right-wing commenters and outlets have amplified his exploitative coverage of poor people living in tents. That attention has garnered lots of views for his videos and has increased his profile around town. It's hard to see his breathless, shallow coverage of homelessness and this Proud Boys PR as anything other than audition tapes for OANN or Newsmax. And if he can cash in on a cancel culture narrative, it could even jettison him up to the Fox News mothership.