Christine Flowers Explains Why She Was “Fired” By the Inquirer This Week
Moral of the story: Be careful what you say on Twitter
On Thursday, controversial conservative columnist Christine Flowers took to social media and announced that the Inquirer had “fired” her after 17 years. She did not offer an explanation. So I called her on Thursday afternoon to get one. (The Inquirer‘s response appears at the end of this interview.)
So what the heck happened?
Today was an interesting day. I’ve been on a short tether with my social media presence for a while. I get a lot of emails and tweets, as I’m sure you do. Not everybody agrees with me. [Laughs]. And me being the kind of person that I am — feisty — well some of my responses to readers were feisty.
Management has addressed this with you in the past?
Yes, under the old editorship, they had asked me to tone it down, which I did. I just stopped responding for a while. But then my social media presence grew. And my social media voice is more feisty than my column voice. I was more “real” on Twitter and Facebook. That caused some waves, and I understand why it did. I represented the paper. They had me apologize to readers several times when certain readers got angry and went to the editors.
Did anything in particular happen very recently that would have led to this decision to part ways with you?
A couple of weeks ago, I told management that I would deactivate my Twitter account, which I did. They said they thought that this was a good idea and that it would help with my “situation.” I’m sure they were very happy.
I thought that maybe I would keep it inactive during Lent. But then South Carolina and Nevada started happening, and Bernie and Biden, and I was like, Seriously? I can’t stay off of Twitter. I want to see what people are tweeting. Jake Tapper and all the other boychik people. So I went back on.
And you think that this had a direct impact on what happened?
Oh yes. I have to be honest about it. There was a gentleman’s agreement there, and I broke it. My editor told me that there had been a meeting among a number of editors, and there was a problem with my social media presence and the fact that I reactivated my Twitter account without notifying the powers that be as I had promised to do. It was insubordination. The benefit of having me was outweighed by the pain in the neck that I am.
I am surprised you lasted this long, if only because of some of the opinions that you hold.
Me too. A lot of people think I got fired because of my opinions, but I don’t believe that. Oh, I do think that there was a thumb on the scale because it was me, a conservative.
I look that the social media presence of other people in this media market and some of the things they are saying are as, if not more, incendiary, like calling Trump a dictator or a Nazi. But hey, I’m a big girl. I’m 58. And I had a really good run for 17 years in a city that I love. I only regret the fact that the platform for voices in the city is more diluted.
Do you think it made sense from a business perspective to let you go?
Obviously, people were reading me, and I think the Inquirer probably went against their own interests here. And I don’t say that because I’m so wonderful or anything. But I’m one of the more unique conservative voices in the city.
Some people love me. So people read me even just to hate me. And it drove traffic. But I don’t think they really thought about this. They can find a good writer who does not have a troublesome personality.
Do you have any sense of how large your readership was?
Like two months ago, I was at a meeting with two editors, and they said I was crushing it in terms of numbers. They said I was one of the highest click-getters.
Did you have a lot of your columns killed over the years?
No. There were maybe only three or four that they would not run in 17 years, and I don’t even remember which ones they were. Up until very recently, I never pitched a story. I would just send in a column already written and they would tweak it.
Only within the last year or so did they tell me I had to start pitching, so I would pitch three or four ideas, and they would pick. I had a fairly wide berth. They never told me to stay away from certain topics.
Which column resulted in the most hate mail?
Well, when I wrote about abandoning the Sixers because they supported Meek Mill, Malcolm Jenkins tweeted that out and so all of his people came after me because they considered it racist.
I got a lot of blowback when I wrote praising Susan Collins for her courage in voting for Brett Kavanaugh.
And after I wrote about how difficult it was for me to reconcile Dr. Huxtable with Bill Cosby, people were really angry. And as a result of that column, I’m probably the only person in the history of the paper who had an editor write their own column explaining why I was there.
But I also got plenty of positive feedback, including from police officers after I wrote about officers being killed in the line of duty. I heard from a lot of cops who felt they were not being appreciated and that the city had a very negative view of police officers, and this was before Black Lives Matter.
But good or bad, I was always just happy that people were angry or moved enough that they would take the time to tell me that I should kill myself or get raped.
In all of those columns, there must be at least one that you regret, right?
Only one sticks out.
I wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman after his suicide, calling him selfish because he had a family and children who loved him. My brother committed suicide, and I wrote that column coming from a place of anger against my brother for depriving us of half of his life. I didn’t consider what makes a person so desperate. All the suffering that leads to them being unable to control the impulse to end it all.
I rewrote that column later after Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died within a few days of each other. I wrote about understanding the pain and the torture and the hell that someone must be going through where they don’t see any other outlet. That second column was an apology to my brother — sorry, I am getting weepy. [Pauses]. An apology for having written such an intolerant column about Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Every other column? I’m happy about them.
Some have accused you of writing things only to get a reaction, not because you believed whatever you were saying at the time.
No, I always laugh when people say that. I don’t write things just to get clicks. Absolutely not. I write because I believe. And it just so happens that the things I believe tend to be controversial in certain quarters. I would never write something just to get a rise out of people. It’s not that I want to piss people off. I just have a gift for it. It comes naturally.
I reached out to Inquirer management for a response to some of the content of this interview. Managing editor Sandra Shea sent the following:
Christine Flowers was not an employee, but one of our many independent contributors to the Op-Ed pages. She has been a strong voice in the Daily News and Inquirer for many years, and we have great respect and affection for her. We were unable to find common ground on how she responded to our readers and audience who took issue with her views. We wish her the best.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.