“Getting the Truth Out:” A Reporter on a Mission to Keep Corporations Accountable
Wall Street Journal investigative journalist Emily Glazer discusses recent Facebook exposé.
“The Facebook Files,” described the company’s failure to address problems it had identified. Photo Illustration by Tricia Seibold (Reuters/Erin Scott, iStock)
Investigative journalism has always been a thorny thicket, bristling with ethical and legal considerations. For Emily Glazer, an award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter, the sense of purpose that comes from shining light into dark corners is worth the challenges inherent in her work.
“Part of what drives me as a journalist is getting the truth out,” Glazer said at a recent talk sponsored by the Corporations and Society Initiative at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “My older sister used to make fun of me, like, ‘Emily loves the rules. She always wants things to be fair. It’s so annoying.’ That is who I am.”
Glazer was part of the Journal’s reporting team that described how Facebook’s executives knew about the ill effects of the company’s platforms but failed to make changes to address them. The series, “The Facebook Files,” was based in part on internal documents disclosed by whistleblower Francis Haugen. Glazer previously covered the banking industry for the Journal and reported on illegal sales practices at Wells Fargo that resulted in congressional hearings, billions of dollars in penalties, and changes in the bank’s policies.
“I really believe if someone is doing something wrong or trying to hide it, they need to be called out, and everyone should be treated equally,” Glazer says. “Just because a company has a ton of money, or an individual has a ton of money, that doesn’t mean that you play by a different set of rules. Not in my book.”
Glazer and her colleagues documented how Facebook’s own investigations concluded that its platforms deepened partisan divisions, enabled disinformation, and were damaging to the mental health of teenagers, especially girls. It was this last revelation that created the largest backlash against the company and changed its approach to dealing with the crisis, Glazer says.
“Was Facebook happy about our coverage? No. But you can see in our ‘Facebook Files’ articles there are executives quoted in the early stories, and there was engagement. They were really trying to share their side of the story.
“As the coverage went on, and particularly after the article that my colleagues wrote about Instagram impacting teens’ mental health, there was a major turning point. Especially for parents, that really struck a chord.” Facebook began an intense lobbying effort to discredit Haugen and challenge the Journal’s reporting. “In some of the articles that I wrote there were no longer executives that were being quoted” because the company had stopped cooperating, Glazer says.
Glazer is grateful that the Journal backed her when the integrity of the reporting was questioned. “There was an on-the-record denial about a meeting that we reported officials had where someone said about Facebook, ‘We built the machine, but we can’t control the machine,’” she recalls. When Facebook denied knowing anything about this meeting, “We were like, ‘Okay, well, we feel so strongly about our reporting that we will continue to write that, but we will put in your denial.’”
The Facebook articles spawned legislative inquiries at both the federal and state level and prompted some lawmakers to propose tightening regulations on social media companies. Those outcomes may validate her efforts, Glazer says, but they do not influence her reporting. “If they choose to use our reporting — whether it’s cited in a congressional hearing, a shareholder proposal, changes to a company structure — we’re not coordinating. We’re trying to write about it and get the facts straight, and then how people want to deal with it is up to them.“
Much has been written about the demise of investigative journalism amid a hollowing out of the news industry, but Glazer says a flourishing of digital media outlets has augmented traditional sources of news.
However, she notes, the veracity of the reporting on journalism sites varies widely and may be driven by a political agenda. “More money is going to non-profit news organizations that are specifically slanted to the left or the right. They don’t say outwardly that they’re backed by political dollars. Empower yourselves in what you’re reading and try to figure out, ‘Is this coming from a certain political side? Is this place more left or more right?’”
Media companies have bounced back after suffering huge losses during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Glazer was an intern at the Journal during that time. “It was like a dying business,” she says. “I went on a business trip as a news assistant, but I wasn’t even important enough to get a company cell phone. I had to make really strong cases for why I had to do certain trips.”
Even in the worst of times, though, Glazer believes a strict separation between the news operation and business management is key to preserving the credibility of journalism. She points out that it was the Journal that broke the story about misleading claims by the blood-testing startup Theranos, which ultimately led to the company’s demise, even though the Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, was a large Theranos investor. “He lost a lot of money from that,” she says, but he never intruded on the paper’s coverage of the matter. “I’m really proud of where I work.”
For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.