While reporters for The Wall Street Journal are supposed to immerse themselves in the world of business, there are limits. The newspaper’s management draws the line at reporters actually going into business with sources.
Thus, the peremptory public firing this week of Jay Solomon, a veteran national security reporter for WSJ, following revelations that he was either involved, or on his way to being involved, in behind-the-scenes deals with one of his contacts.
The Associated Press got the scoop on the journalistic conflict of interest, as part of its research for a story about an Iranian-born businessman, Farhad Azima, a military-aviation mogul and arms dealer with longstanding ties to the CIA.
Azima is now under investigation by U.S. authorities in connection with a global corruption case, allegedly involving bribes paid to officials in the United Arab Emirates and the planned sale of a hotel in Tblisi, Georgia in 2011. All may have been a convoluted plot to help Iran dodge sanctions on its nuclear program.
While chasing down this story, AP reporters came across documents that appear to detail Azima’s connections to Solomon, which were confirmed by interviews. At one point, Azima offered Solomon a 10% stake in a company he was starting, Denx LLC.
In addition, an operating agreement from 2015 obtained by AP listed Solomon as a stakeholder in the company, although it’s unclear whether Solomon ever actually accepted the offer or took any money from Azima.
The AP uncovered texts and emails, as well as internal documents, which Azima claims were stolen by hackers, detailing the connections between Azima and Solomon. In good journalistic fashion, the AP went to Solomon and his employer, the WSJ, for comment on the evidence of their alleged business dealings.
Solomon denied ever actually entering into any business deals with Azima, but he was nonetheless summarily fired on the basis of the facts uncovered by AP’s investigation, which were apparently considered sufficiently incriminating by WSJ’s editorial leadership.
Some of the messages seem to suggest their business discussions were more than just theoretical. In one email from April 2015, Azima wrote to Solomon and some of his other associates: “We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense deal.”
The AP immediately published a separate article reporting that Solomon was sacked after “evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals – including one involving arms sales to foreign governments – with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.”
The WSJ stated: “We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon. The allegations raised by this reporting are serious. While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards.
"He has not been forthcoming with us about his actions or his reporting practices, and he has forfeited our trust. Mr. Solomon is no longer employed by The Wall Street Journal.