A mass media professor from one of the country’s most respected journalism schools delivered an embarrassing blow to the school’s reputation after threatening to have a journalist removed by force from a campus encampment where protesters had set up tents during an ongoing protest that led to the resignation of two top university officials Monday.
Talk about irony and hypocrisy at its finest.
It was only three days earlier when Melissa Click, a University of Missouri professor in Columbia, posted on Twitter that she was trying to get in touch with somebody from the “national media” to come down and report on the protest stemming from a growing racial divide within the university that had been building up since the Michael Brown police shooting death in Ferguson last year.
Perhaps unknowing to Click, a journalist from the national media, Tim Tai, had been removed from the same encampment moments earlier by students who claimed they had a right not to be photographed while protesting in public.
However, the attention is not exactly positive.
A video that showed University of Missouri protesters restricting a student photographer’s access to a public area of campus on Monday ignited discussions about press freedom.
Tim Tai, a student photographer on freelance assignment for ESPN, was trying to take photos of a small tent city that protesters had created on a campus quad. Concerned Student 1950, an activist group that formed to push for increased awareness and action around racial issues on campus, did not want reporters near the encampment.
Protesters blocked Mr. Tai’s view and argued with him, eventually pushing him away. At one point, they chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go.”
“I am documenting this for a national news organization,” Mr. Tai told the protesters, adding that “the First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.”
The protesters accused him of acting unethically and disregarding their requests for privacy.
A woman signaled support Monday as she passed student protesters’ tent encampment at the University of Missouri in Columbia.University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of ChangeNOV. 9, 2015
“What is so hard about respecting our wishes?” one protester asked.
“Because I have a job to do,” Mr. Tai answered. That elicited a retort: “We don’t care about your job.”
You would think that by now, after years of protesting in this new cyber era of activism, where anybody can become a journalist at a moment’s notice, where shaky, grainy videos of assaults on photographers go viral in an instant, and where armchair critics look for any excuse to discredit a movement, that activists would have learned to be a bit more media savvy.
And you would hope they would have learned that from a university with a journalism program as prestigious as the University of Missouri in Columbia, which was ranked sixth in the county by a site called College Factual.
Well, that was Monday. On Tuesday, they were ranked seventh as you can see in the two screenshots below, the top one from Monday, the second one from today. But it’s not clear if this incident had anything to do with that drop in rankings as other schools have also switched rankings.
Considering Click is a representative of the school’s journalism school, the school should be removed from the rankings altogether. Or she should at least be fired because she completely missed the point when it comes to the First Amendment and now has absolutely no credibility.
Also missing the concept of the First Amendment is Janna Basler, another faculty member, who also tried to shoo away Tai.
At another point in the video, Mr. Tai was also challenged by a university employee. Janna Basler, the director of Greek life and leadership on campus, approached Mr. Tai and, spreading her arms out, demanded that he “back off.”
As he tried to defend his right to be there, Ms. Basler explained, “You are infringing on what they need right now, which is to be alone.”
Everybody, of course, has the right to be alone. But nobody has the right not to be photographed in the midst of a heated protest that has drawn national attention after the resignation of University of Missouri President Timothy M. Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
So Butler’s hunger strike was effective and he should be commended for that. But his courageous stance is now being overshadowed by the cluelessness of his fellow protesters who call themselves Concerned Student 1950, posting their demands here in October.
Concerned Student 1950, basing its name on the year black students were first accepted into the university, posted on Twitter that the issues stemmed “white media who doesn’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.”
The irony here continues to abound considering it was two white faculty members who were throwing out journalists on behalf of black activists.
The fact that one of these journalists representing the so-called “white media” is an award-winning journalist and student at the university who also happens to be Asian-American, and who more than likely, believes in their cause, also adds to the irony.
And it’s beyond ironic that now the black activists are threatening to call police on anybody violating their “No Media – Safe Space” when it was the police shooting of Michael Brown – not to mention the countless other police shootings of black citizens – that gave birth to their movement.
In doing so, they’ve turned their so-called “safe spaces” into inverse examples of the “First Amendment zones” established by universities to corral protesters and journalists into their own enclosures.
In fact, it was less than two months ago when Missouri Governor Jay Nixon passed a bill removed these restrictive zones on campuses, allowing protesters to exercise their First Amendment right to protest throughout campus.
So for these activists to benefit from that piece of legislation while denying the right of journalists to exercise their First Amendment right is the utmost form of hypocrisy.
And now that the story has gone viral, they will not be remembered for their brave stance against racism – because that is something that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed without filters – but for their weak attempt to filter the media.
UPDATE: David Kurpius, dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, issued a statement distancing himself from Click, saying he supports the photojournalist over the professor. In fact, he said Click is not a faculty member of the school of journalism but a faculty member of the university’s department of communication, which means she holds “a courtesy appointment” with the school of journalism.
And that courtesy appointment is currently under review.
The Missouri School of Journalism is proud of photojournalism senior Tim Tai for how he handled himself during a protest on Carnahan Quad on the University of Missouri campus.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and University of Missouri-Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned on Nov. 9 after complaints and protests of their leadership. Tai was covering the event as a freelancer for ESPN when protesters blocked his access through physical and verbal intimidation.
The news media have First Amendment rights to cover public events. Tai handled himself professionally and with poise.
Also, for clarification, Assistant Professor Melissa Click, featured in several videos confronting journalists, is not a faculty member in the Missouri School of Journalism.
She is a member of the MU Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Science. In that capacity she holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Journalism. Journalism School faculty members are taking immediate action to review that appointment.
But as we posted above, she is listed as an “assistant professor” at the school of journalism, not as a courtesy appointment.
But we know she is only sorry she became a viral sensation.