Mizzou students deal blow to racism, then 1st Amendment

A woman passes a tent encampment set up by student protesters following an announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe is resigning Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the university in Columbia, Mo. Wolfe resigned Monday with the football team and others on campus in open revolt over his handling of racial tensions at the school. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The president of the University of Missouri system resigned yesterday after weeks of protest over racial tension on campus.

Many student protesters — known as Concerned Students 1950 –had built a tent village on campus, a public location. Then they stuck up signs declaring it a no-media zone.

That’s not how public space works, however.

Reporters tried to talk to members of the football team, whose boycott of an upcoming game and economic clout prompted the university’s president to resign. They were blocked from doing so and, eventually, shoved away.

“They’re not the story,” a woman shouted. “Talk to your average black student.”

Why is this significant? Because the University of Missouri is the oldest and largest public college for journalists, and the woman attempting the civic censoring is an assistant professor of mass media at Mizzou.

Tim Tai, a photographer/reporter for the Columbia Missourian but on assignment for ESPN, is one of several reporters who were assaulted. He’d done an incredible job photographing the showdown for days.

Then he became the enemy.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Reporters have got to go!” the group shouted, a sentiment no doubt shared by thousands of people in the United States who don’t understand why they exist in the first place.

Leading the chant was Melissa Click, an assistant professor at the university, who had posted a message on Facebook three days ago asking the media for help covering the protest.

“I don’t think everyone there is super anti-media, but I think there’s misunderstanding about what we do,” Tai told the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re documenting historic events with our photographs, and when people are crying and hugging when Wolfe resigns, it becomes a personal issue that people all over the country can connect with,” Tai told the New York Times. “It’s my job to help connect those people to what’s going on.”

“Sincere congratulations to someone who this morning had no idea he would be in the national eye,” The Atlantic’s James Fallow writes. “But he turned out to be, and behaved in a way that reflects credit on him and the calling of news-gathering.”


Update 1:36 p.m. The dean of the School of Journalism, David Kurpius, has posted this statement:

From the desk of David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism:

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.

The events of Nov. 9 have raised numerous issues regarding the boundaries of the First Amendment. Although the attention on journalists has shifted the focus from the news of the day, it provides an opportunity to educate students and citizens about the role of a free press.

Update 1:51 p.m. – KBIA reporter Bram Sable-Smith, who told the photographer, “there’s nothing to be gained from this,” recorded this essay.

Update 2:12 p.m. Mizzou protesters are talking to the press again, and here’s what they’re saying (Fusion)

Update 2:53 p.m. – Klyle Stokes, a journalist and Minnesota native who writes about public journalism, writes about why reporters cover events such as this.

You want us there so you can always remember exactly how it was that day we all gathered on Carnahan Quad to celebrate — of all things — the end of a pestilence; that we partied like Mizzou Football was No. 1 again; that we danced for joy that cancer would soon claim its last life.

Who does this job? Journalists. On their good days. On our good days. We do this job. We live to cover that cancer cure, that World Series win, that school defying the odds, that time the little guy — once, just once — stuck it to the man.

On our bad days, we ask the Klan what the f*** they’re doing in our town. We ask the displaced disaster victim what they need right now — water? food? shelter? blankets? How can the watching world help you at this very moment? We ask the politician why he squandered our money — and we feel like an ass doing it because we ambush him and stick the mic in his face. But this elected douchebag has been dodging the voicemails and emails and knocks on his door that all of you — that’s you, again; all of you reading this — absolutely did not have the time, wherewithal, gumption or resources to carry out.

Update 10:32 pm The communications professor has issued an apology.


Related: Campus Activists Weaponize ‘Safe Space’ (The Atlantic)