In CJR piece entitled Why journalists have the right to cover the University of Missouri protests, Jonathan Peters sums up the Mizzou fracas, after photojournalism student Tim Tai, covering a public protest on public property, was strong-armed. The protesters demanded media attention. They got it. Then they wanted to turn it off — again, on public property. The ignorance of First Amendment freedoms on the part of students, academics and staff was appalling.
Tai, 20, a senior photojournalism major from St. Louis, Missouri, was on the front lines of that battle—however unwittingly. He was on assignment for ESPN.com and found hundreds of people singing and celebrating in the quad after the president announced his resignation. Tai quickly set to work to capture the moment—from inside the quad—but the 1950 supporters interfered.
As the video shows, one tells him to back up because nearby signs instructed the media to stay out. Another supporter says, “You do not have a right to take our photos.” Tai explains that he does have that right, and he says the First Amendment principles that allow them to be in the quad also allow him to be there. And then, two minutes into the video, a university administrator joins the fun.
Janna Basler, Mizzou’s director of Greek life and leadership, tells Tai that he needs to “back off” and “go.” She brushes against him, and Tai asks if she’s employed by the Office of Greek Life. Basler responds, “My name is 1950.” She also tells Tai that he is “impinging on what [its members] need right now, which is to be alone.” As the students behind Basler begin to push forward, she makes physical contact with Tai, prompting him to object, to which she responds, “I don’t have a choice.” The students seem to decide that since he’s not going to move, they’re going to move forward as a human chain, physically pushing him back with their bodies. A student adds, “It’s our right to walk forward.”
The video, shot by Mark Schierbecker, 22, a junior history major and photographer for The Maneater, the independent campus newspaper, also captured a confrontation with a faculty member. Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication who specializes in popular culture, refuses to answer any questions from Schierbecker—before telling him to “get out” and grabbing at his camera. Then she turns to the 1950 supporters scattered behind her and says, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”
No matter what you think of their cause, the intimidation was a serious mistake. Then again, you expect college students to make mistakes during their years on campus. It’s part of the point of coming to campus. You screw up, you learn, and you take those lessons with you.
You don’t expect people holding positions of authority to make those same mistakes. Yet in several instances, faculty members and administrators were documented — some on video — harassing those merely seeking to report what was unquestionably news while standing in an unquestionably public space.
“You can study there. You can nap there. You can eat there. You can sleep there,” Kratzer said. And report there too.
Yet an administrator repeatedly tried to block a student journalist, Tim Tai, from taking pictures on assignment for ESPN. “You need to back off,” she told him, flanked by student protesters. “You are infringing on their right to be alone.” She helped lead a group of students who essentially steamrolled Tai away, even as he calmly asserted his First Amendment rights to be there.
The offending adults have since apologized.