Jim Bunner waved to the camera, cellphone in one hand, KTTC-TV-branded microphone in the other, his head bare to the Minnesota morning chill.
He could have been any other reporter standing outside the Rochester civic center on Thursday, awaiting President Trump’s rally. At least, so it seemed in that particular shot.
“I’ve met people all the way from Mankato, from Iowa, from Eagle Lake, you name it” Bunner said in his NBC news station’s Facebook Live feed. “They are excited for the fact the president of the United States is visiting Rochester. This is big! This is ‘yuge,’ in the words of Donald Trump.”
The multimedia reporter might have been simply channeling the enthusiasm of the crowd — thousands of people lined all the way to the back of the civic center, most of them sporting “Make America Great Again” hats.
But just outside the camera frame — visible for a split second when it pulled back from Bunner’s face to pan around — his own bright red MAGA hat peeked out from his duffel bag.
KTTC-TV dismissed Bunner the next day, according to the Associated Press, after another reporter photographed him wearing the hat and posted it on Twitter. Caption: “Whyyyyy? ”
While Bunner could not be reached for comment, KTTC new director Noel Sederstrom told The Washington Post: “our newsroom’s standards of professional journalism do not allow our reporters to wear partisan political campaign clothing while actively covering a political campaign event for the television station.”
As BuzzFeed noted, Bunner’s publicly available social media feed was full of his political views — something that The Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico and many other new outlets discourage.
“I never have been a big Trump fan,” Bunner wrote a few days after Election Day in 2016. “I love a lot of what he’s saying and believe if he could live up to all of these promises he’s made about immigration and the Supreme Court, he could be a fantastic president.”
“Look on the bright side,” he added. “At least now Obama’s legacy has been destroyed, Hillary Clinton will never be president, and there’s gonna be a whole lot of pissed off liberals in the morning.”
A few months after KTTC hired him in December 2017, BuzzFeed reported, the reporter changed his Facebook profile image to a photo of himself in front of the White House with the caption: “I’m the NRA.”
Sederstrom, however, said that Bunner’s political views were not a factor in his dismissal.
On Twitter, Bunner thanked supporters (one tweeted, “We got your back!!! #MAGA”), politely declined a GoFundMe account, and deflected criticism against his former employer.
“It’s not unfair,” he tweeted. “KTTC-TV is not to blame.”
This article has been updated with comments from KTTC’s news director.