Tim Tai was just a stringer on assignment for ESPN — one of many trying to document protests at the University of Missouri over incidents of racism that resulted in the resignations of the school’s president and chancellor.
But Tai, taking photographs of an encampment built on Mizzou’s campus by a group called Concerned Student 1950, was challenged by protesters who didn’t want him there.
“You’re pushing me,” said Tai, a student at the university.
“You don’t have the right to take our photos,” a protester said.
Tai said he did have the right to take photos, citing the First Amendment — “the same First Amendment that protects you standing here,” he said.
“Hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go!” the protesters shouted.
After the fracas, Mark Schierbecker, who was shooting the video, approached a woman near the tent city.
“Hi, I’m media,” Schierbecker said. “Can I talk to you?”
“No, you need to get out,” the woman said. “You need to get out.”
“No I don’t,” Schierbecker said.
The woman grabbed Schierbecker’s camera and pushed him away.
“You need to get out,” she said again.
“No I don’t,” Schierbecker said again.
“All right,” the woman said. “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”
The woman was later identified as Melissa Click, an assistant professor of mass media at the university.
On Tuesday, David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, released a statement saying Click is a member of the Department of Communication who holds a “courtesy appointment” with the School of Journalism. The Department of Communication is in MU’s College of Arts and Science.
The statement said that faculty members from the journalism school “are taking immediate action to review” Click’s courtesy appointment and noted that the faculty was “proud” of Tai for handling himself “professionally and with poise.”
“The news media have First Amendment rights to cover public events,” Kurpius said in the statement.
“The events of Nov. 9 have raised numerous issues regarding the boundaries of the First Amendment,” the statement added. “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.”
Official statement: I will not allow students to silence dissent by becoming a human meat wall that rolls over journalists doing their jobs.
— Mark Schierbecker (@Schierbecker) November 10, 2015
In a longer version of Schierbecker’s video, posted to YouTube on Tuesday, Schierbecker is heard saying: “This is public property.”
Covering Schierbecker’s camera lens with her hand, Click says, in a derisive tone: “Yeah, I know, that’s a really good one; I’m a communication faculty, and I really get that argument. But you need to go. You need to go. You need to go.”
As Schierbecker walks away, the professor says: “And don’t let him back in!”
Click, who reportedly made a Facebook plea for media coverage of the protest before Monday’s encounter, was taken to task on Twitter by a number of journalists, including CNN’s Jake Tapper.
@melissaclick was that you on the video calling for "some muscle" to remove a student journalist from a public space?
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 9, 2015
“Meet The Sick Mizzou Media Professor Who Threatened A Reporter With MOB VIOLENCE,” the Daily Caller’s said in a headline.
“To watch the video of photographer Tim Tai getting pushed around by a turf-protecting scrum of protesters at the University of Missouri is to experience constitutional angst,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote.
“Current research projects involve ’50 Shades of Grey’ readers, the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, messages about class and food in reality television programming, and messages about work in children’s television programs,” according to Click’s Web site.
She is also chair of the university’s Student Publications Committee, which provides oversight on the student newspaper and yearbook. The publications are not affiliated with the Missouri School of Journalism.
Click was not immediately available for comment. In tweets late Monday, Concerned Student 1950 defended its right to create a media-free “safe space.”
“We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship, & sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives,” the group tweeted. “White, black, and all other ethnicities have been able to converse and build from fellowshipping at the camp site. That isn’t for your story,” the group said in its next tweet. The group added: “Marginalized populations are not obligated to educate and converse about our experiences, but we did to make this campus more aware.”
Professor Angus Johnston, a historian of American student activism at the City University of New York, said the protests at Mizzou were more complicated than one video can convey.
“Framing this as an issue of censorship, of the press rights of this journalist being censored, that collapses all of the issues that are being raised by this protest, into one issue,” Johnston told The Washington Post. “And it’s not an issue so much as it is a complaint: The complaint against student activists today is that they don’t support free speech and that they are intolerant of other views.”
In a statement, Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) decried the confrontation.
“Actions on Monday by University faculty and staff to infringe on students’ First Amendment rights directly contradict what is taught at our universities,” Kinder said. “This incident must be examined, and if found necessary, disciplined.
“Faculty and staff cannot be allowed to pick and choose which rights, viewpoints and freedoms they respect. I renew my call to restore law and order on campus, so the rights of all are protected. The University of Missouri is funded by taxpayers. It is imperative that it be a place where freedom is paramount and all voices are heard.”
On Twitter, Tai, the student photographer, said he “didn’t mean to become part of the story. Just trying to do my job.”
A lot of hardworking journalists were physically blocked from doing their jobs – I just happened to be on video. I didn't ask for notoriety.
— Tim Tai (@nonorganical) November 10, 2015
“I don’t have any ill will toward the people in the video,” he wrote. “I think they had good intentions though I’m not sure why it resorted to shoving.”
Then, he added: “I’m a little perturbed at being part of the story, so maybe let’s focus some more reporting on systemic racism in higher ed institutions.”
Correction: A headline on an earlier version of this story said Melissa Click was a journalism professor at the University of Missouri. She is an assistant professor of mass media in the Department of Communication. The post has been updated.