The Chronicle of Higher Education sympathetically described what was “surely the worst day of [one University of Missouri journalism professor’s] professional life” — November 9, 2015, when hundreds of outraged viewers emailed her after a viral video showed her calling for “muscle” against a student reporter attempting to cover protests on campus.
But the Chronicle’s summary of Professor Melissa Click’s emails is grossly misleading. It neglects to mention how condemnation of Click’s behavior was not only understandable but appropriate. It highlights some of the most extreme emails she received as though they were the norm; it describes as “an assortment of angry First Amendment enthusiasts” the scores of current students, alumni, professional journalists, and parents who criticized Click’s call for violence against a student; and it ignores the disturbing radicalism of her supporters.
“Overall, I’m OK with actual violence, like actual political violence,” Rob Rasmussen, who unsuccessfully ran for the city council in Columbia, Mo. (the university’s home), last April, explained to National Review after we contacted him for clarification on his November e-mail of support for Click, in which he wrote that she was “100% in the right.”
Rasmussen continued: “I’m OK — I’d be fine if we brought back the guillotine and cut off the Koch brothers’ heads. That would be OK with me. I think that would be OK.” He added that protesters occupying public spaces should have the right to shut out the media because “with Occupy Wall Street, a lot of us lefties learned that if you give open access to the media, some people with an agenda will try to find people in your camp who will say ridiculous things and make it look like your whole group [supports those stances].”
The Chronicle makes no mention of one racist support email praising Click for “stopping that nasty Asian dude” — student reporter Timothy Tai — “from disrupting your event.” It also neglects to mention a supporter who called Click’s actions “a disservice to both you and to the University” — that is, “of course assuming here that there aren’t circumstances of which I’m [un]aware (e.g., the reporter is from a conservative student newspaper with a history of distortion that rivals Fox News.)”
The Chronicle did, however, quote in detail some of the “threats and horrorcore” sent to Click. “I plan to belly-laugh when someone shanks you or sets you on fire in the next week,” the article excerpts. “I hope you’re gang-raped by some of the very animals with whom you’re so enamored,” another e-mail quoted by the Chronicle said. Click’s critics also frequently engaged in “impertinent axe-grinding” and “meta-outrage,” the Chronicle describes dismissively.
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But such emails were few and far between, National Review’s review of more than 1,100 pages of emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shows. Most of the correspondence condemned Click’s actions in a tone that was outraged but fairly civil.
Current students, parents of students, alumni, journalists, and at least one donor appropriately expressed their disapproval, calling Click’s behavior “shameful,” “not in the best interest of the university,” “embarrassing,” and “a blatant violation of [students’] First Amendment rights.”
#share#More than 150 calls for Click’s resignation poured in, and criticism spanned the globe. A Voice of America correspondent in Uganda said Click’s behavior may be helpful in “preparing students for what they will face from 3rd world African dictatorships.” A photojournalist working in Hong Kong and Dubai wrote that Click had “failed as a professor of communication.”
Click even drew ire from some who sympathized with the protesters — another fact the Chronicle never mentions. One Black Lives Matter activist wrote, “Your treatment of the press, especially in light of how respectful that reporter was and your field of study[,] was disgraceful.”
Another writer, who described himself as “a political progressive, a refugee of Occupy Wall Street, a Black Lives Matter activist and strongly supportive of the student movement at Missouri” put it more bluntly to Click: “What the holy hell were you thinking?” he asked in italics, later calling for her resignation.
Such an outcry against Click was admittedly harsh — but, except for a few truly obscene or threatening emails, wholly merited.
As many of the emails pointed out, there’s something exquisitely ironic and contemptible about a journalism professor seeking to silence the press, especially by violence. The fact that Click held a position of authority on campus, and that the reporters involved were students, makes her behavior all the more outrageous.
Mark Schierbecker, 22, who filmed the viral video, described to National Review how, “in that moment, my feelings were that my life, my well-being, was in jeopardy.” He notes that the video also depicts protesters pushing another student journalist.
There’s something exquisitely ironic and contemptible about a journalism professor seeking to silence the press, especially by violence.
Click’s supporters “are falling all over themselves to somehow justify her actions,” Scheirbecker says. “Even the Communications Department has said that violence is never an acceptable form of communication — so hearing [of support for Click] from professors around the nation scares me, because I’ve maintained to this point that Melissa Click is a symptom of a much larger, more insidious problem at public universities — and that is, it’s OK to resort to physical violence to combat emotional micro-aggressions, which don’t hurt anybody.”
The Chronicle also fails to mention how, in late December, 115 faculty members from the University of Missouri signed a letter to the administration in support of Click. These misguided professors call Click’s call for “muscle” a “regrettable mistake” and “call upon the University to defend her first amendment rights of protest and her freedom to act as a private citizen,” but they express no dismay at the violated First Amendment rights of student reporters.They also say that “we believe that Click has been wronged in the media by those who have attacked her personally and have called for her dismissal,” failing to mention how the controversy began when Click wronged the media.
#related#While Click stepped down from her position at the school of journalism, she continues to teach communications at the University of Missouri. Yet her position is far from secure. A Change.org petition calling for her to be fired has gained more than 3,300 signatures; one of the university’s curators has called for further disciplinary action, possibly including firing; and more than 100 Republican state lawmakers penned an open letter calling for Click’s removal.
A better Chronicle of Higher Education would note how Click, caught in an act of injustice, kept her job even as irate protesters forced far less culpable colleagues to resign. At very least, though, it should have accurately characterized her correspondents’ complaints.