Evasion and Hostility: Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen Sparks Concern by Avoiding Questions and Fanning Hostility Against Reporter

Evasion and Hostility: Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen Sparks Concern by Avoiding Questions and Fanning Hostility Against Reporter

Navigating the transition from newsrooms to the classroom, I anticipated challenges in teaching journalism but never imagined grappling with the escalating hostility faced by my students. Instances of students being spat upon and subjected to derogatory remarks like "fake news" or "go back to China" have sadly become part of their routine.

Recently, one of our accomplished alumni, Yanqi Xu, a reporter for Flatwater Free Press, found herself at the receiving end of hate speech. Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen, when asked about a story detailing elevated nitrate levels near his family's hog operations, opted to sidestep the issue entirely. Instead, he chose to attack Xu, questioning her credibility based on her Chinese background. This diversionary tactic, aimed at discrediting the journalist rather than addressing the raised concerns, is a concerning echo of authoritarian strategies.

Pillen's attempt to smear the messenger by focusing on Xu's nationality and upbringing mirrors tactics employed by dictatorial regimes. Such maneuvers aim to deflect attention from substantive issues by attacking the character of the journalist. It's a concerning trend that undermines the essence of open discourse and the critical role journalists play in holding those in power accountable.

As we confront these challenges, it's essential to spotlight the professionalism and dedication of journalists like Yanqi Xu, who, despite facing unwarranted attacks, continues to uphold the principles of journalistic integrity. The incident raises broader questions about the evolving landscape of journalism and the responsibilities of those in positions of power to engage in constructive dialogue rather than resorting to character assassination.

In a disconcerting shift, tactics commonplace in nondemocratic nations are finding a disconcerting home in the supposed bastion of freedom, bravery, and the First Amendment. It's imperative to confront the unsettling reality that tactics aimed at silencing dissent and discrediting journalists are infiltrating the very heart of democratic principles.

The formula at play in these instances is disturbingly consistent: individuals wielding wealth and power seek to channel populist resentment, a sentiment that should rightfully be directed toward them, against journalists. The elites, paradoxically labeling those exposing their privilege as "the elites," employ coded language, such as "communist" and "China," to evoke strong emotions and divert attention from substantive issues. This calculated maneuver, a sort of political jujitsu, attempts to vilify those holding the powerful accountable.

It is essential to recognize that stoking hate has become a convenient tool to sidestep addressing legitimate questions. The deployment of inflammatory rhetoric is a deliberate distraction, a smoke screen to obscure genuine concerns and evade accountability. As we witness these tactics, it prompts a critical self-reflection on the health of our democracy and the erosion of civic discourse.

The decision to pen this piece is not taken lightly, acknowledging the potential backlash from a faction that frequently targets women journalists. Moreover, recognizing that Yanqi, being young, Asian, and a woman, may become a magnet for such attacks, underscores the urgency of the issue. The surge in hate crimes against Asian communities and pervasive discrimination is a stark reality that demands attention.

Nebraska Gov. Pillen's choice to employ inflammatory language, either out of ignorance or calculated intent, raises significant concerns about the potential consequences of his words. In the America we envision, individuals should be judged on the merits of their work and character, not on accidents of birth. Yanqi's commitment to speaking truth to power exemplifies an American value that transcends nationality – the freedom to challenge authority.

Her choice to practice journalism in a country where press freedom, though under threat, still stands, reflects a commitment to the foundational principles of journalistic integrity. As we grapple with these challenges, it becomes crucial to uphold the century-old code of ethics that urges journalists to remain unswayed by privilege or the clamor of the mob. The ability to discern truth from distraction is paramount in preserving the integrity of a free press and, by extension, the health of our democracy.

Yanqi Xu deserves an A+, no matter what names Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen chooses to throw her way. As a former teacher and the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism, I proudly commend Yanqi, along with her steadfast editor, Matt Wynn, as true #MizzouMade professionals. Kathy Kiely, with a background covering Congress and national politics for USA TODAY from 1998-2010, stands by this assessment. The resilience and commitment demonstrated by Yanqi exemplify the core values instilled by institutions like the Missouri School of Journalism, and her dedication to journalistic integrity deserves recognition and praise.

In conclusion, the resolute stance and unwavering commitment of Yanqi Xu, amid unjust criticism from Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, earn her a well-deserved A+. As Kathy Kiely, former USA TODAY correspondent and the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism, proudly stands by Yanqi and her editor, Matt Wynn, the recognition of their professionalism and dedication echoes the principles instilled by institutions like #Mizzou. This episode serves as a testament to the enduring spirit of journalistic integrity and the importance of upholding these values in the face of adversity. Yanqi Xu exemplifies the caliber of journalists produced by institutions like the Missouri School of Journalism, reinforcing the critical role of a free press in our democratic society.


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