UPDATED: 1:55 p.m. EDT, 9-20-20; I’ve edited the First Amendment section of this post and expanded on the tolerance section. In adopting the point in the initial post that the First Amendment doesn’t allow someone to be tossed in jail, I should have included a reminder about ASU being a public university.
Rae’lee Klein is a broadcast journalism student at Arizona State University. She says she was fired from a paid position within ASU’s student media because of a story she shared on Twitter that was critical of Jacob Blake, the Wisconsin man who was shot multiple times by police a few weeks ago. (The interim dean of the Cronkite School at ASU says Klein has not been fired.)
Klein’s First Amendment rights are valid, but the controversy goes beyond that.
The freedoms contained within the First Amendment refer to the government’s inability to restrict speech, press, assembly and more. I wrote about this earlier this month, when I reminded fans of controversial Pittsburgh talk show host and former TV news anchor Wendy Bell that her First Amendment rights had not been denied when she was yanked from her show for incendiary comments.
Words have consequences; no governmental agency will throw Wendy Bell in jail for what she said on her program, but her employer could choose to throw her into the unemployment line. Those of you reading this who have followed Bell for many years will know she was canned by a Pittsburgh television station for social media posts she made.
The situation with Klein and Arizona State is not the same. (I ignored this point in the original post; in doing so, I left the impression that ASU could act as a private entity or institution might.)
Nevertheless, I think there’s a different and perhaps more important argument here: tolerance (or the lack of same).
Regardless of her current employment status with the university, Klein is under fire because of America’s ever-growing intolerance for people who don’t embrace the majority opinion.
Before I go any further, let me put my cards on the table: I think what happened to Jacob Blake was unconscionable. Critics of his actions will point out the police officers involved in his shooting had no idea why he was heading toward his car. Even if we accept that as justification for the officers fearing for their safety, there’s no way to justify shooting Blake seven times in the back. I hope the officer who fired those shots is found guilty of, at minimum, excessive force and up to, at maximum, attempted murder. He ought never be a police officer again.
Disagree with me, if you wish; the reply box at the bottom of this post is there for your use.
Returning to Klein, the controversy surrounding her has been brought on by our society’s growing intolerance of opinions deemed “wrong.” (The left and the right are guilty of this. As just one example: Colin Kaepernick, in effect, was excommunicated from the National Football League after the right went apoplectic about his refusal to stand for the national anthem.) It appears controversial information may not be brought into the conversation about Blake. If Arizona State officials fire(d) or in anyway sanction(ed) Klein, information deemed incompatible with the narrative adopted by the majority can’t be ignored as a cause.
If Klein had tweeted a story in support of the protesters who took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the city in which Blake was shot, neither you nor I would have ever heard about it. That tweet would have passed the tolerance test.
Klein was interviewed by NewsMax, the conservative news and opinion website. Fielding softball questions well, Klein argued she thought it unfair she was called out for a single tweet she posted while her fellow student journalists who publicly supported popular positions weren’t accused of any kind of bias.
If the intent in singling out Klein is to punish her for crossing the objectivity line, then any reporter in any Arizona State newsroom who advocates for a political candidate, a social cause, a sports team also has to go. Let’s face it, if having no opinion about everything were the standard for remaining employed as a journalist, then no one would work in any newsroom anywhere.
Journalists are not robots; they are people. More importantly, they are required to present as full a picture as possible about important news events and news makers. Identify the one holding an unpopular view and we have begun our descent on the slippery slope.