So, it’s been a few days since a video was released showing a confrontation between Tim Tai and protesters at the University of Missouri. I had to wait a bit before writing this because, quite frankly, I had too much of a visceral reaction to it to respond right away. I know things have changed, apologies have been issued and the hunger strike is no more, but I still want to break down this video and show you where things went unnecessarily awry in hopes that maybe, just maybe, we can all coexist in relative respectful humanity. Consider this a play-by-play of the errors I see in this social conduct. If I miss or misinterpret something, please tell me. To me, the facts are what matter.
:10 “You need to back up if you’re with the media!” Within the first ten seconds of the video, Tai is being told to stand down and not push the students who are blocking him backwards. Somewhere off camera, the above quote is heard. But is it right?
These students are protesting in the equivalent of Dunn Meadow on Indiana University’s campus: a free speech protected area. Here, people have the right to protest. They also have the right to document these protests for the media. People cannot merely select which of these two rights apply in that space. They both do. Therefore, wrong, you do not need to “back up if you’re with the media” in this scenario. This is not private property. It’s a quad. If you want to avoid the media, you can move. You cannot push them out of a public space that you both have the right to use.
:15 “You need to back up behind those signs. That’s what those signs say.” Again, nope. Just because you put up a sign that says, “Designated drug dealing zone. No police entry.” doesn’t mean that the police will sag their shoulders and walk away. Adding an arbitrary sign does not change laws, rules or rights. Sorry, guys.
:28 “These students are walking forward.” “You’re pushing me. You’re pushing me.” Guess who’s got it wrong again? Not only are they being rude and immature, but physical contact is a big no-no. Maybe they aren’t laying hands on this reporter (yet), but trust me, they are playing a dangerous game. For now, Tai is in the right and pretty smart to state aloud what’s happening. However, I will call him on the tension in his voice. Though the situation is obviously profoundly tense, to allow that kind of aggravation to show could be seriously detrimental to him. Had he stayed calmer (hard to imagine, considering he was really very calm overall), the protesters might have done the same.
:32 “Don’t talk to me. It’s not my problem.” Yes. It is. You are clearly a faculty member, and as such have a responsibility to protect students (even the ones with cameras).
:33 *a hand is raised up to block the video camera recording the event* Grow up.
:35 “Okay, well then we will just block you.” Again, I say, grow up. Also, what exactly are you blocking? I thought this was a protest. Don’t you want people to see you standing in solidarity for a very profoundly important cause? Why are you shutting out the people that will help other people become indignant at the injustice you see and move them to action? If you want your protest to remain undocumented, then 1) it won’t be a very successful or moving protest, and 2) move inside. You can’t cover up a public place and cry “rights to privacy!”
:42 “Students can you tell him…” Woah, woah woah. You’re going to ask students to bully this other STUDENT away? Why? Because he has a camera? Your protesters have them, too. Do not ever call for that kind of action. That’s inflammatory. That’s bad.
:44 “You don’t have a right to take our photos.” Yes. He does. Again, I must remind these poor disoriented students that they are in a PUBLIC place. Public. Where people can go.
:46 *chanting “Go. Go. Go…” Seriously? Be civil people.
1:03 “If you would like to take photos you need to please give them space. Do not – You cannot be this close to them.” I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think anybody objects to the fact that the protesters are the ones approaching Tai, not the other way around. Granted, he did have to approach them initially, but I somehow doubt he was standing as close to them as he is now when he started shooting photos. As such, they are the ones confronting him. Sorry. You lose this one, too.
1:13 “No, they were here first.” Well, this is all semantics, and I wasn’t there, but I’m going to guess “here first” doesn’t mean what it needs to mean to make it right.”
Also 1:13 “You need to move back.” No he doesn’t. Public space. Same rights as the protesters. Pick a new fight, please.
1:20 “Hey hey! Ho ho! Reporters have got to go.” I really hope this doesn’t need much exposition, but seriously? How many different ways can we establish that the First Amendment doesn’t apply only when you want it to, protesters? His right to speech/press is the same as your right to speech/assembly. You can’t do First Amendment rights a la carte.
1:29 “I have a job to do…” Oh Tai, you were doing so well. I know it’s nearly impossible to think about it, and I’m not saying I could do it (though I have been threatened as a reporter before), but not raising your voice would have been a huge help. I can’t pretend it’s easy, but when you are arguing with somebody refusing to see your side, getting louder won’t change their minds. Repeat yourself if you have to, but don’t yell.
1:55 “Forget a law, how about humanity and respect?” Well, I agree with her. Too bad she isn’t using that concept well. If Tai had been trying to photograph a girl bleeding out on the sidewalk and this was said to him, I’d say he was in the wrong and should move along. But here? Not by a long shot. Nobody’s privacy is being violated in this public forum protest, so there is nothing “inhumane” about his actions.
2:05 “I am sorry, these are people too. You need to back off.” Again, no. No he does not. What about all the protesters with camera phones? Those are cool because they are on the other side of the divide? I don’t think so. Also, what about our friendly video journalist filming all this on his phone? The only reason nobody has gone after him is because he looks like an average student.
2:17 *Janna Basler starts to move Tai with her body* Big mistake. Any kind of physical contact is not worth the risk to your message, lady.
2:34 “She gets to decide if she’s gonna talk to you or not.” Did he ever ask to talk to anybody? Now she’s just pulling arguments out of thin air.
2:37 “She doesn’t even want to see you.” Well, that’s not a bad thing. People looking at the camera tends to ruin the integrity of the photo anyway. Again, Basler’s argument for him to back off means virtually nothing.
2:40 “I know you better back up.” And I know you better not be making threats. Threats are bad. They cause you legal troubles and tend to make you look like the bad guy. Pick a new strategy, you bully.
2:45 “We have an unethical reporter who won’t leave.” *while holding up camera phone* Tell me, please, does being persistent make somebody unethical? First, it seemed like it was the camera, but she is holding a camera when she says this, so that can’t be it. Other than that, all he is doing is not backing down. I wouldn’t necessarily say that is super smart, but it is most definitely not unethical.
2:50 “Are you not gonna let me through?” And the nit picking continues. That comment, along with unnecessary, was simply meant to be inflammatory. If that’s what you’re resorting to, your argument is already dead.
3:00 “My name is 1950.” Oh please. Give me a break. If you can’t even bear to identify yourself, then maybe you aren’t proud enough to support your cause. That, or, you realize you are a school official who should be acting as such. Either way, being “anonymous” when everybody knows who you are? Not the best plan.
3:06 “Are you with the Office of Greek Life?” “No.” Lying. Bad move, Basler.
3:07 “Hey, you gotta step back, bro.” Nope. Still no.
3:26 “You gotta go.” Do I even need to say it again?
3:32 “…call the police on you, man.” For which law? Standing in a public place? Doing his job as a reporter? I don’t think so, Mister.
3:40 *Tai tries explaining the law to protesters for the nth time* Tai, I don’t think you have said anything inaccurate up to this point, so go you. I do, however, know that the more you insist, the more riled up they get. It’s time to cut your losses with trying to educate them and instead just do your job and get out.
3:46 *man grabs Tai’s arm when he lifts his camera over the protesters* Oh no. No, no, no. We did not just see you lay a hand on him. That’s the biggest no-no there is. Whatever your argument, no matter how tense, no touching. Period.
3:53 “You’re the one who jumped.” Because, you know, a mob of people is standing in his way and his is doing his job. But yeah, call him on touching her because gravity brought him back to Earth. That’s a strong argument.
4:16 “Our friend’s life is on the line.” Yes. It is. Because he is on a hunger strike. You know what could save his life? Eating. He gets to make that call. It’s not quite the situation this man is making it out to be.
4:22 “Everybody else has documented it.” Yes, they likely did. With camera phones, social media and citizen journalism. Which is great, but it is only one side of the story. I am not saying that journalists are perfect, objective individuals, but I am saying that they are probably trying much harder than the people who fear reporters will “twist their narrative.” Citizen journalists have all the power and none of the responsibility to get it right and be fair. There for, I don’t care if everybody on the campus “documented it.” I want full coverage and context, and that can only come from a journalist. A real one.
4:30 “They’re being respectful. You’re not.” I’m not touching this one with a ten foot pole.
4:32 “They just want to be together.” Basler could write a book with all the irrelevant reasons she has for scolding Tai. How is he preventing anybody from being with anybody? Not a valid argument. That’s 0-3 for you, Basler.
4:39 “You’re infringing on what they need right now which is to be alone.” Well, you know, maybe she’s right. You know a great place to be alone? Indoors. In a private place where Tai really can’t go. Yeah, that’s a good place. Why not try that?
4:43 “You lost this one, bro.” Um. No. No, he didn’t. First off, this isn’t even a fight. Second, and more importantly, Tai has only been in the wrong a few times here versus all of these protesters saying things for the sake of hearing themselves talk.
4:55 “Just put the signs in his face.” Well, sure. If that is the story you want to tell about yourselves and your movement. Kind of a waste of all this opportunity to send a message, isn’t it?
5:16 “You are an unethical reporter. You not respect our space.” 1) Not your space. Public space. 2) Do you even know what the word “unethical” means? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not “to upset one group of people by persisting in a job,”
5:47 *students start pushing reporters out with a wall of their bodies* Yeah, that’s not going to make them go away.
5:58 “They’ll change the story.” What? They’ll do what? Hold the phone. You think you’re actions will make him change the story? Well, you’re right. They will. But not through lying. Through showing people that you all don’t know what the heck you’re doing out here. You’re weakening you’re own movement, and not because he’s going to twist the story.
6:07 “I’m being pushed. I don’t have a choice.” You are embarrassing yourself. Do you have a choice in that? Grow up and have a real conversation, would you, Leader of Students?
6:11 “It’s our right to walk forward, isn’t it?” Well, if you couldn’t sit through the whole video you would have missed this gem. Yes, it is your right to walk forward. No, it is not your right to be a fool and throw the word “right” around when you are trying to protect yours. Also, immature. Extremely immature.
6:23 “I’m media. Can I talk to you?” “No, you need to get out.” And here’s where Melissa Click gets famous for all the wrong reasons. The communications professor has since been ripped to shreds in most articles about everything from her research to her salary to the fact that she had invited media to the protests via Facebook a few days prior. All I have to say on the matter is that, no, yet again, media does no have to get out of a public space.
6:29 *Click grabs his camera* Nope. Just nope. How many times do I have to tell you kids to keep your hands to yourselves?
6:32 “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” Oh. My. God. Do you even realize that you just essentially requested mob violence in response to a student with a camera phone? Everything about that is wrong. No “muscle” should be laying a hand on a man who did nothing wrong, and you, a professor, should not be the one requesting it. Bad call, Click. Bad call.
If I can just emphasize two things 1) Get yours facts straight (and know your laws and rights before you cite them at people) and 2) Just be nice. Seriously that’s all.
Well, that’s all I have to say on the matter. It’s not all-inclusive, and I know things have changed. It is, however, a list that I hope proves to you that nobody was completely right. There were some very important moments where people were very right on both sides, but overall, things could have been handled better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to live a long, happy life not ever watching that video again and hoping that a little bit of my breakdown will speak to you. I never said the protest was good or bad. In fact, I support their message. I do not, however, support the bullying they did in their efforts to preserve it and hide it away from professional media so they could tell it their way. If your story is that important, share it and share it well. Fighting only makes it harder for me to support you.