The protest on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus that arguably started, grew and saw victory thanks to social media is now seeing those same tools backfiring thanks to a viral video of students and a member of the communications faculty bullying reporters trying to document the story. I've just seen an uncut version of the video and it's even weirder than the short version posted on YouTube on Monday.
The turmoil in Columbia that culminated in Monday's surprise resignation of university system President Tim Wolfe began, in a way, with a Facebook post detailing an incident of overt racism on campus, then grew via the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950 as more racist incidents happened on campus and students grew frustrated with Wolfe's lukewarm response to student fears and concerns.
Students set up an encampment on a public campus quad in support of graduate student Jonathan Butler's hunger strike demanding Wolfe's resignation. Wolfe's resignation finally came after the entire Mizzou football team and head coach Gary Pinkel tweeted their intention to strike in support of Butler. (The Columbia Missourian has a comprehensive timeline of the events in Columbia here.)
Then, in the aftermath of Wolfe's resignation, with Butler's hunger strike over and the Tigers returning to preparations for their next game with BYU, came the world's weirdest victory lap, caught on video. The video, which has already flown around the Web, shows a wall of students blocking media access to the activists' encampment on the public quad. Signs read "no media," and students block fellow student and photojournalist Tim Tai, who had an assignment to take photos for ESPN, as he tries to get shots of the whole thing.
Tai is pushed back by the wall of students while constantly being told to leave as he stands his ground and delivers a mini-lecture on freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Then the journalism student filming, Mark Schierbecker, appears to work his way through the blockade and asks assistant professor of communications Melissa Click for an interview. Click is immediately belligerent and attempts to grab his camera. When Schierbecker asserts his right to document news in a public space, Click calls for "some muscle" to "help get this reporter out of here." That's where the original cut of the video stopped, and it has already led to calls for Click's firing.
Wow. Didn't mean to become part of the story. Just trying to do my job. Thanks everyone for the support.— Tim Tai (@nonorganical) November 10, 2015
On Tuesday, Schierbecker posted a longer version of the video that you can see below. When Click's supposed "muscle" arrives, three men calmly ask Schierbecker to leave while Click continues to shout and cover the camera with her hand. He again states his right to be there, and Click responds by citing her credentials as a communications professor, but does so while mocking Schierbecker using what seems to be a voice imitating that of a person with disabilities.
Throughout the video, students threaten to call the police on Schierbecker and Tai, who respond by again citing their rights as outlined in both the US Constitution and Missouri state law. Eventually, Schierbecker submits to being escorted beyond the human wall, where students turn their backs on the media as their complaints and incredulity with the sight of reporters doing their job can be heard.
It's hard to know exactly what spurred the anti-media sentiment, though on Monday, one activist leader tweeted that media was "twisting" things. That tweet has since disappeared. The official Twitter account for ConcernedStudent1950 tweeted Monday, "We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship & sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives."
The episode is especially embarrassing for a university that houses the world's first school of journalism, which is renowned as one of the best around (having bestowed a bachelor's of journalism on this writer in 2001, for better or worse for its reputation). To be clear, though, Click is a professor of mass media and not technically a part of the journalism school at Mizzou.
However, on Tuesday morning, after the video went viral, new tweets and photos began to circulate showing students taking down the anti-media signs at the encampment and handing out a flyer thanking the media and calling the whole thing a "teachable moment."
Update, 10:15 a.m. PT: to add activists' reversal of media policy.