It’s like this:
If University of Missouri biologists cured cancer, you — you, reading this — would want to know how they did it.
You’d want a picture of the pill that would save the lives of millions. You’d want to know what it looked like. How many times a day do you take the pill that cures cancer? Do you have to consume it with food?
You’d want to know how Mizzou paid for it, because you’d want to send the funder a thank you note. Maybe the government funded it, so you’d want to write your state rep and tell them which program’s funding to double.
You’d want to hear the emotion in the lead MU researcher’s voice as she told you that she worked 20-hour days and worked through years of failed trials because her dad died of cancer when she was 7. Left fatherless, she devoted her life to a goal that everyone told her was impossible to attain.
You’d also want to know if they were kidding. You’d want to know how many Nobel laureates reviewed their data. You’d want to know how solid were their experimental controls. You’d want to know whether the pill has side effects. You’d want to know whether the biologist was simply toying with our emotions in a gambit to double their program’s funding, win sympathy for herself or paper over the fact that the cure wasn’t scientifically proven to work at all.
In other words, you’d want to know all the things they didn’t put in the varnished press release.
But if anything, you’d want someone there who’s good with a camera so the picture of you looks good in the history books.
You want us there so you can always remember exactly how it was that day we all gathered on Carnahan Quad to celebrate — of all things — the end of a pestilence; that we partied like Mizzou Football was No. 1 again; that we danced for joy that cancer would soon claim its last life.
Who does this job? Journalists. On their good days. On our good days. We do this job. We live to cover that cancer cure, that World Series win, that school defying the odds, that time the little guy — once, just once — stuck it to the man.
On our bad days, we ask the Klan what the fuck they’re doing in our town. We ask the displaced disaster victim what they need right now — water? food? shelter? blankets? How can the watching world help you at this very moment? We ask the politician why he squandered our money — and we feel like an ass doing it because we ambush him and stick the mic in his face. But this elected douchebag has been dodging the voicemails and emails and knocks on his door that all of you — that’s you, again; all of you reading this — absolutely did not have the time, wherewithal, gumption or resources to carry out.
We do all of that, too. And when we mess up, we’re transparent about it. Few professions are quite as open about their faults as we are. We correct stories. We put liars out to pasture. It’s messy business, and we’re not perfect. There are bad apples among us.
But the point here is that there are plenty of Fortune 500’s that make bad calls, too, but when they make bad calls, they can simply lay off 2,200 employees and call it capitalism. When we make bad calls, you threaten us.
And even when we make good calls, when we’re there for the right reasons, when we act within every boundary of our profession’s ethics and our society’s laws, sometimes you threaten us for that, too.
You threaten us with “muscle.” You block our cameras.
We’re “the media,” you spit at us with derision. You wave our sins — the dirty laundry we often air ourselves — in our faces. You coveted our presence when few of us are there, yet you deny the value of our presence when many of us arrive.
We know that it’s a sensitive request to ask students of color to share their stories of pain and victimization. We know not everyone is willing to share these stories.
But so many of you gathered in hopes of spreading awareness that students are in pain and are being victimized. We imagine your critiques of “the media” would be far harsher if journalists didn’t attempt to ask you about it at all — or if “the media” ignored your protest entirely.
Honestly, we saw you gathered in a public place. Although people typically do want to speak to the media when they’re gathered in this way, we know you are under no obligation to do so. But in a public place, journalists are going to do what they are paid to do: ask the question and take the picture. And we cannot ever apologize for that.
We don’t think you — yes, you again… you still there? — would want us to. Some police officers disregard the laws about cameras in public when it’s convenient. Some government agencies would rather have embarrassing or controversial public business conducted in secret. Journalists have to know what American citizens can and cannot do while they’re in a public space, meeting or right-of-way — and we’re sensitive about this because it’s so fundamental not only to our jobs, but to our society’s belief in the free exchange of ideas.
Journalists don’t suspect #ConcernedStudent1950 is trying to maintain opacity because they have something embarrassing to hide. We have no right to expect protesters to comment for our stories. And we also can understand that many simply don’t know about laws governing our rights in public spaces and right-of-ways. (The only laypeople I have encountered who get it are truly abortion clinic protesters who take meticulous care to stay on public sidewalks.)
But why was “muscle” necessary to remove journalists, and not Brother Jed? As in, the homophobic, hate-spewing preacher who for years occupied Speakers’ Circle — the campus’ famed venue for anyone who wants to protest publicly without a permit just yards from where #ConcernedStudent1950 camped?
I want to be clear: #ConcernedStudent1950’s victory today is not the cure for the cancer of racism. I have no illusions of that. That’s not the analogy I’m trying to make. And on this point, too, I’ll be clear: Tim Wolfe and Bowin Loftin aren’t cancer or the Klan or a natural disaster. That’s not the analogy I’m trying to make, either.
The analogy I’m making is that #ConcernedStudent1950 won a victory that will be remembered at the University of Missouri for ages to come. As a proud alum, I’ve learned something from them. I hope they start a conversation that will not cease until their are no more slurs, cotton balls, swastikas, or any other manifestation of racism, overt or not.
When University of Missouri students deal a great blow to racism, you — you, reading this right now — want to know how they did it.
And that’s not only why journalists are there. That’s why you want us there.