Author Archives: Terry Ganey

McCaskill’s town hall pitch for media literacy

by Terry Ganey

Photo by Terry Ganey

TIPTON, Mo.—Sen. Claire McCaskill held 10 town hall meetings across Missouri last week, fielding hundreds of questions about issues like health care, sanctions against Russia, and the sharing of voters’ information.

But it was at a forum in Tipton, a small town in the middle of the state, where McCaskill was asked about something other than congressional policy.

Shawn Meintz, a high school teacher from Kirksville, wondered what the senator would suggest teaching young people, 17 and 18-years-old.

The question prompted one of the longest responses McCaskill would give at the forum.

“Teach young people where they should go to find facts,” McCaskill replied. She said people today go to certain television networks to find affirmation, rather than information.  She said 15 percent of her constituents watch FOX News to get affirmation for their right-wing beliefs, while another group on the other side watches MSNBC to get their own assurance that they are right.

“The rest of the state is watching ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and can’t stand either side,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill told Meintz that students need to know where to go to find fact-based journalism.

“They need to learn that there are no editors on social media like there are at newspapers. During the political campaign, hundreds of Russians created Facebook news feeds and people were repeating them as if they were true.

“One of the challenges we have in America today is simply learning what are the facts,” McCaskill added. “The notion that everything is fake news is not good for democracy.”

Meintz teachers U.S. government to 12th graders, and newspapers to 11th and 12th graders.  He also teaches an advanced placement class in world history.

On the day of McCaskill’s forum in Tipton, Meintz was just ending a vacation with his family at Lake of the Ozarks.  On their way back to their home in Kirksville they stopped by the senator’s hour-long town hall session.  Meintz was accompanied by his wife, Angela, and their three children: Jackson, 10, Kennedy, 6 and Pierce, 2.

Asked what he thought about McCaskill’s response, Meintz said, “I wish I had recorded it.  It was good.  I’m going to talk more in class about where to go to get real news.  She’s right.  There’s too much misinformation out there and public schools can address that.”


Terry Ganey covered the Missouri Legislature for 35 years for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune. He is the former St. Louis editor of the Journalism Review.  He is also the author of “Innocent Blood, a true story of obsession and serial murder,” and co-author of “Under the Influence” about the Anheuser-Busch dynasty and “Pretty Ladylike,” McCaskill’s memoir.

Three veteran journalists depart PD

photo by Terry Ganey

by Terry Ganey

There was a poignant departure ceremony earlier this week on the fifth floor of the building at 900 N. Tucker Blvd, the headquarters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Newsroom colleagues shared stories about three veteran reporters – Tim O’Neil, Jim Gallagher and Tim Bryant – who were among six journalists taking advantage of a recent buyout offer. Together these three have accumulated some 89 years of experience just at the Post-Dispatch.

The event was similar to others taking place since 2005, as financial pressures have forced owner Lee Enterprises to trim staff. This loss seemed especially painful after all the cuts that had taken place. These three had spent all of their time in the journalistic trenches, and it would be hard to find anyone more conscientious, humble and hardworking.

“This is a great group who have been serving the people of St. Louis for many years,” said one editor. “It has been a privilege to work with them.” In an era when the man occupying the White House rages against journalists being “enemies of the American people,” consider the careers of O’Neil, Gallagher and Bryant.

Columnist Joe Holleman said he had learned much from O’Neil during the years they had worked together. “His word is iron,” Holleman said. “Every word of an O’Neil story works for a living.” Holleman recounted an anecdote about how, after a former mayor of St. Louis claimed another city official had earned a Purple Heart, O’Neil uncovered the records to show the claim was a fraud.

O’Neil gave up a piece of his body collecting the news. Last Nov. 9, while covering a hearing in St. Louis County, Robert E. Jones, the lawyer for Sunset Hills, slammed a door to a conference room after O’Neil had opened it to make an inquiry. Jones slammed the door to keep O’Neil out, slicing off part of the journalist’s finger. A lawsuit is pending.

Business Editor Roland Klose recounted how Gallagher could take a complicated subject and make it understandable for readers. And he related how readily Gallagher would accept an assignment, no matter what the topic. “Do you have something for me?” was Gallagher’s greeting to his editor, Klose said. The headline over Gallagher’s last business column for the newspaper fittingly read: “A geezer’s guide to Social Security.”

Discussing Bryant, Klose said he could extract stories about development from the walled-off world of real estate. He said Bryant was once locked out of a meeting of developers, but he was still able to unearth what had transpired in the meeting by making telephone calls and resorting to old fashioned “shoe leather.”

The buyout offer was made to journalists 55 and older with 10 years of experience. Also departing the paper in the buyout were veteran City Editor Pat Gauen, reporter Steve Giegerich and sportswriter Dan O’Neill.

Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief, said there was no getting around the fact shrinking resources will have an impact at the newspaper. But he said the staff remained committed to covering news important to the people of St. Louis.

In an era of “fake news” and declining circulation, the Post-Dispatch has published a house ad that seeks subscribers. It reads: “TRUTH…FREEDOM OF THE PRESS…Delivering stories that uncover truths and fight for progress. Help us protect that liberty.”


Greitens plays hide-and-seek with press

by Terry Ganey

Lock on Greitens press office door (photo by Terry Ganey)

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — There’s a game of hide and seek underway in Missouri’s state capital.

The new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, is doing the hiding. The state capital press corps is doing the seeking.

So far, Greitens is winning.

A former Navy SEAL with no experience in government and no penchant for answering questions, Greitens has yet to hold a full-blown news conference since he was sworn into office Jan. 9. Sometimes when pursuing reporters have posed questions, he has ducked into an elevator. During an appearance calling out the National Guard for an ice storm, Greitens deflected questions that sought information about other issues.

Following the recent signing of a “right to work” bill, perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in modern memory, Greitens bolted out the back door of his office rather than field questions about it. When Greitens held a joint appearance with other state officials to discuss a troubling issue at a foster home, reporters were put on advance notice: “Questions unrelated to this situation will not be answered at this press conference.”

“It’s like covering a brick wall,” said Phill Brooks, a veteran state capital reporter who works for KMOX radio in St. Louis. “You can’t ask questions of this governor. You’re shut off if you try to ask questions. Many of the announcements of state government are getting done through Facebook. I feel like we’re covering the executive branch of state government with a brick wall in the way.”

Kurt Erickson, the statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has resorted to filing Open Records requests to extract routine information out of the Greitens administration. Erickson posted on Twitter recently that “no longer can a reporter freely enter Eric Greitens’ press office to talk with his spokesman.” The posting was accompanied by a photo of a lock on the door to room 218 in the state capital.

For years capital reporters have entered that door where a receptionist could field a request to see the governor’s press aid. In Greitens’ case, that’s Parker Briden.

In response to Erickson’s post, Briden tweeted, “That’s not the ‘press office,’ it’s a full suite of offices. Go through the main entrance and they’ll buzz me.”

The “main entrance” Briden referenced is the reception room where everyone wanting to see the governor or his staff shows up to seek an audience. A reporter for the Gateway Journalism Review went to the reception room recently and requested to see Briden.

The receptionist buzzed him on a telephone, and when there was no answer, the receptionist suggested sending Briden an email. The GJR reporter emailed Briden asking for an interview for information about press access to the governor. There was no response. State capital reporters say they have a hard time getting Briden to respond to written and telephone inquiries.

As public officials reach out to constituents through their own means of communication such as social media, the journalistic organizations supplying straight news to the public have been shunted aside. The Republicans controlling the General Assembly have moved the press offices to a roost in the Capitol building. The Senate has limited journalists’ access by ousting reporters from a table on the floor of the chamber and moving them to a nosebleed section of the public gallery.

If reporters had a chance to question Greitens, they’d ask him about the millions of dollars in undisclosed campaign contributions he received, about the unidentified donors to his inauguration parties, and about his tax returns that he never made public. They’d also ask him about policy decisions to cut state funds for the elderly, disabled and higher education.

Greitens’ behavior has not gone unnoticed. For example, Bill Miller Sr., the veteran editor at the Washington Missourian, recently wrote in an editorial: “Gov. Eric Greitens has gotten off to a terrible start in setting an example to lawmakers, and to all Missourians, in regard to transparency. Why is he hiding the donors who have been backing him? There is no question that he apparently believes it will harm his political career.”

Miller went on to say Greitens apparently has his eyes on the White House. Which brings up the question: Can Greitens play hide and seek for four years?

Still a TV news junkie


On Aug. 9, 2014, as the streets of Ferguson, Mo. erupted in protests following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, one of the first television reporters on the scene was Betsey Bruce of KTVI, Channel 2.

Bruce updated a report on the station’s website at 3:50 p.m.  That afternoon she worked the streets collecting information.  As she stood in front of the Ferguson police station that Saturday night, she told viewers, “Police are trying to calm tensions.”

The account she delivered included interviews with witnesses, visuals of the shooting scene and comments from the police chief.  Near the conclusion, she said St. Louis County Prosecuting Bob McCulloch would end up investigating.

Months later, when the streets boiled over again after a grand jury issued a “no crime” finding, Bruce was in Ferguson again.

“It was the most compelling and the most frightening experience I’ve ever had because it was dangerous and you didn’t know who you were talking to,” Bruce recalled later. “Those are frightening times when you’re not quite sure when you should be looking over your back or taking notes.”

Many other reporters were on the scene in Ferguson, performing in the same way.  What sets Bruce’s work apart is the fact she was 65 years old when the event unfolded.

While all of her contemporaries have retired or moved on, Bruce continues to work long hours and weekends as a TV street reporter.  She prefers to cover politics and public policy, but will accept any assignment.

“I’m always fascinated by what’s going on,” she said. “I call myself a news junkie.”

Bruce’s 45 years in St. Louis television news at what was once KMOX-TV and then later at KTVI is a record.  As the first woman to work hard news TV assignments, she is a pioneer in St. Louis broadcast journalism.  And Bruce is unique in that she has spent her entire career in one market.

“I hate to say this, but when I was in college I was watching her on TV,” said Mike Owens, who covered the news for KSDK-TV, Channel 5 for 27 years between 1983 and 2010.

In September of 1970, fresh out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Betsey Barnette started as a writer at KMOX-TV, the CBS-owned station in St. Louis. In December of 1971, she married Bob Bruce, whom she had met in college.  For a while she was known as Betsey Barnette Bruce, and then finally, Betsey Bruce.

In college, her adviser had warned her that news directors considered women “economic luxuries.”  “What he meant was that most news directors didn’t believe women were capable of handling a full range of stories,” Bruce said.

At that time, women’s roles were limited in St. Louis television newsrooms.  Pat Fontaine had done weather and features on KMOX-TV.  Dianne White, the first black weathercaster, was on KSD-TV, Channel 5.  Lee Shepherd had become a co-anchor on that station’s “Eyewitness News at Noon.”  And Harriett Woods was doing public affairs programs on KETC, Channel 9 and KPLR, Channel 11.

By January of 1971, Bruce had persuaded management she could go out in the field to report stories.  Her first two offerings were about child daycare and abortion.

“I was trying to prove to my boss that I was not an economic luxury, that I could do things that either the men hadn’t thought of doing or didn’t do or maybe were uncomfortable doing,” Bruce said.  At the time her mentor was Pat Fontaine.

“She was the only older woman on the air at my station and she was very helpful to me,” Bruce said. “One time I got some unwelcome attention from a male staff member, and whatever happened, she took care of it.  It was gone.  He was still there, but he never did that again.”

Covering her first City Hall news conference in the office of Mayor A.J. Cervantes, a photographer from another station made a big deal about Bruce breaking new ground.  She got to ask the first question.  Bruce recalls now some early comments such as “wow, you’re taking a job from a man; you shouldn’t be doing this.”

“There was a lot more focus on how I looked than what I was covering, which I always found frustrating,” Bruce said. “I was very determined, that I was not going to be distracted, and I was going to do my job and be a good journalist and be sure I didn’t spoil it for any other women behind me.  I was probably pretty intense and focused.”Jack Etzel, a reporter at KMOX-TV from 1969 to 1974, recalled that Bruce “had a maturity about her.”

“Women at that time were very rare, and it was unusual to hire someone full time essentially right out of college,” Etzel said. “Betsey was the youngest and ablest of anybody.  It was nothing for her to cover any story that happened.

Betsey Barnette was born into a family of journalists.  Her grandfather on her mother’s side was George Lasher, the founder and director of the Ohio University School of Journalism.  Her mother was the first woman reporter at Editor and Publisher.  Her father worked for newspapers in Gary, Ind., and Buffalo, N.Y.

In 1965, when Betsey Barnette realized she wanted to go into broadcasting, she chose the University of Missouri because the journalism program had a television station with a commercial license.  She enrolled in the fall of 1966, entered the broadcast sequence and edited the “Maneater” student newspaper in 1969.  As a result of a visit to MU by KMOX-TV managers in the spring of 1970, she got a job interview and was hired.

Between 1971 and 1989, Bruce made a name for herself at Channel 4, becoming the political editor and weekend news anchor.  In those days as now, success for television reporters came with either a permanent assignment at a network or a Monday-through-Friday primetime anchor slot in a major market.

Bruce harbored those dreams, too.  But her career took a different turn in 1989 when Channel 4 managers offered her a weekend-only job.

“I left Channel 4 because they didn’t want to have me any more as a full-time anchor,” Bruce said. “I always felt that was a financial reason, a salary reason.  I don’t know for sure.  But I don’t like to burn bridges.  I don’t worry about that.”

Tripp Frohlichstein, who was assistant news director during some of the time Bruce was at KMOX-TV, said he remembered her as “a hard working reporter.”

“She cultivated many sources and broke several stories,” Frohlichstein said in an email. “Even today, she represents a throwback to earlier reporting in that she continues to try to present all sides of an issue, no matter what she covers.”

Bruce moved to KTVI, Channel 2, initially doing some anchoring and reporting. In television journalism, women have always had to meet extra criteria relating to appearance and youth.  Bruce said there used to be a rule of thumb that when women turned 45, they couldn’t survive on TV news.

“Other than some of the very early national broadcasters who made a move from print to broadcast, there’s always been an expectation that women meet a different standard than men on the air,” Bruce said. “If I looked and had the weight of a Herb Humphries, if you remember Herb, was a Channel 4 reporter, I probably wouldn’t have the job.  (Humphries, a 300-pound man, died in 2003).  I do know that to me the more important thing was having a voice that was strong and clear and reasonably pleasant to listen to.”

In 1994, when she was 45, Channel 2 managers pulled her off the anchoring job.

“It had nothing to do with the quality of my work.  I decided I was going to hang in there.”

Over at Channel 5, Owens often found himself in competitive situations with Bruce since they often covered the same stories.

“I always knew when Betsey was around I was going to have to work hard to keep up,” Owens said. “She is a tough competitor.”

Bruce estimated that she has worked half of her career on the weekends, and that off and on, she held anchor posts for 16 years.  Owens said it was “incredible” that Bruce was still at it.

“If I was at her level, 45 years into a career, I don’t think I’d want to be working weekends,” Owens said. “I’d say, ‘find a kid to do this.’  She works what they give her.  I think that’s pretty impressive.”

When Betsey Barnette joined Channel 4 there were three newscasts: 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.  “It was a very relaxed schedule,” she said. “We worked afternoons and evenings.”

Things have changed.  The Channel 2 newsroom produces 13 1/2 hours of news for both KTVI and KPLR.

“It’s become a much more hectic, pressure-driven business even in the last 10 years,” Bruce said. “There is a lot of pressure to turn a 4 p.m. story for a dayside reporter now.  And you don’t get a photographer until 11 a.m. so you have a window of five hours often, not always, to get something put together and it cannot be as comprehensive as I like to do.  I have to admit, I’ve found that frustrating, but we are serving an audience with information and the real challenge is to be sure that you have covered it well enough that a. your accurate and b. you have the other side if there is another side to a story.”

Tom Heyse, a video photographer, worked many assignments with Bruce before he retired last year after 42 years.

“She is very thorough,” Heyse said. “She will dissect everything and look at both sides.  She never has felt entitled.  She’s worked for everything she’s gotten.  When her situation changed from anchoring to street reporting — a lot of talent really want to be anchors — she accepted that role and really did it well.  She’s a unique person in our industry who plugs along and does the job with no complaining.”

Some people in the news business can become calloused by the grind of daily events, but Heyse didn’t see that with Bruce.

“She didn’t look at it as a story that she had to get done for the day,” Heyse said. “She would get involved in a person’s life.  It wasn’t a put-on.  It was true stuff.”

In the four decades that Bruce has covered the news, the technology has constantly evolved.  When she began, 16-milimeter film documented events.  If a reporter was far away from the station, film was air-shipped, processed and edited.  Later, videotape replaced film, and microwave dishes mounted on satellite trucks sent signals to the station from a remote location.

Now the news can be recorded with digital cameras, edited on laptops and sent for broadcast with a special telephone, provided the reporter has a cellular signal.  Relaxed union rules now permit “backpack journalism” in which a single reporter carries the equipment, shoots the video, conducts the interviews and does the stand-up report.  Bruce managed to avoid that method.

“And I am fortunate because I had a ruptured disc last spring and had back surgery and so I’m glad I don’t have to carry that stuff around,” she said.  During her three months’ of recuperation, Bruce had time to think about what’s next.  Her husband is a semi-retired insurance broker.

Bruce said she has a basement full of files to go through as well as stacks of her grandfather’s papers that need to be archived.  She’d like to do some writing of her own, possibly about the switch from film to electronic news.

But for now, she’d like to keep doing what she’s doing.

“It would be really hard for me to skip what I have a front row seat for.”

Hard times for the Missouri Times

JEFFERSON CITY — Scott Faughn and two of his publications, the Missouri Times and SEMO Times, owe more $17,000 on overdue bills for state taxes and commercial printing, according to creditor lawsuits filed recently in Cole County Circuit Court.

Petitions, lawsuits and tax liens show $7,842 is owed to the state of Missouri for taxes, and $9,518 is owed to the Central Missouri Newspapers, Inc. for printing. Some of the unpaid bills go back to 2014.

The largest single bill, $5,304, is owed by the Missouri Times to the Missouri Department of Labor, Division of Employment Security for unpaid unemployment insurance taxes covering the period between April 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. The agency filed a certificate of assessment of contributions, interest and penalties with the court on Dec. 17, 2015.

“The certificate of assessment of contributions, interest, and penalties is an enforceable tax lien filed in circuit court for failure to file quarterly contribution and wage reports or pay state unemployment taxes when due,” said Lauren Schad, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor. “When payment is received, the Division of Employment Security will file a satisfaction and release of certificate with the court.”

Central Missouri Newspapers, Inc. is the commercial printing company of the Jefferson City News-Tribune. It filed two petitions on Jan. 21, seeking $4,518 for unpaid bills for production of the Missouri Times between May and October of last year, and $5,000 for unpaid printing bills for the SEMO Times between September and December, 2014. Both petitions name Faughn as the companies’ registered agent. A hearing is schedule for March 30.

Myra Long, comptroller of Central Missouri Newspapers, said Faughn has made some payments.

“He is working with us, but we haven’t wrapped things up officially with the court yet,” Long said. “We will notify the court if he pays up ahead of time.”

Central Missouri Newspapers no longer prints Faughn’s publications. “He’s found a different printer,” Long said.

The Missouri Department of Revenue has filed five separate tax liens totaling $2,538 against the Missouri Times for unpaid withholding taxes beginning in June 2014, and ending in June of last year.

“If they are not paid, the taxpayer receives at least four notices before a lien is filed,” said Michelle Gleba, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue. “When a lien is released, a release is filed with the recorder of deeds. When an administrative judgment is satisfied, a satisfaction is filed with the circuit court.”

A reporter attempted to interview Faughn about his companies’ money troubles. The Missouri Times is headquartered at 129 East High St. in Jefferson City. A reporter found Faughn there at the top of a two-story walkup, inside a darkened room resembling a lounge.

Faughn was standing behind a bar in the room with a laptop computer in front of him. Liquor bottles stood on shelves on the wall behind him. Black and white photos of politicians covered the other walls of the room.

Faughn declined a face-to-face interview. He said he would consider written questions sent by email. Questions were emailed March 17. Faughn acknowledged receiving them March 21, but said he could not respond until next week.

Faughn, the former mayor of Poplar Bluff, launched the Missouri Times in 2013 with former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton. Faughn was Jetton’s former campaign manager. Jetton has since severed ties with the operation.

In addition to Faughn, the Missouri Times has two employees who put out a weekly tabloid and posts state government information on an Internet web site. Faughn also hosts a weekly Sunday morning television show, This Week in Missouri Politics, on four stations.

Although some members of the Missouri Capitol News Association questioned the editorial independence of the Missouri Times last year, the press group has allocated office and parking spaces for the publication. In 2007, Faughn was convicted by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project.

Press move delayed

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate has delayed the implementation of a plan to move the press from the floor of the chamber to an upper gallery.

The Associated Press reported cost concerns led to the delay. Rushing to complete construction of a press section in the upper gallery during the upcoming legislative Spring break would have added $44,000 in overtime costs to the project’s estimate of $127,000. As it stands now, the move will be undertaken after legislative adjournment in mid-May.

At the beginning of this session, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to change its rule, effective March 29, removing the press from a 10-seat table on the Senate floor.

“Some of the press violated their code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators, and I will not stand for that so they will not be on the floor of the Senate anymore,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin. He did not elaborate.

Moving the press to the upper gallery will make it more difficult to cover the state Senate, reporters say. Getting pages of amendments will be more of a problem. And since reporters will be one floor above where the senators are located, it will be harder to grab someone to ask a question.

Reporters once covered the House from its floor but Democrats moved them to an upper gallery in the 1960s.

Journalism school wanted Click gone


COLUMBIA, Mo. — While the University of Missouri faculty appeared divided over the fate of Melissa Click, the majority of those within the renowned School of Journalism wanted her fired.

“I got emails from her side and a lot against her,” said UM Curator David Steelman in an interview. “The J-school people I heard from were unanimous. They wanted her gone. There was no hesitancy.”

Formerly a little-known communications professor, Internet videos have made Click infamous. They show her screaming at a photographer attempting to take videos of protesting students, and shouting an obscenity at a police officer trying to clear demonstrators from a Columbia street.

Steelman is one of four members of the Board of Curators that voted 4-2 to fire Click following an investigation. “Her actions in October and November are those that directly violate the core values of our university,” said Hank Foley, interim chancellor of the Columbia campus.

Click’s behavior and the official response to it have raised issues regarding the First Amendment, free speech, due process for faculty, and governance of the state’s largest and oldest public university. Click’s defenders say her actions are not much different from what the Board of Curators does to keep reporters at bay while deciding sensitive issues. And many faculty believe if Click’s conduct warranted scrutiny, it should have been handled by a faculty committee, not the Board of Curators.

But the controversy attached to Click is just one of the difficulties facing the four-campus system.

“There are a whole lot of problems out there in addition to Mizzou’s problems,” said Wayne Goode, a former member of the Board of Curators. The unsettled questions facing the university are substantial:

–The university needs a new system president to succeed President Tim Wolfe who abruptly resigned last November amidst turmoil on the Columbia campus. In the meantime, Mike Middleton is serving as interim president.

–The presidential search process could be affected by the fact that there are three vacancies on the nine-member Board of Curators. The Republican head of the state Senate has said Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, should not nominate any new curators this year, leaving it up to the next governor.

–The House has voted to cut $8.7 million from the UM System’s budget. The Columbia Daily Tribune has reported that new pledges and donations to the university fell $6 million in December, and anticipated enrollment may drop by 900 students, which roughly equates to a $20 million loss of tuition revenue.

While the university has less money coming in, it is spending more to rebuild its reputation. A reporter who recently visited the state capital found Middleton on the third floor, huddled with two of the university’s main legislative lobbyists, Martin Oetting and Stephen Knorr. Their job is to keep the university on good terms with the General Assembly.

Also involved in the meeting was Mark Schwartz, who works for Statehouse Strategies, the lobbying firm operated by Andy Blunt. Blunt is the son of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, and also the chairman of his father’s re-election campaign this year. The university is paying Andy Blunt $10,000 a month to help patch up the university’s relationship with lawmakers.

Click’s firing should help. Before the curators voted to oust her, 117 lawmakers had signed a letter calling for Click’s dismissal.


The curators suspended Click with pay on Jan. 27 and hired a law firm to investigate what happened on the campus beginning Nov. 9 when Click called for some “muscle” to prevent a videographer from recording the activities of student protesters. Earlier that day, Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin had resigned.

The report by the St. Louis-based firm of Bryan Cave found that economic, political and racial forces combined to create the Columbia campus tensions last fall. Graduate students who taught classes were told they couldn’t get health care coverage. African-American students protested during the Homecoming Parade Oct. 10, blocking Wolfe’s car and complaining about racial incidents that had taken place on campus. Later that month they criticized Wolfe for not engaging with them and finally called for his dismissal.

On Nov. 2, a graduate student named Jonathan Butler said he would go on a hunger strike until Wolfe was removed from office. Student protesters, calling themselves Concerned Student 1950, set up a tent camp on the Carnahan Quadrangle that night in support of the hunger strike. Four days later, Wolfe apologized for the unacceptable problem of racism at the university, and he apologized for not engaging with students during the Homecoming Parade protest. On Nov. 7, African American players on the football team announced they would boycott games and practices until Wolfe resigned, and the team’s head coach, Gary Pinkel, supported them. A day later, Wolfe said he hoped all sides could come together, but Butler criticized the statement.

The same day as Wolfe’s statement, a group of graduate students announced a two-day walkout, and faculty members said they would join it. According to the law firm’s investigation, hundreds of African-American alumni announced their support for the protests. Then, to the surprise of the Board of Curators, Wolfe resigned Nov. 9.

“Resigning in the way he did, the university was giving into the protesters,” Steelman said. “I take the protests seriously. It’s part of the college experience. I don’t belittle it. You just can’t give in.”

Goode thought Wolfe was a “very good president,” and had he been on the curators’ board he would have encouraged Wolfe to stay.

“That was a bad move for the university and for him personally,” Goode said. “All that has caused further deterioration of the reputation of the university. But he had good reasons for resigning. There was a real threat facing the campus.” In a letter sent later, Wolfe wrote that he feared the demonstrations could become violent not unlike what happened in Ferguson.

Loftin resigned, too. He had lost faculty support, the deans said they had “no confidence” in him and he had earned Wolfe’s personal animosity.


Melissa Click, 45, had been with the university’s communication’s department since 2003. Last fall, she was an assistant professor seeking tenure. Her husband, Richard Callahan, is a professor in the Religious Studies Department. Click also held a courtesy appointment in the School of Journalism, which meant she served on graduate committees of students seeking master’s and doctoral degrees.

The law firm’s investigation said Click was with her husband and children watching the Homecoming Parade, when about 11 African American students entered the street and blocked Wolfe’s car. According to the report, Click became frustrated by the crowd’s lack of sympathy with the protesters, and she joined the African American protesters in the street. According to the report, Click told the law firm’s investigators in an interview that she argued with a Columbia police officer as he tried to move students out of the street to get the parade moving again. The report also noted a Feb. 13 account in the Columbia Missourian that included police body camera footage of the incident in which Click is reportedly telling a police officer to “get your f—ing hands off me.”

The law firm’s report said Click called her experience that day a “life changing event.” After it, she led a group of faculty who signed a statement supporting the protesting students and condemning racist acts on campus. The report also said that through contacts of her husband’s, she was able to encourage a Los Angeles Times reporter to come to Columbia to cover the protest. The report said Click talked to the reporter, and that the reporter’s story later attributed to Click a statement that Wolfe’s car “bumped into a protester” during the parade.

The report also said Click worked with other members of the faculty in drafting a statement that called for a two-day walkout by faculty, which she posted to a Facebook page she had created called Concerned Faculty 1950. She acknowledged that she did not want to post it to her personal Facebook page because she was in the process of going through tenure review at that time, the report said.

On the morning that Wolfe announced his resignation, journalists converged on the Carnahan Quadrangle to interview and photograph the jubilant protesters. One of the journalists was Tim Tai, a photojournalist student from St. Louis, who was freelancing for ESPN. As Tai attempted to enter the tent city, three MU faculty members were shown either blocking him or interfering with his attempts to take photos. At one point, Tai said he had a First Amendment right to take photos on public property. But the protesters, led by Click, chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have got to go.” According to the report, Callahan raised his hands to block Tai’s camera lens. The report also said that Janna Basler, director of Greek Life, was among a group of people who formed a ring that pushed Tai back and away from the protesters.

Mark Schierbecker, a history and German student from the St. Louis County suburb of Rock Hill, recorded all of these events in a video that he later posted on You Tube. Accompanying the video, he wrote, “This is what civic-level censorship looks like at a university with the largest and oldest public college of journalism.”

As Basler and others were pushing Tai away, Schierbecker was able to get closer to the encamped protesters. As he approached Click with his camera, she yelled, “No, you need to get out, you need to get out.” Schierbecker replied, “No, I don’t.” At that point, according to the report, Click reached out and physically knocked Schierbecker’s camera ajar. She then walked towards a group of people and began to yell, “Hey who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” And then, pointing to Schierbecker, Click said, “I need some muscle over here, help me get him out, who’s gonna help me?”

When Schierbecker told her that he had a right to be in a public place, owned by the university, Click said, “I know. That’s a really good one, and I’m a communication faculty and I really get that argument, but you need to go, you need to go, you need to go.” The report said Click continued to block his camera with her hand while she was yelling at him.


If anything sets the University of Missouri-Columbia apart from other universities, it’s the Journalism School. The school’s reputation draws students from around the world, and the out-of-state tuition they pay goes a long way toward paying the university’s bills. What happened to Tai seemed like biting the hand that feeds you.

According to the report, when Schierbecker’s video went viral on You Tube and Facebook “all hell broke loose” at the Journalism School. Initially many believed Click was a member of the faculty by virtue of her courtesy appointment. Dean David Kurpius said Click’s actions were wrong and it was not her role to exclude the media and journalists from the area of protest. “Nobody should lay hands on a journalist as she did in reaching out and pushing Mark Schierbecker’s camera,” Kurpius said.

Brian Brooks, who retired as the school’s associate dean but who was still an adjunct member of the faculty, filed a harassment complaint with the school’s Title IX enforcement office based on what he saw on the video. Brooks later wrote a letter saying, Click’s actions “constituted a violation of the students’ civil rights because they had every right to be filming in a public place.”

The night of the incident, Mitchell McKinney, chair of the Communications Department, arrived home to find he had received more than 100 emails about Click’s conduct. According to the report, McKinney was not surprised. “She frequently gets upset and she can be loud in stating her opinions to faculty and students,” the report said. McKinney said he had no issue with Click being boisterous and vocal, but that he did not approve of physical intimidation and aggression. His personal reaction to the video was that Click had been wrong, and he put out a statement to that effect. McKinney later told investigators that Click and her allies believed that his statement amounted to throwing Click “under the bus.”

In the days that followed, Click, Basler and Callahan all apologized to Tai and Schierbecker. The Journalism School initiated a procedure to revoke Click’s courtesy appointment, but before that happened, she apologized to the school and resigned from that post. Basler was suspended with pay until January, and received a formal letter of reprimand from her department.

Schierbecker reported to campus police that Click had assaulted him. In January the Columbia city prosecutor charged her with third-degree assault. Under an agreement, if Click complies with community service and gets in no further trouble, no more criminal proceedings will be brought against her.

The university provost issued a formal letter of reprimand to Click. In response, she said she was sorry that her actions had negatively impacted the MU community but that she also believed the wording of the reprimand letter was “too harsh.” In December, about 100 members of the MU faculty signed a letter supporting Click. The Journalism School announced that Tim Tai had been selected as the recipient of the First Amendment Defender Award.


A Google search for “Melissa Click” generates an image of an angry woman, wearing glasses and shouting directly at the camera that has captured her at an emotional moment. Click hired a public relations firm to change how she appeared to the public, or at least put her actions into context. She agreed to be interviewed, and in mid February she wrote an op-ed column in the Columbia Daily Tribune under the headline: “Actions on Quadrangle Were Spontaneous, Instinctive and Regrettable.”

“I am deeply sorry for the mistakes I made that day and take full responsibility for my words and actions,” Click began. She described the tension percolating on the Carnahan Quadrangle and explained that “hateful and threatening incidents targeting black students” were on the minds of many people in the tent encampment. Click said she was predisposed to protect the encamped students from intruders.

“Unlike the numerous professional journalists I had met that day who introduced themselves with their names and affiliations, he (Schierbecker) introduced himself only as ‘media’,” Click wrote. “I felt concerned about why he was inside the circle when the majority of journalists respected the students’ requests for a few quiet moments.

“My regrettable call for ‘muscle’ was not a call for violence but instead a request for more experienced and taller members from the camp to come to my aid,” she added. “The temporary circle around the students was not intended to silence journalists or infringe on anyone’s rights, only to ask for a few moments of respect and courtesy while the students collected their thoughts.”

Click was given the chance to respond to the curators’ investigation. She said the videos needed to be viewed within the larger context. “While some would judge me by a short portion of videotape, I do not think that this is a fair way to evaluate these events,” she said.

But the videos and the law firm’s investigation were enough for the short-handed Board of Curators. When it issued the announcement that Click was fired, the board’s official statement said: “The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member. The circumstances surrounding Dr. Click’s behavior, both at a protest in October when she tried to interfere with police officers who were carrying out their duties, and at a rally in November, when she interfered with members of the media and students who were exercising their rights in a public space and called for intimidation against one of our students, we believe demands serious action.

“The board respects Dr. Click’s right to express her views and does not base this decision on her support for students engaged in protest or their views. However, Dr. Click was not entitled to interfere with the rights of others, to confront members of law enforcement or to encourage potential physical intimidation against a student.”

Click has appealed the decision to the board, essentially asking it for reconsideration of its decision.

Faculty discipline is not the curators’ regular job. In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when the appointed stewards of the university interfered in the business of reviewing faculty conduct. The university has a procedure contained in its Collected Rules and Regulations, which have been approved by the curators, and which provide that administrators and faculty committees handle complaints of faculty misconduct. Many who have come to Click’s defense believe her case should have been dealt with through this procedure, rather than the extraordinary method of suspension, investigation and dismissal by the board.

Many faculty members said the curators should have given campus administrators a chance to handle the situation with the rules that were in place. The curators’ firing of Click made it appear as though the curators were caving in to outside pressure, especially from the legislature.

“By flouting the Collected Rules and Regulations of the University, the Board of Curators has caused needless injury to the University of Missouri,” said a statement issued by the MU Faculty Council.

The American Association of University Professors complained that while the curators said Click could appeal their decision to the board, “it has not provided her with a hearing before a faculty body.”

Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, called on the board to rescind its termination notice and allow Click’s case to be handled according to the university’s rules.

John K. Wilson, an editor of Academe Magazine, which is published by the American Association of University Professors, wrote an opinion piece saying the action taken against Click was a violation of the First Amendment protections of academic freedom.

“The administration routinely keeps the media out of their spaces where they gather to plan strategies dealing with protesters, and a journalist who tried to enter their conference rooms would be quickly arrested,” Wilson wrote. “So why shouldn’t protesters have the same ‘safe spaces’ to privately discuss their plans?”

Wilson noted that Click has acknowledged she was wrong. “I can’t see how such a minor offense would deserve more than public criticism or perhaps a formal reprimand,” Wilson added.

“Let’s imagine that a campus police officer did the exact same actions that Click did, trying to prevent a student from recording the Board of Curators as they walked on campus. Does anyone imagine for a moment that these curators would impose a suspension of the campus cop? Or that prosecutors would file charges? Or that Republican legislators would demand the officer’s dismissal?”


In the field of higher education, competitors seem to be hoping to capitalize on MU’s misfortunes. One lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make it easier for Missouri State University in Springfield to offer engineering and doctoral degrees, which are now MU’s exclusive territory. Another has put in legislation making Lincoln University in Jefferson City the state’s “flagship campus.”

There was a time when the university could count on powerful friends in the Legislature to protect its flanks. At one time, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the chairman of the House Budget Committee were both from Columbia and made the university’s welfare a top priority. Those days are gone.

Now, one of the most vocal critics is Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Schaefer is seeking the Republican nomination for state attorney general. “Kurt has a new constituency and the constituency he is playing to is the statewide voters in the Republican primary,” said one former lawmaker.

Schaefer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Click’s firing is “a step in the right direction.”

According to Steelman, “legislators had lost faith in the university’s ability to govern itself.

“Whether people should be symbols or not, symbols run the world,” Steelman said. “Melissa Click became a symbol that all of the good the university does is being overshadowed. We can do some remarkable things in bio-med, engineering and plant sciences. It doesn’t change the fact that great people are doing great work.”

Goode, who served for many years as a lawmaker in the state House and state Senate, said the Melissa Click issue was just one example of how university problems can be perceived and misunderstood in the Legislature.

“There have always been those in the Legislature, and it’s true to some extent, that the faculty doesn’t work,” Goode said. “They teach a couple of classes a week, and that’s all they do. That point of view has been there a long time.

“But the majority of the faculty work hard, teaching and on research, but the legislators don’t understand that. The Legislature has always had trouble understanding that issue, and when something like this comes up, it’s an opportunity to pile on, and you see that happening.”

Press exiled to bleachers

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – In 1974, the Missouri Egg Producers Association put a hard-boiled egg on the desk of each member of the state Senate as a gift.

The morning the eggs appeared, before the session began, two senators played catch with one in the rear of the chamber. An egg smashed against a marble wall.

A St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter wrote an account of the incident, which appeared in the newspaper the next morning. One senator angered by the story walked to the Senate press table and smashed an egg down to let his feelings be known.

But the Senate did not throw the press out.

A few years later, when Sen. Nelson Tinnin, a Democrat from Hornersville, fell asleep in his chair, a United Press International reporter wrote a story about it. Tinnin was upset and kicked the reporter in the buttocks the next time the two were together. That prompted some wags to refer to Tinnin as “the booter from the Bootheel.”

But they did not throw the press off the Senate floor.

Last week it seemed that the Missouri senators’ patience with the public disclosure of their antics was exhausted. As the 2016 session began, the Republican-controlled Senate adopted a new rule: Effective March 29 reporters would no longer be able to witness what’s happening from a 10-seat table on the Senate floor. Instead, the press would be moved to a place in the upper gallery.

“Some of the press violated their code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators, and I will not stand for that so they will not be on the floor of the Senate anymore,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County, said she liked having the press close by.

“Anything they hear they’re entitled to tweet,” Schupp said. “This is a public spot.”

“Not necessarily,” Richard replied. “Not a private conversation between senators on debate and on issues, and I think that’s a violation.”

Richard did not elaborate as to what tweeted conversation caused the problem. A request to interview Richard for this story was referred to one of the Senate’s communications people, who said Richard was done talking about it and was too busy to be interviewed.

But the Associated Press reported that Richard’s predecessor, Tom Dempsey, was upset in 2014 because a reporter had sent out a twitter message disclosing that Dempsey had ordered the Senate’s presiding officer to restore order in the chamber. According to the AP, Dempsey’s chief of staff at the time said Dempsey had presumed his instructions were a private conversation. Dempsey, a Republican from St. Charles, resigned his seat last year to become a lobbyist.

Why had it taken so long, from 2014 until now, for the Senate to make this move? Some long time Senate observers said that since veterans like Virginia Young, chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bureau, and Bob Priddy, long-time news director of the Missourinet, had recently retired, there were fewer journalists steeped in tradition who would stand up to oppose the move. Since the new capital building opened in 1919, reporters have been covering the Senate from the table on the floor of the chamber.

Priddy, in a personal blogpost earlier this week, said moving the press amounted to “pettiness.”

“The Senate is doing nothing to keep members from getting text messages on their cell phones from lobbyists in the halls who often tell them how to answer questions or what their positions should be during discussions of bills,” Priddy wrote. “Reporters are not welcome physically in the Senate chamber. But the virtual presence of special interests gets a pass.”

Coverage Obstacle

Moving the reporters from the floor to the gallery is a lot like shifting from a box seat to the bleachers. You’re still able to see the game but you might miss interesting details.

Alex Stuckey, who covers the legislature for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the view of some senators’ desks may be obscured from the seats in the proposed new press section.

“I think it will make it more difficult to see who’s talking and that may make it more difficult to follow what’s going on,” Stuckey said.

Getting pages of amendments, which can come fast and furious during a Senate floor session, will be more of a problem. And since reporters will be one floor above where the senators are located, it will be harder to grab someone to ask a question.

Senators will like that. Many of them came over from the House, and that’s how it works there. Reporters once covered the House from its floor but Democrats moved them to an upper gallery in the 1960s.

The public couldn’t care less where reporters sit to cover Senate happenings. The senators know they won’t hear complaints from their constituents. But the Senate’s 26-4 vote to eject the press is the latest in a long series of developments limiting public contact with their elected representatives as well as the media’s opportunity to report on what they are doing.

Missouri’s open meetings law says: “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.” But that doesn’t prevent elected officials from erecting filters to screen what’s going on.

During budget negotiations between the House and Senate, when five members of one body horse trade with five from the other, the negotiating appears in the open. But people in the audience can’t hear what’s happening because all the lawmakers sit at a table and whisper to one another.

Senate committees hold open sessions. But more than once in recent years, chairmen have limited how television cameras may record the events.

Architects under lawmakers’ direction have played their role in limiting access to government officials. A few years ago, the Senate erected glass partitions around its chamber to keep the public at bay. People can come in only by invitation of the senators.

Attendance at Senate committee functions has been limited by the construction of smaller meeting rooms cutting down the numbers who can attend. The legislature now has fewer night committee meetings, meaning that if someone from a distance wants to come and comment on a bill, they have to take a day off of work to do so. As a result paid lobbyists provide most of the input on what’s being considered in Jefferson City.

When Priddy became news director of the Missourinet in 1975, senators were readily accessible, could be interviewed on the spot and were game to give answers. There were no hired spokesmen then to run interference.

Now the Senate has an elaborate communications operation with people hired year-round for a session that lasts five months. The majority Republican caucus has a communications director, Lauren Hieger, who is paid $67,500 annually. The minority Democratic contingent has a similar position occupied by Charles Hatcher, whose annual salary is $78,124. In addition, there are five “public information specialists” on the Senate payroll collecting a total of $177,610 per year.

At the beginning of this legislative session, Hieger sent a message to the capital press corps asking its members to wait before pestering them with questions.

“I have also had a request from many senators that they have some time upon adjournment before giving interviews,” Hieger wrote. “To help them with that request, I ask that if you have a specific senator you would like to interview to either let me, Charles Hatcher, or his or her staff member know.”

In his blog comment on Hieger’s message, Priddy wrote: “Who needs some partisan functionary to tell them a reporter wants to ask a question?”

Author’s note: Terry Ganey covered the Missouri Legislature for 35 years for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune.