Portland State University’s campus newspaper, The Vanguard, has fired an editor following his coverage of an interfaith conference. The paper accused journalist Andy Ngo of endangering a student’s life after he tweeted out a video of the panel, which featured the Muslim student saying that apostasy and atheism must be punishable by death.
Writing for National Review, the former multimedia editor of the campus paper explained how he was fired for unofficially covering the event, which included speakers from Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian and atheist backgrounds.
The unnamed Muslim student speaker took a question from the audience, who asked him if the religion permitted killing atheists and apostates for their religious views. The panelist responded in the affirmative, stating that under “Quranic law,” being a non-believer is considered criminal in countries that impose it.
He added: “So in that case, you are given the liberty to leave the country. I am not going to sugarcoat it. So if you go to a different country…but in a Muslim country, a country based on Quranic law, disbelieving or being an infidel, is not allowed, so you will be given the choice.”
In other words, apostates and atheists can either choose to leave or suffer the consequences where such strict interpretations of the law are imposed.
— Andy C. Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) April 27, 2017
Ngo posted an extended clip of the exchange shortly after, to provide full context for the discussion. Regardless, The Vanguard claims the video is being shared “widely out of context.”
Describing it as a “misunderstanding gone viral,” the campus paper repudiated Ngo for sharing the video and blamed his tweets for becoming a topic of discussion on “right-leaning media outlets.” Breitbart published coverage of the event with Ngo’s tweets several days before The Vanguard covered it, apparently as a response to the dust it kicked up.
The Vanguard says that the Muslim student “had a feeling he may have misspoke,” and that he was now “concerned for his safety and for how the misinterpretation and misrepresentation could affect his family and community.”
Benjamin Ramey, a secular humanist who represented the Freethinkers of PSU at the panel, disagrees with The Vanguard’s assessment.
“As one of the panelists present at this event I would like to say that this speech is not taken out of context,” Ramey said on Twitter.
PSU Assistant Professor of Philosophy Peter Boghossian weighed in on the conversation and said: ““The same people who want to punch ‘Nazis’ are completely silent when it comes to certain people advocating mass murder.”
In National Review, Ngo says that The Vanguard editor-in-chief Colleen Leary called him into a meeting with managing editor Tim Sullivan, and newspaper advisor Reaz Mahmood. The team admonished him for sharing the unedited video clip on social media.
Despite never sharing the Muslim panelist’s name, he was fired for supposedly “endangering” the student’s life with a report that inconvenienced the student paper. Ngo writes:
My editor [Leary], whom I deeply respected at the time, called me “predatory” and “reckless,” telling me I had put the life and well-being of the Muslim student and his family at risk. She said that my tweets implied the student advocated the killing of atheists. Another person [Mahmood] in the meeting said I should have taken into account the plight of victimized groups in the “current political climate.” The editor claimed I had “violated the paper’s ethical standards” by not “minimizing harm” toward the speaker.
The Vanguard’s coverage of the event and the ensuing fallout states that the paper is “committed to minimizing harm,” and abiding by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, as if Ngo had personally violated them by sharing unedited footage of the panel exchange. It calls the event’s coverage on “markedly biased media outlets” a “type of dangerous misrepresentation.”
Ironically, The Vanguard’s efforts to censure Ngo to preserve a narrative is precisely everything the SPJ’s Code of Ethics is designed to safeguard against.
I asked Andy Ngo what he thought whether Mahmood intended for him to censor himself with the comment on taking the plight of victimized groups “in the current political climate” into account. Ngo says:
“As you know, those who work in media never use the word ‘censor’ even if that is what they mean in practice. The media adviser said I should have known better than to share the video of the Muslim panelist since I attended a mandatory training session on social justice in the media.
At the training, we were taught to always consider which groups of people are ‘privileged’ and which are ‘oppressed’ in our work as leaders of student media. Non-Christians were defined as targets of oppression.
I transgressed by treating the Muslim panelist the same way I’ve treated others in my multimedia tweets.”
Given the outcome of Ngo’s coverage of the panel, I asked him what he thought of the enforcement of “acceptable narratives” in the media, and its effects on journalism.
“The perpetuation of ‘acceptable narratives’ in journalism weakens media as a whole,” Ngo says. “It is a media sickness that affects all political slants and biases. It gives too much power to the few decision-makers at the top to determine what truths people can or should know.”
“It’s no secret that the American public are highly distrustful of news media,” he added. “An unfortunate outcome is that many are turning to only social media instead, where disinformation runs rampant. It’s time we start valuing truth and accuracy over ideology and narrative.”