College NPR reporter fired for displeasing local politicians and threatening school funding.

National NPR staff stands with the reporter.

A college NPR station has fired one of its journalists, Jacqui Helbert, for violating journalistic ethics guidelines. Helbert’s article quoted one Republican lawmaker as “calling [the] transgender identity ‘all hogwash;’ comparing it to someone saying, ‘I might feel like a dog.’ ”

The article also quoted another lawmaker as being against a proposed transgender bathroom bill—suggesting he may not be as conservative as he otherwise claims.

The article was removed from the university’s website.

At a regular meeting with university officials, three Republican legislators expressed their concerns with the reporter’s “journalistic ethics,” and the reporter received a termination letter from George Heddleston, the “senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications,” who has little if any professional experience in journalism.

Helbert is accused of violating ethics requiring that journalists properly identify themselves:

However, that’s a guideline against trying to hide or disguise oneself, which Helbert wasn’t doing. Even though Helbert violated NPR’s strict guidelines on identification, it was at most a minor violation of the rules (and not unethical journalism).

Activist Samantha Boucher noted, “I was personally at the Legislative Event, and Jacqui plainly was easily identifiable as a journalist from NPR & WUTC.” According to Boucher, “she was wearing a VERY large ‘WUTC NPR’ bag, press credentials with a lanyard, a 22″ microphone with a fuzzy cover, professional grade headphones and a large digital recorder on a strap.”

Despite stating, “I made the decision, strictly based on journalistic ethics violations, nothing else,” Heddleston also accused Helbert of misquoting the lawmakers in order to “fit her story.” An investigation by the Nashville Scene found this to be untrue.

National NPR staff supported the journalist and expressed concern that using this minor violation to fire the journalist “did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction.” They also noted that removing the story “is a breach of the standard practice by NPR and other credible news organizations.”

The threat of reduced funding for the university is not imagined. In 2016, one of the three Republican lawmakers attending the aforementioned “regular” University meeting, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, sponsored a bill that “stripped $436,000 in funding for UT Knoxville’s office for diversity and inclusion in after lawmakers were offended by a student run ‘Sex week’ and suggestions for gender-neutral pronouns.” Truth Out continues:

Although that bill violated this principle that universities should make the policies, many higher education officials were grateful for Gardenhire’s compromise that limited the damage to one year and I’ve ordered the money to minority scholarships.

Helbert has filed a lawsuit against the university requesting one million dollars in damages.

By: Jeff Epstein
Edited by: Ben Szioli

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