Two Missouri labor professors have been vindicated after a right-wing smear campaign almost cost them their jobs. Last month, the website BigGovernment.com—run by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart—posted footage of a labor relations class taught by University of Missouri professors Judy Ancel and Don Giljum. In the video, the professors appeared to make a number of statements backing the use of violence in the struggle for labor rights. But it turned out the video was edited in a way to distort their words—similar to recent video campaigns against ACORN, Planned Parenthood, NPR and former FDA official, Shirley Sherrod. "I was just appalled, because I knew it was me speaking, but it wasn’t saying what I had said in class," said Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
AMY GOODMAN: Two Missouri labor professors have been vindicated after a right-wing smear campaign almost cost them their jobs. Last month, the website BigGovernment.com, run by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart, posted footage of a labor relations class taught jointly by Professor Judy Ancel of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Don Giljum of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The two classrooms interact with each other by video link. On the Big Government video, the professors make a number of statements appearing to back the use of violence in the struggle for labor rights.
This comment by Professor Ancel is presented on its own. Listen closely.
JUDY ANCEL: Violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s appropriate—the appropriate tactic.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that clip from the Big Government video has Ancel saying, quote, "Violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic." But what the video doesn’t show is that Professor Ancel was actually quoting a person interviewed in a film she had screened for the class. This is Professor Ancel’s actual statement, without the editing.
JUDY ANCEL: The one guy in the film, one of the guys who had been one of the young SNCC types, said—
STUDENT: The Invaders.
JUDY ANCEL: What?
STUDENT: The Invaders.
JUDY ANCEL: The Invaders, thank you.
STUDENT: That’s the name of the—
JUDY ANCEL: Yeah, right, right, right. Yeah, but he represented the kind of thinking that went into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and then later probably—well, coinciding with the Black Panthers, I’d say. You know, he said violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s appropriate—the appropriate tactic.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was the quote of Judy Ancel. As we talk about this issue of targeting, we’re going to turn right now to Professor Ancel and Professor Giljum, ultimately vindicated after the University of Missouri reviewed the full unedited tapes—but not before a vocal campaign from right-wing groups that called not just for the professors’ dismissal but the dissolution of the entire labor studies program itself.
The pressure was so intense that university officials accepted Giljum’s conditional offer to resign before reversing their position after reviewing the tapes. In a statement, the University of Missouri-St. Louis said, quote, "The excerpts that were made public...were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods... We sincerely regret the distress to [Don Giljum] and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing and distribution of the course videos."
The University of Missouri-Kansas City concurred, saying, quote, "It is clear that edited videos posted on the Internet depict statements from the instructors in an inaccurate and distorted manner by taking their statements out of context and reordering the sequence in which those statements were actually made so as to change their meaning."
The episode marks the latest in a series of right-wing efforts to target opponents by using undercover videos. The head of BigGovernment.com, Andrew Breitbart, is currently facing a lawsuit from former Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod was forced out of her job last year after Breitbart posted a video clip that was deceptively edited to make it appear that she was racist toward a white farmer. Breitbart is a vocal supporter of right-wing activist James O’Keefe, known for his undercover videos targeting NPR and the community group ACORN, as well as Planned Parenthood.
Well, Professor Judy Ancel is here now in our studio to discuss her ordeal and what it means for academic freedom, education privacy, and labor education. Judy Ancel is the director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Welcome to Democracy Now! So, explain everything that took place. This all happened in the last few weeks.
JUDY ANCEL: It started on April 25th, Amy. And I was informed that this video was up on Andrew Breitbart’s web page, Big Government. And I watched it, and I was just appalled, because I knew it was me speaking, but it wasn’t saying what I had said in class. I also knew that whoever took the videos, it was an inside job, because only students with a password had access to these videos. And so, I began to think, well, which one of my students would have done this and would have edited these tapes? We later did find that out. But immediately—
AMY GOODMAN: Who was it?
JUDY ANCEL: It was a student named Philip Christofanelli, who is a full-time student at Washington University.
AMY GOODMAN: In St. Louis, not your university.
JUDY ANCEL: In St. Louis, right, right. He was in the St. Louis part of the class. And as we came to find out later, he was a founder of an organization called Young Americans for Liberty and is affiliated with the Tea Party. And Philip, using his password, copied these videos and claimed on Breitbart’s web page that he just showed them to friends because he was so disturbed by what we were saying in class. Well, I think his friends include James O’Keefe, who is connected to Breitbart and insurgent—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, you think?
JUDY ANCEL: Well, O’Keefe has been seen on campus at events that were sponsored by Philip’s organization. So he frequently—and it’s clear he’s been on Dana Loesch’s program, which is a talk show. Dana is a commentator on CNN and a rising star.
AMY GOODMAN: And she has a radio talk show.
JUDY ANCEL: She does a radio talk show in St. Louis. And she had Philip on. She also had the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, Peter Kinder, on, who misquoted the misquoted videos on her radio show and called for us to be fired.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to that. The radio host, based in St. Louis, a Tea Party activist, Dana Loesch, who played a key role in the campaign against the two professors, after playing excerpts of the doctored video on her radio program, Loesch interviewed Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder.
LT. GOV. PETER KINDER: What would be the reaction from the mainstream media, lame stream media, if we had a Tea Party leader out there—
DANA LOESCH: Oh, right.
LT. GOV. PETER KINDER:—advocating violence—
DANA LOESCH: Right.
LT. GOV. PETER KINDER:—and preaching violence to impressionable young minds? They sit around matter-of-factly—you can hear this on the two videos that are up on BigGovernment.com., you can see it—matter-of-factly discussing violent overthrow of the capitalist order or the existing order, the workers taking to the streets and committing violent acts of industrial sabotage. And the speaker, Don Giljum, is the business agent for the International Operating Engineers Union that works at Ameren UE. This is a matter of grave seriousness.
DANA LOESCH: Well, and this is—and there are a lot of people that like to say, “Oh, well, this—you know, it was done in a—they were just talking about, you know, different—they were just learning, and it’s academic freedom, and, you know, it needs to be a"—that’s not what they were doing. You had people—
LT. GOV. PETER KINDER: That is not what they were doing.
DANA LOESCH:—who were giving their personal experiences engaging in this stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Dana Loesch. I don’t know if she’s actually a Tea Party activist. Is she, Judy Ancel?
JUDY ANCEL: I don’t know for sure if she is, but—
AMY GOODMAN: But she was interviewing Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder. Can you respond to what they said?
JUDY ANCEL: Yeah. Well, first off, of course, we never were teaching violence in our classroom, nor sabotage. We were talking about the violence in labor history, which is extreme in the U.S., and we were talking about the fact that, in many situations, there is violence, and it’s mostly directed at workers. Sometimes it comes from—it came from workers. We were very clear that we do not advocate violence. These folks were putting words in our mouth, and they have a political agenda, for sure.
The timing of these attacks is very important, because Peter Kinder was on her show because Peter Kinder was promoting an anti-labor agenda and an anti-public worker agenda. This coincided with the last two weeks of the Missouri state legislature, where they were considering right-to-work bills, a so-called "paycheck protection" bill, as well as cuts on the political voice of public employees in the state of Missouri. I don’t believe it was an accident that they timed these attacks to coincide with that.
AMY GOODMAN: Later in the interview—and my colleagues tell me that Dana Loesch is the St. Louis Tea Party co-founder, the radio talk show host in St. Louis—Loesch invokes the possibility that the video could have been edited to distort the professors’ statements, a possibility both she and Lieutenant Governor Kinder dismiss.
DANA LOESCH: The only way that any of this, sir, would be—that they could take this out of context is if, at the very end of all of this, at the very end of all their statements and their discussion and telling their students that, “Oh yeah, we left a screwdriver by, you know, whatever just to kind of scare people, and we followed them around. We showed up at this baseball game, where they were," as if, at the very end of it, they said, "Not!" and then that was cut off, though, in the editing.
LT. GOV. PETER KINDER: Yeah. Yeah, so it might be some kind of Saturday Night Live skit. Well, we should be so lucky. I wish it were.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, the Missouri Lieutenant Governor Kinder. Judy Ancel?
JUDY ANCEL: We did talk about examples where workers were denied the right to strike and what happens. We talk about labor rights in the class. We talk about the importance of negotiating, of coming to the table and having a meeting of the minds. All of that was left out of the edited videos. They very selectively picked those things which could be interpreted as promoting violence.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn, Judy Ancel, to your colleague, your co-professor in the class, Don Giljum. This is how the BigGovernment.com video presented his comments.
DON GILJUM: I think if you look at labor’s history over the years, you’ll find that, you know, we’ve had a very violent history, with violent protests in certain instances, strategically played out, and for certain purposes that industrial sabotage doesn’t have its place. I think it certainly does. But as far as—you know, I can’t really honestly say that I’ve never wished or have never been in a position where I hadn’t wished real harm on somebody or inflicted any pain and suffering on some people that—
STUDENT: We’re all human.
DON GILJUM:—you know, didn’t ask for it. But, you know, it certainly has its place.
AMY GOODMAN: That clip has two key distortions: removing parts where Giljum speaks critically of violence—it’s spliced in the middle to remove a key phrase—and it also omits what Giljum says at the very end. This is that closing passage that the video omits.
DON GILJUM: It certainly makes you feel a hell of a lot better sometimes. But beyond that, I’m not sure that, as a tactic today, the type of violence or reaction to the violence we had back then would be called for here. I think it would do more harm than good.
AMY GOODMAN: Don Giljum. That was Don Giljum. Judy Ancel, explain what he’s saying for those who are having a little trouble understanding. And we should explain that this class you teach is done through the school’s video interconnect.
JUDY ANCEL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: So some students in each class are watching the—you know, you were in Kansas City, and he’s in St. Louis.
JUDY ANCEL: Right. We had a total of about 22 students, and they are all listening to the lectures and reacting. It was a class that had a tremendous amount of discussion, a lot of questions from the students, talking about all kinds of strategies, tactics, history, law, labor rights, those kinds of things. So, what Don was talking about was that violence, again, was something that is a very important part of our history, something we need to understand and we cannot omit. But again, he was talking about it historically, and that’s distorted. He’s paid a huge price for this.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Don Giljum?
JUDY ANCEL: Well, two days after the story went up on Breitbart’s web page, Don’s international union president of the Operating Engineers called him and demanded his resignation as business manager. He’d been business manager for 27 years of a very important local in eastern Missouri, western Illinois. And he resigned. He had planned on retiring anyway on May 1st, but he resigned a few days earlier. And that really hurt. Luckily, his members have rallied to his side and opposed that action, but it’s done.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few minutes. Talk about these students and what this means, what this pushback was all about. The fact is, you now have your job, and Don Giljum has been sent a letter from the chancellor?
JUDY ANCEL: Of St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, telling him—
AMY GOODMAN: Because he was forced—
JUDY ANCEL: He was forced to resign, yeah. And that was reversed, and they have vindicated Don, as you said, and he was told that he will be rehired. He’s an adjunct. And this raises the whole question of the rights of contingent faculty, who teach now a majority of the courses in our universities. How can they have academic freedom when they’re subject to these kinds of attacks? They need to be supported by their universities.
AMY GOODMAN: What did the students do?
JUDY ANCEL: The students, our students organized. They set up an email list. They started bombarding the universities with support letters for us, denying that we were teaching violence—they gave us a number of statements—and also decrying the fact that their images were put up on Breitbart’s page, a violation of their privacy, possible violation of federal law, and that they were exposed. One of my students said, "My boss watches Fox. He can recognize me. I don’t want to be fired for this." And one of my students said, “Look, we need the freedom and the privacy to talk about these issues, even inflammatory issues, in the classroom. That’s how we learn. And if that space is violated, that really takes away our right to an education.”
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like this would have been different a year ago, the outcome?
JUDY ANCEL: Absolutely, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: That you would have been out, that Don would have been out?
JUDY ANCEL: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: What changed?
JUDY ANCEL: I think we would have been toast. What changed is Shirley Sherrod and the attacks on NPR, the attacks on ACORN, and the fact that the media is now getting wise to Breitbart’s lies. And so, they held off, for the most part. There were some bad stories, one in the St. Louis Post that was not very favorable, and one in a Columbia, Missouri, paper.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you exploring legal recourse?
JUDY ANCEL: Yeah, I am. I am. But the fact is that most of the media waited for my response and then my university’s response, which took three days to come, and then we got the headlines, not Breitbart. That was a huge change, and I really appreciate that.
AMY GOODMAN: Judy Ancel, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the Institute for Labor Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City.