Rae'Lee Klein is out of a job as station manager at Arizona State University's student-run Blaze Radio after offending Black Lives Matter supporters last month with a tweet.
The saga began on August 29, when Klein, who was in her second year as station manager, posted on her personal Twitter account about Jacob Blake, a Wisconsin man who'd recently been shot in the back by police in front of his son.
"Always more to the story, folks," Klein had tweeted about Blake, linking a New York Post story detailing a sexual assault allegation against Blake and how he had shown up at the home of the alleged rape victim before police shot him. "Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted."
The comments caused strong reactions, coming after months of social unrest following the killing in Minnesota of George Floyd by police. Anti-police-brutality demonstrations followed Blake's shooting, leading to a chaotic night in which a 17-year-old shot two protesters dead, possibly in self-defense.
It was soon apparent that Klein had lost the support of the Blaze's six-member board, which voted to remove her from her paid position. The pressure against Klein to resign resulted in both local and national media attention.
Yet to critics of her critics, Klein's plight has become another symbol of "cancel culture." A local political consultant recently published an article supporting her in the National Review. Arizona Republic columnist Abe Kwok warned in a recent column that firing Klein would make her a sort of martyr to the conservative set.
But the board didn't hire Klein and didn't have the power to fire her — only ASU did.
Klein steadfastly refused to resign her position after the board's vote, saying she'd done nothing wrong. In response, the board took all student programming off the air, leaving only music in its place.
More than two weeks went by with no resolution from ASU or Blaze Radio. As the right-wing Campus Reform site reported today, Klein then received a letter from Cronkite's interim dean, Kristin Gilger, informing her that she only had three choices. She could be reassigned to another student worker position, take a board position in which she'd be required to work on diversity issues, or start her own station.
"After long consideration about the situation, I am declining to willingly step down from my position as Station Manager," Klein wrote back to Gilger. "I truly believe I did nothing wrong that is worthy of removal. No one has communicated to me any law, written standard, or rule I violated with my actions. I shared a factual argument, and although I shared an opinion, that I was disgusted by the sexual assault of a woman, I have done nothing more erroneous than my peers.
"I was told to tweet as part of my assignment at Cronkite News, and as a student, am learning how to do so to standard. The issue remains, many students at the school don't know what that standard is. I stand by the belief I am being treated unfairly, and the school and faculty advisers have failed to protect me and my rights as a student and individual," she wrote.
Gilger replied that "staying on as station manager is not an option. You have three options... Which of these do you prefer?"
Klein told Phoenix New Times today that she's been besieged by interview requests, and hasn't decided if she would take any of ASU's three options.
"I honestly don't know at this time," she said.
ASU and the Cronkite school would not verify that its leaders made any decision about Klein.
"There is no update or new statement from the dean regarding Blaze radio," said Karen Bordeleau, a Cronkite spokesperson.
However, after that comment by Bordeleau, Jay Thorne, ASU's assistant vice president of media relations & strategic communications, told New Times that Klein had not been "fired." He said he would get approval to share Dean Gilger's letter to Klein, but later said that could not happen. ASU plans to release a statement later this evening; New Times will update this article if that happens.
Klein told New Times that ASU removed her as station manager, but that she is still drawing a paycheck from ASU and has been told she could select another assignment. She said she's not sure if she'll take another position after what ASU put her through; she told ASU she'd talk about it, if they gave her a legal reason for removing her.
"I'm not surprised" by ASU's decision, Klein said, adding that at least, "everyone will kind of get over it, for now."
Jordan Spurgeon, an ASU student and one of the six board members who voted to oust Klein, said Gilger told the board that Klein will no longer be station manager. He pointed out that students employed by ASU are in temporary positions and can be removed at any time for any cause.
The new semester's roster of programming, like talk shows and music sessions, will begin Monday, September 28. The boycott on the 30-plus shows would have continued if Klein had stayed on station manager, Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon denied that the board had censored Klein or even that its actions were directly over her tweet. The problem was that Klein caused a massive "loss of faith" of a large portion of Blaze Radio's membership. When that happened, she was no longer "fit to lead," he said.
"I think we did a good job listening to other people," including those in multi-cultural organizations, he said. "With the steps we've taken, we do feel that Blaze as a whole can continue pushing forward."
The station has diverse programming, and some Blaze Radio journalists support Klein, Spurgeon noted, adding that no one would stop them if they want to bring Klein on their shows to have her talk about the issue. Spurgeon described himself as a political "moderate" and reiterated that the board didn't "silence" Klein, from their point of view.
"This was not easy," he said.
There has been no shortage of tweet-driven scandals this summer at the Cronkite School.
In June, a woman hired to be the next Cronkite dean tweeted in support of police and was subsequently outed by students at Loyola University, where she previously worked, for alleged anti-Black behavior.
And just this afternoon, ASU's student-run newspaper, The State Press, announced it was canceling the columns of student Alexia Isais because of "a series of tweets," which apparently contained negative references to police following today's attempted shooting of two state troopers. (The tweets have since been deleted.) Isais is an avowed Marxist and Communist who serves on ASU's Undergraduate Student Government’s Senate. Her tweets of "Death to America" were the subject of a July article in the conservative website Campus Reform.
"We value the right to free speech and constructive dialogue, especially within the opinion section," the State Press tweeted in a statement just before 4 p.m. today, "however we do not stand for the dehumanization of an entire group of people nor the advocacy for them to be harmed or killed."
That tweet was itself immediately criticized by the Hispanic political group MECHA De ASU, who support Isais.
"We stand in solidarity with Alexia," MECHA De ASU wrote. "Cops aren't a class of people and you are trampling on her freedom of speech. This decision should [be] reversed and the editors fired."
Isais, reached just after this article was published, said she felt her firing was another "silencing attempt." She said her tweets expressed happiness that a cop was in danger, which she believes is a feeling validated by the acts of police brutality that seem to happen regularly. After the State Press editor and some of her peers suggested she delete the tweets, she deleted them. But she stands by her overall anti-police stance, she said, even if she "didn't have to put it necessarily the way I did."
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She added that Klein's tweet is egregious and Klein deserves to be fired for it. She feels betrayed by the State Press, she said, which hired her for her strong opinions in the first place.
"They want to silence people like me, they want to silence people of color," Isais said.
Update: Late Thursday night, ASU released the following statement:
”Contrary to what she has said or has been reported, student Rae'Lee Klein has not been fired or removed from the position of station manager. Any actions that are unfolding are not punishment for a tweet. I have been clear with Rae’Lee that she would not be removed as station manager of Blaze Radio, a student internet radio station, because of the views she expressed. She remains a student employee of Arizona State University and from our perspective, this is an ongoing situation. We have presented Rae’Lee with numerous ways to resolve the situation that take into account the needs of all students involved in the Blaze Radio organization.”