Letter to the editor: KCRG-TV9 should try and make things right after the Jeff Klinzman antifa controversy

Kirkwood’s Iowa City campus. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

By Jessica Haight-Angelo

I am writing to protest the forced resignation of adjunct instructor Jeff Klinzman from Kirkwood Community College, as a direct result of an article published Aug. 22, 2019 by KCRG-TV9 (“Kirkwood Professor: ‘I Affirm That I Am Antifa’.”) The Gazette has since published several letters to the editor and guest columns on the topic, with several local and national publications, including Little Village, following suit.

At the very least, the original article, written by KCRG-TV9 Chief Investigative Reporter Josh Scheinblum, is an irresponsible piece of reporting, one seemingly designed to paint Klinzman, a compassionate educator, animal lover and collector of vinyl records, in a negative light. While Scheinblum does not disclose from whence his investigative Spidey senses were first tantalized by Klinzman’s lukewarm social media editorializing, one can speculate that Klinzman’s own public Facebook posts, as well as publicly accessible posts on the Iowa Antifa Facebook page and others of its like, plus a slow news week and some gratuitous ax-grinding, provided much of the ammunition.

Even so, Scheinblum’s write-up is not worthy of the handful of years he has spent investigating things for KCRG-TV9, Hartford, CT’s News 8 or CBS News in D.C. Consider Scheinblum’s description of Klinzman as a supporter of the “militant leftist group called ‘Antifa,'” which he describes bleakly as “a group that has been behind several violent protests nationwide,” whose members are largely “focused on physically fighting far-right and white supremacist groups.” While Scheinblum makes the barest attempt at “fair and balanced” reporting by countering his own trumped-up claims with a note from Jason Blazakis, “a former Director for U.S. State Department specializing in counter-terrorism,” that the antifa (anti-fascist) movement is “not like other extremist groups as [it has] no hierarchy and no clear command structure,” the detail is buried deep within an article that appears designed to primarily play up the notion that anyone with the vaguest association with anti-fascist beliefs or attitudes is a domestic terrorist. Exhibit A: Consider how Scheinblum notes much earlier on that President Trump is currently “threatening to designate [antifa] as a domestic terrorist organization.”

I myself am a former Midwest transplant (I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and currently reside on the East Coast) who lived in Iowa for about a decade. Jeff Klinzman was one of my coworkers at Kirkwood Community College for a significant portion of those years. While character testimony has its limits in discourse such as this, Jeff’s passion for local politics and activism has never set off any warning bells for me for as long as I’ve known him.

At worst, he maybe played it a little fast and loose with both his Facebook security settings and voicing his frustration over the knowledge that his fellow local countrymen and women were contributing to what he saw as harmful discourse about largely conservative policy-making. Perhaps responding to low-hanging fruit, such as President Trump’s own designation of the antifa movement as a group of “Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting … people over the heads with baseball bats,” with, “Yeah, I know who I’d clock with a bat…”, via a public space — with archiving capabilities, no less — was in poor taste on Klinzman’s behalf. On the other hand, he is hardly the first person along any point on the American political spectrum for whom hot topics such as religion and/or politics has not led to social-media venting. It is worth pointing out that Cedar Rapids attorney, Sara Riley, is also quoted in Scheinblum’s article as noting that Klinzman’s alleged threats of online violence are “so ambiguous that there is just no way that he’d ever be considered a true threat.”

I propose that Scheinblum found an easy target in Klinzman, and used his own position to publish an “Iowa nice” version of a personal and professional smear campaign against Klinzman via KCRG-TV9, upon which all he had to do was sit back and wait for the bland outrage he stirred up to reach local and, eventually, nationwide ears. (Fox News picked up the “story” on Aug. 23, and then gleefully joined Scheinblum and others in reporting on Aug. 28 that Klinzman, the now-infamous “‘I am Antifa’ professor who posted [his] desire to hit Trump with [a] bat,” had resigned from his decade-long stint at Kirkwood.)

Since then, Fox News mouthpiece Tomi Lahren also gave Klinzman a shout-out on her show, Fox Nation, saying that Klinzman is only one of many educators allegedly hiding out in “academic institutions around the country,” where they apparently harbor “far-left, violent, Trump-Derangement” fantasies. Even so, even Lahren is able to admit that Scheinblum’s reporting is “quite sensational.”

In the end, I believe Scheinblum’s back-and-forth with Klinzman in the public sphere led ill-meaning internet warriors to take matters into their own, unsurprisingly incapable and uninformed hands. It is worth noting that criticism of Klinzman did not reach Kirkwood’s radar until the school was anonymously contacted by a couple of persons who, while they did not make their affiliation or goals clear, were also likely the impetus for Klinzman having a 2012 Facebook post reported to the site due to its “violent” rhetoric, and then deleted in the same span of time.

The post in question included a link to a Rolling Stone article, “One Town’s War on Gay Teens,” about right-wing figurehead Michele Bachmann’s homophobic home district, wherein, author Sabrina Rubin Erdely writes, “evangelicals” [Christians] “have created an extreme anti-gay climate,” leading to “a rash of suicides.”

Once more, Scheinblum does not connect Klinzman’s Facebook editorializing with any sort of proper context, though he is very adept at pulling out choice soundbites to encourage conservative Iowans to break out their pitchforks, including Klinzman’s “desire to ‘stop evangelical Christians'” due to what they “are doing to this count[r]y and its people,” which, Klinzman unfortunately noted in writing, “fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge.”

Caveat: Scheinblum makes a minimal effort to point out that Klinzman’s interest in “‘Kill[ing] them all and bury[ing] them deep in the ground'” is, in fact, a quotation from a poem by Soviet journalist Ilya Ehrenburg, whose work often criticized the fascist policies of Joseph Stalin, among other points of anti-fascist interest. Again, Klinzman’s choice to quote that particular aspect of that specific poem is his own, though I once again acknowledge my own personal experiences alongside Klinzman at work, as well as attorney Sara Riley’s summation of the overall debacle to protest the notion that said quotation is a means to a violent end for Klinzman. In addition, while Scheinblum notes that the antifa movement, in spite of its lack of overarching leadership, has been “linked … to more than 200 incidents worldwide,” he begrudgingly adds that “None of the incidents listed in the [University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database] have happened in the United States.”

Meanwhile, according to ABC News, as of Sept. 3, there have been “19 deadly mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2019” alone, none of which have been attributed to the antifa movement. Once more, I invite Scheinblum to find more productive uses for his investigative experience and local media platform than forcing a community college instructor to resign from a job he loved because he said a couple of mildly tactless things on Facebook.

I would hope that KCRG-TV9 and Scheinblum might consider working to correct the negative consequences of the erroneous and harmful reporting on Klinzman’s alleged political rabble-rousing, including reaching out to Kirkwood Community College regarding considering the reinstatement of Klinzman as an instructor. One of Iowa’s greatest strengths is its laissez-faire acceptance of people from all walks of life and political bents alike; just as Klinzman would likely appreciate the reinstatement of his main source of employment and income so that he can continue to pursue his personal interests, keep a roof over his own head, and also continue working hard to compassionately challenge the minds of the by now countless students with whom he has worked at Kirkwood over the past decade, so too would Scheinblum probably rest better and more thoroughly enjoy and dedicate himself to his own interests — which, according to his own public Facebook posts, seem to include running a funny podcast with a family member; cheering for local sports teams; and cooking up choice slabs of meat — if his conscience could be relieved of the debt it has accrued as a result of his harmful reporting. Thus, I encourage him to do the right thing — that is, to reach out to Klinzman across the political spectrum and offer a much-needed olive branch.

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