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Reporter ‘shocked’ after Nebraska governor fires her for being ‘from Communist China’

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A Chinese journalist speaks out, weeks after Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen rejected her story about his business, Pillen Family Farms, because “the author is from communist China.”

Yanqi Xu, 27, a Chinese immigrant and reporter for the independent newspaper Flatwater Free Press, told NBC News that Pillen’s comments constituted a form of “bias.” Pillen, a Republican, made the remarks on Omaha radio station KFAB in September, after he was asked to respond to his article revealing high nitrate levels on his hog farms.

“Number 1, I haven’t read it. And I won’t,” Pillen said on air about Xu’s article. “Number 2, all you have to do is look at the author. The author comes from communist China. What more do you need to know?

Yanqi Xu.Courtesy of Yanqi Xu

This week – with Xu’s blessing and after consulting with immigration lawyers to ensure his visa status would not be jeopardized – Matt Wynn, executive director of the Nebraska Journalism Trust, which launched Flatwater Free Press, published a column in his defense.

“Yanqi has been in the United States since 2017. … This, she said, is the first time someone has written her off because of her origin. And this was broadcast live by the Governor of Nebraska,” Wynn wrote. “As an employer, this infuriates me. As a supporter of democracy and a free press, this saddens me. As a Nebraskan, this embarrasses me.

Pillen’s office did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Xu, who said she was grateful that her employer supported her, added that Pillen’s words potentially fit into a narrative of “othering of people of Chinese descent.”

“I’m still trying to figure this out,” she said. “I can definitely see the bias there.”

Although she needed time to digest the comments, she said that as a journalist, she wanted to speak out to hold the governor accountable.

“I think it’s important to express yourself and it can be really, really difficult at first because in a way it puts you at the center of the story,” Xu said. “Especially as a woman of color, if the other person who made a comment like that about you is the most powerful person in the state, how do you respond? But I think for me, I found myself coming back to this point: If I don’t do it, who will? »

The Asian American Journalists Association also released a statement supporting Xu on Wednesday.

“The Asian American Journalists Association stands with Yanqi Xu, the Flatwater Free Press reporter who was the target of remarks aimed at dismissing her reporting because of her country of origin,” the statement said. “Having an independent and diverse press is essential to democracy, and Xu, an investigative journalist who grew up in China, deserves to do her work without being judged because of her nationality. »

Xu said that on the day of the radio interview, she was in the field, working on other reports about Pillen’s pig farms. When she returned to the newsroom the next day, her editor informed her of the governor’s interview. At first, she hoped Pillen would respond to the content of her article, explaining that her past attempts to get a response had been unsuccessful.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, wow, he’s finally responding,’” Xu said. “But I didn’t expect his only real comment to be about who I am and where I come from. So I was quite shocked.

Xu said she has not encountered any such biased comments in her two years of existence. as a journalist working in Nebraska.

“I don’t think your country of origin defines you,” Xu said. “When I interact with people, Nebraskans are actually quite welcoming. And in many ways, I felt like I had a community here.

His organization’s column, Xu said, sent a critical message to the community.

“I think it’s also very important that other Chinese Americans or other Chinese immigrants understand that our editorial team thinks it’s not fair for the governor to say something like that,” Xu said .

Wynn also told NBC News that he was in disbelief after hearing Pillen’s comments, but added that he was proud to defend journalism and journalists.

“Once we knew she was legally safe, there was no doubt we had to respond,” he said.

Since the radio interview, Xu said she has received an outpouring of support from her peers and others.

“I have already heard so many positive comments and responses, just from today. And I think that would definitely keep me going,” she said.

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