Andy Ngo is a University of California, Los Angeles alumnus. He is a graduate student at Portland State and a freelance journalist. Shortly before this audio interview, he made a recording of a student speaking on Islam at “Unpacking Misconceptions” at Portland State University. Based on his reporting, he was fired by the Portland State University student newspaper, the Vanguard. He wrote an op-ed in the National Review about it. The Vanguard wrote a response to it after this audio interview. He can be reached through Twitter. Here is his recounting of the event and aftermath.
*This audio interview edited for clarity and readability.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Can you give us an overview of recent events that have landed you in some trouble, and what happened to you as a consequence?
Andy Ngo: On April 26th, I attended a public interfaith panel event at my university. The event was organised by students as well as administrators.
I worked as a section editor for the student newspaper called the Vanguard. I attended the event, not on assignment however. It was purely out of interest out of what was going to be shared.
For most of the event, it was very uncontroversial, as students presented on their religious worldviews. They also tried to clarify on some misconceptions that they think the media perpetuates. What was interesting to me was during the question and answer part of the event, where somebody in the audience asked the Muslim student about a verse from the Quran, and whether if the Quran permitted the killing of “infidels.”
I shared the video of his answer and some text summarising what he said on my personal social media accounts. In the video, he says that disbelieving – being an infidel – is not allowed when a country is run exclusively under Islamic law. He said that people who disbelieve have the choice to leave the country or to face punishment for their crime. The punishment was never made explicitly clear in the actual answer seen in the video clip but in the context of the question he was answering, he was referring to a punishment of death.
That night, after I tweeted out the video, I sent it to the editor-in-chief, and also the reporter from the Vanguard that was on assignment covering the event. I sent it to both of them because it was an interesting part of the event and I thought it would be relevant for them to include in the report that they were working on. Neither one expressed concern or outrage at the video tweet.
Four days later, I was called into an emergency meeting with the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, and also a staff advisor for the student media. It was in that meeting that I was informed that I was fired because of what I had shared on my social media. The editor in chief described me as predatory, reckless. Those were the adjectives she used. She believed that I intentionally targeted another student on campus. She thought that the paper needed to be supportive of him, to protect him, which meant firing me.
They also brought up history they had of me, referring to my affiliations with conservative media in the past. I once did an interview about protests on campus for Conservative Review for their online news report. I’ve also written, at that point, one news contribution to The College Fix.
They talked about the reputation and perception of the paper as another reason why they needed to fire me.
Jacobsen: So they used your history to attack your character rather than target the actual claims and recording that was reported.
Ngo: Yes, that’s right. In the meeting, they did say that because I stood strongly by the accuracy of my tweets. What I really wanted to know was were my tweets really accurate or not and if in their independent investigation, did they find the tweets inaccurate? They were very wishy-washy on this. They said, yes, sort, of, by virtue of “taking things out of context.”
I was trying to ask them what was the context that was omitted that completely changed the meanings of the videos I shared that included this person speaking in his own words? I wasn’t given a clear answer on that. They said I should have included that the panellists “weren’t experts.”
The day after I was fired, they published their report of the event. There was a long editor’s note detailing that I was no longer with the organisation. It had my picture and name in it. The context that they added in did not reflect an incongruence with anything I originally tweeted. I was very puzzled when I read the report because much of the report goes on to summarise what was on the video. The meaning didn’t change.
Jacobsen: Do think this was a politically motivated firing?
Ngo: That’s an angle or a dimension to the firing that wasn’t explicitly clear in the original meeting. In my opinion, the paper had been facing a lot of pressure from student activists for a while based on a lot of reporting that I have done as well as what they think my personal political beliefs are.
I do not know if there were external pressures on the paper or the editor-in-chief. I don’t have evidence of how that ultimately could factored into their decision-making in firing me. It is something I think about, but it is just conjecture on my part if I was to speak more on it.
Jacobsen: Has there been a history of political bias with the Vanguard at all?
Ngo: I think for the most part the newspaper, especially the news section, tries to be politically neutral, or at least make an effort for balance in their writing. But because it is a student publication, the publication also reflects the ethos of the office as made up by its editorial team of students that changes quite frequently. I was one of the longest serving editors by being there for over a year.
Typically, they have a fast turnover rate term-by-term. And with some of the changes that happened, recently things changed a lot in the office. I don’t know if that played a role in this decision. But based on my own experience of being in the office, the political views just reflect the majority view on campus. This meant it was often hostile to nuance on conservative perspectives, I would say.
Jacobsen: Do you know the official statistics of the ratio between conservative and liberal views, as a simplified view?
Ngo: I don’t know the ratio for that at Portland State.
Jacobsen: Do you think that the student body as well as the faculty – and you don’t have to answer this question – lean more heavily to the political Left rather than the political Centre or the political Right?
Ngo: In my time at Portland State, my analysis would be that the political culture on campus is very similar to other large universities all across the country. And that means it leans heavily Left or Far-Left in its student body as well as faculty. However, as we’ve seen after the last presidential campaign, and then the results of the elections, it has caused people to become even more reactionary – politically reactionary – and very intolerant of free speech, nuance and ideological diversity.
My firing doesn’t affect a lot of things outside of my small Portland State community. However, I think the bigger topics that connects to my firing does have implications for what is happening all over the country. Mainly, the subjects of free speech, journalistic practices, as well as the discourse on religious fundamentalism.
 The Portland State University Muslim speaker’s response at “Unpacking Misconceptions” on April 26th, 2017, transcribed from Ngo’s recording:
And some, this, that you’re referring to, killing non-Muslims, that [to be a non-believer]is only considered a crime when the country’s law, the country is based on Koranic law — that means there is no other law than the Koran. In that case, you’re given the liberty to leave the country, you can go in a different country, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. So you can go in a different country, but in a Muslim country, in a country based on the Koranic laws, disbelieving, or being an infidel, is not allowed so you will be given the choice [to leave].
Ngo, A. (2017, May 12). Fired for Reporting the Truth. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/447563/free-speech-islam-portland-state-vanguard-editor-fired-tweets.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.