In response to ‘Fired for reporting the truth’

On May 12, National Review published a piece written by former Vanguard Multimedia Editor Andy Ngo entitled “Fired for reporting the truth.” Ngo describes events surrounding the Vanguard’s decision to remove him from his position as editor after tweeting a video clip from an April 26 interfaith event at Portland State.

The Vanguard editorial team initially opted not to further report on or address this topic, as we transparently outlined the events and ethics guiding the decision regarding Ngo in our initial coverage. Now, as Ngo’s recent piece on the matter has placed the Vanguard under significant scrutiny resulting in unjust threats and false assumptions, it has become necessary to address this misrepresentation.

Below is the response from Vanguard Editor-in-Chief, Colleen Leary.

The Vanguard has never fired anyone for reporting the truth.

Ngo’s piece published by the National Review and subsequent coverage in College Fix and others are inaccurate. Despite recent missteps, Ngo has previously produced accurate, quality journalism that includes full context, accurate quotes and nuanced investigation. It’s unfortunate he’s chosen to portray these events in such a way. My hope remains that he utilizes the tools and foundations he possesses to return to the high quality journalistic work he is more than capable of producing.

The Vanguard has published well-constructed pieces from Ngo that responsibly and ethically take a critical look at human rights violations carried out in the name of religious law. We do not shy away from uncomfortable issues for the sake of political correctness, and Ngo is well aware of this. We do reject irresponsible and hasty oversimplifications of “truth.”

As evidenced by previous pieces published by the Vanguard, the subject matter of the video Ngo shared is not the cause for his dismissal. The further sharing of the tweets by Breitbart and other media outlets is also not grounds for dismissal, as this is common practice for media outlets and often out of the control of original reporters.

The problem was that he initially shared the quote as a stand alone clip that summarized the speaker’s point to say, “Apostates will be killed or banished in an Islamic State.” This seemed straightforward and simple enough, and, from an ethical standpoint, was a dangerous oversimplification that violated very clear ethics outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists.

The speaker did not say the words used to caption the video when it was shared. Only later, after being prompted, did Ngo provide further clips showing follow-up dialogue that describe the history of Muslims and non-Muslims living peacefully throughout history with an emphasis on innocent lives.

There was no attempt to clarify directly with the speaker the intent of his words in the video, which were explanatory and in response to a question. Given the way the clip was shared without necessary context, this was interpreted, shared and touted as endorsement of murder or banishment of apostates, while no such endorsement existed at the interfaith event or later when the Vanguard spoke to the student panelist. The student speaker was criticized and threatened without the opportunity to clarify from his own perspective.

Ngo did, in fact, send me the initial tweet and video from his personal social media account four days before the meeting he describes. I understand why he could land on the assumption that I and others on the team only took issue with it once picked up by Breitbart. This is something he could have queried me about directly.

In reality, I did not watch the video he sent until it had already been more widely shared out of context. It is typical of Ngo to attend events of this nature and to share on social media. As he had been a member of our editorial staff for over a year and had engaged in several ongoing conversations regarding ethics, conduct on social media and more, I did not have cause for alarm about this particular clip. I engage in training and dialogue with my staff about how to effectively utilize their social media accounts. I trust the people on my team to make sound ethical judgments, and therefore do not police or micromanage their personal accounts. My direct oversight is focused on content published by the Vanguard specifically. Unfortunately, this video was something that should have caught my immediate attention.

I regret not reviewing it sooner, as perhaps then we might have somehow prevented this ethical misstep from being further shared with an audience that is more interested in perpetuating a particular narrative and inciting reactions than actually reporting truth.

Several quotes attributed to me in Ngo’s National Review piece are inaccurate. If they had been presented as paraphrases, perhaps this would be less problematic, but they are included as direct quotes. Maybe this is a poor choice made by the editorial staff, as Ngo’s editing and journalistic experience is solid enough that I’d expect him to avoid inaccurate quotes like these.

I’ll point out only two of the issues that arise from these misquotes:
To say that I referred to Ngo as predatory and reckless is a regrettable misinterpretation. His actions, in this specific incident, can be described as such. I did not and would not make such a statement about him or his overall person. I hope he understands that a lapse in judgment need not define his entire journalistic career or personhood.

The decision to remove Ngo from his position was not an attempt to rectify the reputation of the Vanguard—words I also did not use. My concern then was as it remains now: for the safety and well-being of a student whose words were publicized in an irresponsible manner by someone I am confident knows the implications of doing so.

I am disheartened by the continued lack of acknowledgement or concern for the careless oversimplification of the panelist’s comments and the potential danger in which he placed a student in his own community. A person’s religious identity or otherwise should never be a factor in whether or not we report full, ethical truths within the necessary context.

I am further disheartened by this recent misrepresentation of the events surrounding his exit from the Vanguard. He has made a choice to portray people he knows personally and has worked with at length as politically biased and afraid to address uncomfortable topics. Ngo is aware of the full truth that, for the second time in this case, he did not report.

Ngo has portrayed his removal from the Vanguard as a reaction to a single event, one he has not regarded as a mistake, but simply “reporting the truth.” The decision to remove him from his position was the result of ongoing breaches in trust and actions that were counterintuitive to the mission and editorial expectations at the Vanguard.

The Vanguard has never removed a team member from a position for making one mistake. When mistakes occur, they are addressed as learning opportunities. We engage in discussion of and training on ethics and responsible journalism. This is how the Vanguard approached issues leading up to the event in question. We will continue to allow mistakes and judgmental oversights to be opportunities to learn and grow, while upholding the standards of ethical journalism that guide the organization.

Ngo can draw from personal experience to confidently expect me and others at the Vanguard to continue to offer him the professionalism and respect we’ve extended him throughout and after his time working with the Vanguard. He was not and will not be treated unfairly.

The incident in question is disappointing for me as someone who worked closely with Ngo to instill ethical foundations of journalism, and as someone who continues to respect and support the well-balanced work he produced on a variety of complex and difficult topics while working with our publication. As a leader and colleague, I hope an experience like this will result in learning and growth, not serve to vindicate or validate a misleading narrative.