A protest held outside WBUR at Boston University Friday morning called for the media house to apologize for publishing a commentary piece that, according to the protestors, depicted them as “guilty of racist intimidation and hate crimes.”
The piece was published following protests outside Mayor Michelle Wu’s home over vaccine and mask mandates currently in place in the city of Boston.
In the piece, WBUR contributor Colette Phillips wrote that the language used during the protests was hateful and misogynistic, noting one protestor’s sign described the mayor as a “communist c—,” as reported in a Dec. 23 Boston Globe article.
“It should not be legal to go to private homes and terrorize and traumatize elected officials and their families,” Phillips wrote.
In response, We The People of MA, a group that regularly participates in protests outside Wu’s home, called the piece a “racist attack on protesters” and called for WBUR to retract the article and for its chairman to issue an apology.
“It’s libel,” said Catherine Vitale, chairperson at We The People of MA. “We mailed a certified letter to the chairman of WBUR, Paul Gannon, and demanded from him a public apology and a retraction.”
Protesters took the streets outside WBUR holding signs depicting messages such as “WBUR/NPR/WULiars” and “WBUR LIES AND SMEARS AND PROPAGANDA FOR TYRANT WU/WE WANT FREEDOM.”
One protester repeatedly chanted “You’re not a dog. Take off the muzzle,” over a megaphone at masked people walking down the street. Another chanted “Wu is a bad person,” in Mandarin.
According to Deputy Chief Robert Molloy, BUDP officers had to remove protesters from a building, one which he noted was privately owned by Boston University.
Vitale said officers likely escorted them out of the building because none of them were wearing face masks at the time, noting that such actions were common practice for their members. Vitale added that, since WBUR, a member of NPR, received federal funding, they should be allowed to enter.
“The public can walk in. They have no actual grounds to make us leave,” Vitale said. “If a public accommodation establishment tries to kick somebody out for not wearing a mask, they are breaking the law. They are discriminating against us.”
As part of its COVID-19 policies, BU requires indoor masks to be worn in all University buildings.
We The People of MA published its own press release Feb. 10 in response to the commentary piece. In it, the group denounced Phillips’ characterization of them and WBUR’s failure to disclose Phillips’ relationship with the Wu administration at the time of publishing.
“Taxpayer funded WBUR failed to disclose the Collette Phillips public relations practice has political clients, and that Phillips has been paid by Mayor Wu campaigns in the past,” the press release reads.
WBUR later added an editor’s note to the commentary piece stating that Phillips’ consulting firm was awarded a contract “in a competitive open bid process” by the city of Boston to create an “All Inclusive Campaign” in 2020 — a campaign still ongoing under the Wu administration.
A Tufts student, who requested anonymity, said he joined the group and attended the protest because he believes in people’s “freedom to decide what they put in their bodies.”
Emily Puglisi, a sophomore in the College of Communications, said several BUPD officers gathered near the entrance of the Center for English Language & Orientation Programs building, one block East from WBUR, holding the door open for students going to class.
“It was scary, and I think they were just really intimidating,” they said. “There was definitely a disturbance to the BU community… It was very disruptive and it probably made a lot of students feel unsafe or uncomfortable.”
WBUR did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor-in-Chief Jean Paul Azzopardi contributed to the reporting of this article.