Nebraska governor faces backlash for comments on reporter’s nationality

Oct 18, 2023, 9:17 AM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen is facing backlash after comments he made about the Chinese nationality of a reporter whose story cited environmental concerns at farms owned by the governor.

Flatwater Free Press reporter Yanqi Xu wrote a story in September revealing that 16 of Pillen’s farms recorded nitrate levels at least five times higher than what is considered safe to drink. Consuming high levels of nitrate has been linked to health problems such as thyroid disease, birth defects and cancer, according to the report.

Pillen, a Republican, was asked on a radio show days later about the story.

“No. 1, I didn’t read it. And I won’t,” Pillen said. “No. 2, all you got to do is look at the author. The author is from communist China. What more do you need to know?”

In a column posted Tuesday, Flatwater Free Press Executive Director Matt Wynn wrote that the governor’s comments infuriated him as an employer and saddened him as a believer in democracy and a free press.

“As a Nebraskan, it embarrasses me,” Wynn wrote.

An email message left Wednesday with Pillen’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Xu grew up in China but has lived in the U.S. since 2017. She has worked for the Flatwater Free Press, an independent, nonprofit news organization based in Omaha, for two years.

Several journalists were among those who criticized Pillen on social media for his comments.

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Nebraska governor faces backlash for comments on reporter’s nationality