Amelia Knisely, the Tennessean reporter whose March 8 story titled “Racist incidents are occurring in Williamson schools,” was discredited by the subsequent Tennessee Star article on March 15, “Williamson County Parent of Sunset Middle School Student Says Alleged ‘Racist Incident’ at School Claimed by Tennessean Never Happened,” went on a self described “rage tweet” on Monday morning about the two stories.
“A thread of Monday rage: I don’t normally feel inclined to respond to @tnstar “reporting,” but a story has come out discrediting my story about the racist ‘wall incident’ at Sunset Middle,” Knisely, who “Prior to moving to Tennessee, Amelia was a television reporter and producer in West Virginia. She holds a master’s degree from Marshall University,” according to her Tennessean bio, tweeted.
Her bio also notes that, “She previously served as editor of The Contributor in Nashville, and she has written extensively on poverty and homelessness.”
At the end of her “rage tweets,” Knisely apologized for directing her tweets to @tnstar, rather then the Twitter account of The Tennessee Star, which is @TheTNStar.
“Ah, yes, sorry @tnstar as you are not the @TheTNStar. Never rage tweet before coffee, y’all,” Knisely tweeted.
Between those two tweets, Knisely added a number of additional “rage tweets.”
“I am not here to defend my story because I stand by my reporting (and so do my editors). However, I find it disgusting that this same reporter published a story allowing anonymous sources to say that incident never happened,” tweeted.
On a roll during her “rage tweet,” Knisely continued.
“Did he talk to parents of color? Did he hear a mother who was upset because her child was the target of racism? It’s sickening that this is passed off as real journalism,” she tweeted.
Then, in the most ironic tweet of all, coming from a recently arrived reporter for the biased and left-wing Tennessean, Knisely tweeted this:
“Now a Facebook group of concerned Williamson parents are citing his article as factual. The biggest threat to journalism is reporters who bill flimsy pieces with no hidden bias as reporting.” (emphasis added)
At issue are these serious problems with Knisely’s March 11 story in The Tennessean, as The Tennessee Star reported on March 15:
A Sunset Middle School parent familiar with details of what The Tennessean alleged last Friday was a “racist incident” that occurred on January 18 at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood told The Tennessee Star in an exclusive interview on Thursday, “The alleged incident at the school did not happen.”
“That was a lesson in the classroom about the Irish settlers. The lesson was how people locked arms to block the Irish settlers. That is where that all came from, and it has been grossly exaggerated into this story where students locked arms to block minority students. There was no Trump wall being built. There was no students arm-in-arm blocking any other students. None of that happened,” the parent told The Star.
The parent, who confirmed they have a child who currently attends Sunset Middle School, contacted The Star by email on Thursday and offered to talk anonymously about the allegation, as well as the current environment at Sunset Middle School.
This parent, our first source for this story, portrays a situation where media accounts of alleged racism at the school are a gross mischaracterization.
Another person familiar with the alleged January 18 “racist incident,” a second source for this story, confirms the account of our first source. The second source told The Star the incident was “nothing more than a misunderstanding of play.”
In an earlier story, The Star pointed out that the only two on-the-record witnesses cited in Knisely’s March 8 story were not eyewitnesses and clearly had an agenda:
The Tennessean published a story Friday which claimed “racist incidents are occurring in Williamson Schools.”
The story made specific reference to only one such incident, however, and apparently relied on the word of just two parents to verify that it occurred.
Those parents — Revida Rahman and Inetta Gaines— are both members of the district’s cultural competency council, which “was formed last year by WCS superintendent Mike Looney after parents expressed concerns about field trips to plantations,” according to The Tennessean, which also reported that the incident occured in January at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood when some students at the school allegedly “linked arms in between classes, forming a human chain, and then barred non-white students from passing.”
“The students likened it to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall,” the paper reported, adding:
Rahman and Gaines, both African-American, verified that the wall incident happened at Sunset Middle, along with a number of regularly occurring inappropriate incidents: use of the N-word on school buses, history lessons that glorify slavery and insensitive field trips on the state’s history with slavery.
Gaines, however, according to the Brentwood Homepage, has no children attending Sunset Middle.
“I don’t have a student at Sunset Middle, but I have friends that have students there,” Gaines told The Brentwood Homepage.
The Tennessean quoted Gaines complaining of “racial insensitivity” in the district now and 20 years ago while on a field trip with her son that she said glorified a Confederate soldier.
The cultural competency council Gaines reportedly serves on, “meets with School Superintendent Mike Looney to discuss, among other things, diversity training for faculty and the disproportionate rate of discipline for black students.”
You can see a screenshot of the complete “rage tweet” by Knisely that began at 8:21 am Monday morning here.
In her Monday morning “rage tweet,” The Tennessean’s Knisely said the Tennessee Star reporter who contacted her “was rude.”
“After my story published, a TN Star reporter called me and AGGRESSIVELY demanded that I give up my sources. He was rude, and wanted me to give him contact information for people I interviewed. I told him that he could, like me, leave his office and find sources in Williamson,” Knisely tweeted.
But The Star’s Chris Butler, who spoke on the phone with Knisely that Friday afternoon, disputes her characterization of their phone conversation.
My recollection of the phone call with The Tennessean reporter is that I was professional and courteous as I always am.
On the phone, she was as professional as I was.
I called her and left a voicemail and asked for a return call, not at all expecting she would grant me one.
When she did call back, I asked her about the article she wrote for the Williamson County School System, in which she asserted racial incidents were happening within the school system, particularly at Sunset Middle School. I politely asked her what evidence she had to back that up. She didn’t have a lot of evidence, other than the word of two parents.
She told me she spoke with multiple parents for the past two weeks, but she added that these parents spoke to her off the record. At that point, she asked me if I am planning to put our conversation in an article in The Tennessee Star. I told her I was.
As for the alleged racial incident at Sunset Middle School, she told me that white students intentionally blocked black students and other minorities from coming back in from recess.
I then quoted the Brentwood Homepage, which said one of the parents, Inetta Gaines, does not even have a child at the school. She told me that Gaines, though, does have a grandchild in the school district.
She asked me not to include that detail in any story that I do — and I honored that request, until now, because, to my mind, her incorrect characterization of our phone conversation now permits me to do so.
I then asked her why she cited Gaines as the ultimate authority that racial incidents were taking place in the school district — instead of Carol Birdsong, the spokeswoman for the Williamson County School System.
The reporter said that the school did not provide answers to her questions to verify that the incident happened, despite her asking multiple times.
I asked again — politely — what makes Gaines the final authority on what happened at Sunset Middle?
She told me that is for me to decide in my own reporting.
She told me the other parent she quoted DOES have a child who attends Sunset Middle.
She said the reason she quoted both of them to verify it happened was so that Rahnan (parent No. 2) was not singled out.
She then went on to say it is very difficult to find minorities to speak on the record in Williamson County because they fear retaliation.
I then asked her about the other racial incidents to which she referred in her article. She said “I do not want to share that with you.”
She told me to go to Williamson County to talk to parents to find out about these incidents.
And so I did.
I told her I appreciated her time.
I reiterated everything I heard in our conversation to make sure I heard her correctly. She said I heard her correctly.
She said she was personally invited by multiple parents to attend the closed meeting with Looney…even thought the district said it was a closed meeting.
“Later, she emailed me and asked that I not quote her at all in the story. Again, I honored that request,” Butler added.
“Now, however, given her false characterization of our phone conversation, I am free to reveal that information,” he concluded.
While Ms. Knisely touts her reporting skills and Williamson County sources in her “rage tweet,” she was unable to uncover, or The Tennessean refused to allow any reporting about, the video series developed and shown to Williamson County teachers focused on so-called “white privilege” and racist agendas in Williamson County schools.
Not only did The Tennessean fail to discover the existence of the videos and the source of them, they have also refused to report that the in service curriculum and planning has apparently not been approved by the State Department of Education as required by Tennessee law. Tennessee Star Freedom of Information Act requests have revealed the secret “modules” that Williamson County Schools Superintendent Michael Looney authorized and which he claims were produced by his “team”.
Knisely also failed to discover the planned program that at least 20 Williamson County teachers were scheduled to attend with the extremist liberal Southern Policy Law Center until The Tennessee Star exposed it and Looney suddenly cancelled their attendance and participation.