An award-winning news director and co-anchor in Nebraska was recently fired from her job after her bosses discovered she had advocated for a pro-life initiative at a her own church.
Earlier this month, Melanie Standiford of Curtis, Nebraska, was fired from her job at NBC affiliate KNOP-TV, a gig she had enjoyed for five years, after executives at parent company Gray Television learned that she had helped collect signatures at St. John’s Lutheran Church and one other church in the hopes of making the small town of Curtis a "sanctuary city for the unborn."
The ballot initiative in Curtis is part of a larger network of similar initiatives circulating in six small Nebraska towns — Arnold, Brady, Curtis, Hershey, Paxton, and Wallace — to create a larger safe haven for unborn babies and pregnant women in the western area of the state. The initiatives are largely symbolic, as the closest abortion clinic is hundreds of miles away in Denver. However, if they pass, they will make a statement that these small towns — which have a total population of just over 3,500 people — are an abortion-free zone.
The Curtis initiative would allow for lawsuits against any medical professional who knowingly performs an abortion within the town limits or against those "aiding or abetting" a pregnant woman in procuring an abortion by, for instance, driving her to a distant clinic. Transmitting abortion-inducing drugs through the mail is already illegal in Nebraska.
Standiford, a 50-year-old mother of nine, said she has always been pro-life about abortion. "It’s just right versus wrong in my mind," she said, though she also admitted that abortion has not always been one of her "soapbox issues."
However, her pro-life position became publicly known when an article about the pro-life petitions was published in the Flatwater Free Press. The reporter of the article, Natalia Alamdari, called Standiford and asked whether a journalist ought to gather signatures for a pro-life petition. Standiford replied, "You’re probably right. I probably, maybe shouldn’t have even done that. But who knew it would be an issue?"
But Standiford said that she expressed her pro-life beliefs in detail to Alamdari, but that Alamdari isolated one comment — which Standiford thought was off the record — to "attack" her.
"The article was an attack, an attack directly on me," Standiford said.
"I told [Alamdari], 'This is in the privacy of my church. This is something that I did, acting as a Christian, in the privacy of my church,'" Standiford continued.
The day after the Alamdari piece was published, Standiford was fired.
When her boss came in and reportedly informed her that she had been terminated for "practicing partisan politics," Standiford recalled that she responded, "I didn’t think I was being political with that in my home church, sitting in the pews in my church."
KNOP general manager Shannon Booth confirmed Standiford's dismissal.
"Our long-standing company policy encourages civic involvement among our employees, so long as such activities do not give the appearance of interfering with journalistic impartiality," Booth said in a statement. "In furtherance of that qualification, KNOP’s news personnel are not permitted, at any time and regardless of beliefs, to actively engage in any political activity for any candidate, party, or ballot initiative."
Standiford said she had never heard of that policy and refused to sign her termination letter, thereby forfeiting a $4,000 severance payment. However, she said that she has no regrets about walking away from the money since doing so meant walking away from a non-disclosure agreement as well.
After years of practicing journalistic neutrality, Standiford said she now feels free to express her views openly and become more overtly political. And she has. She has already been appointed to be county chair of the Frontier County GOP, and she also confirmed that she would "absolutely" consider running for public office.
"In a heartbeat," she said.