Center for Health Journalism supports Yanqi Xu, condemns Pillen’s xenophobic remarks

October 18, 2023

The USC Center for Health Journalism strongly condemns the xenophobic and racist remarks recently made by Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen against Yanqi Xu of the Flatwater Free Press.

Xu, a 2022 National Fellow at the Center for Health Journalism, has reported extensively on high nitrate levels in Nebraska’s water supply as part of her award-winning collaboration with the Center, and last month published an in-depth story on nitrate pollution on hog farms tied to Pillen and his family.

Asked about the story days after it ran, Pillen told an Omaha radio station:

“Number one, I didn’t read it. And I won’t,” Pillen said. “Number two, all you got to do is look at the author. The author is from communist China. What more do you need to know?”

“We are deeply disappointed by Pillen’s decision to employ racist rhetoric in response to Xu’s critical coverage,” said Center for Health Journalism Director Michelle Levander. “We reaffirm our support for Xu’s rigorous, fact-based journalism on the state’s nitrate problem. She deserves to have her work acknowledged without discrimination and judgment.”

Originally from Guangzhou, China, Xu graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism with a master’s degree. She has worked at NC Policy Watch and reported on public policy at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.  While working for the Investigative Reporting Workshop, Xu was part of a team that developed the Public Accountability Project, a newsroom search tool that hosts more than 1 billion public records. She later joined the Nebraskan nonprofit newsroom Flatwater Free Press as a reporter, and is currently pursuing a second master’s degree, in analytics.

Given the concerning rise in anti-Asian racial prejudice in recent years, the USC Center for Health Journalism continues to call upon newsrooms and media outlets to support Asian and Asian American journalists, and remains dedicated to supporting the work and careers of a diverse field of journalists through our own programs.