American University Professor Attacks Student Paper for Asking About Her Mid-Class Breastfeeding

American University professor Adrienne Pine is nastily attacking The Eagle campus newspaper for its efforts to report upon a recent class session in which Pine breastfed her baby in front of students while lecturing.

The 30-second gist, as described by Inside Higher Ed: “[H]er baby woke with a fever on the first day of Pine’s course, ‘Sex, Gender, Culture.’  Pine couldn’t take her baby to child care because of the fever, and didn’t want to cancel class or turn it over to a teaching assistant on the first day.  So she opted to take the baby to class. . . . At one point, Pine said, her daughter became restless and– without stopping the lecture– she breastfed her.”

Eagle reporter Heather Mongilio soon after rightly began reporting on the incident.  It’s not hard to see the newsworthy angles here.  It centers on an act that is rare in a university classroom, especially involving a professor, in front of students, mid-lecture.  Students were apparently beginning to talk about it across campus.  And it has the potential to be linked to larger discussions on child care issues, classroom decorum, family-friendly workplaces, lactivism, and more general notions of gender and mother’s rights.

Pine responded to Mongilio’s initial email inquiry kindly enough, confirming, “I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students.  I merely had a sick baby who I couldn’t leave at daycare on the first day of class.”  Mongilio then followed up like any good reporter with an attempt at an in-person chat, in this case grabbing Pine after one of her classes had wrapped.

After that chat, by her own admission, Pine grew “increasingly incensed at the entire premise of the ‘story.'”  She wrote Mongilio an email straightforwardly pleading with her, “Please do not publish this story.”  She “notified [her] colleagues and dean that we were all possibly about to be drawn into a pointless story centered around my breasts.”  And she subsequently decided to beat the Eagle to the punch.  She published a long-winded rant about the entire saga on CounterPunch.

Pine’s essay is eye-opening for the vitriol it spews toward the Eagle for, gasp, having the gall to report upon a perfectly legitimate story.  She calls out Mongilio and other editors by name, describing them directly and indirectly as naive, gossip-driven, misogynistic faux journos with no news sense and a “hounding” reporting style.  The problem?  Her descriptions of their news judgment and reporting legwork, for the most part, make them sound quite reasonable, even laudable.

She also says the Eagle is known for sporting “a solidly anti-woman slant.”  Her evidence: a single opinion piece published in 2010.  Sigh.  Really, Professor Pine?  A wildly inaccurate claim, backed up by a single errant commentary?  (Yes, the piece itself was awful, a powder keg that caused a monstrous blow-up at AU, but it’s been a few years and at least two editorial teams since it happened.  And, again, it is just a single piece.)

At one point, Eagle EIC Zach Cohen responded to Pine’s quash-this-story-please emails by stating, “Rumors about the incident are already spreading through the student body, and we owe them an explanation of what really happened.”  Her initial reaction: “[W]ould you ‘owe them an explanation’ if I menstruated in class as well?”  (Hmm.  I don’t see how this breastfeeding situation and menstruation are comparable at all in the context of what the Eagle was preparing to report.)

Bottom line: Forget the breastfeeding.  Pine’s angry screed is now the story.  The off-base, highly-personal, downright mean attack on competent student journalists is beneath an individual in her position.  It displays a severe lack of understanding about basic journalism tenets and the journalistic process.  And it also shows the danger of jumping the gun.  The Eagle has not even published anything on “breastfeed-gate.”  Mongilio’s story would most likely have been objective.  Heck, it might have even sided more with Pine!  But Pine feared the worst, let her righteousness overwhelm her rationality, and took to the Internet to sound off– doing far more potent damage to her professional reputation.

Among the reactions from AU students and the journalism community:

•I sympathize with Ms. Pine’s breastfeeding debacle, but it is beyond hypocritical that Ms. Pine would originally say she wants her name redacted from the Eagle story so as to protect her from internet searches that make her look bad when she had no problem at all identifying Eagle journalists by name. And those search results (in which she portrays the AU student as harassing her) will forever affect that student’s job prospects. Pine needs to be fired asap.

•Everyone knows the real villain here is the professor. Reporting on a story does not mean you disagree with the subject of the story. There was a dissent in views on whether she should breastfeed. The Eagle did what good newspapers do, it covered the controversy. Bravo eagle.

•Heather Mongilio: I’m going to publish my own “expose” about you. You are an excellent journalist who asked mature, hard hitting questions, and demonstrated that you will not be bullied by an angry, entitled, unprofessional feminist who thinks that students pay 52,000 dollars to watch her take care of her baby and get naked in class. This is an absurd situation that you shouldn’t have to deal with, and I really hope that you know how many people here support you.

•Breastfeeding as a professor of a class is very different than breastfeeding on the metro. On the metro, people can choose to look away or look at their phone if breasts make them uncomfortable. A student in a classroom cannot do that. Turning you head away from the professor during class would be very awkward. I don’t see anything wrong with public breastfeeding, but I also don’t see why Prof Pine couldn’t have just pumped some breastmilk into a bottle before class. Just sayin

•Since Professor Pine (Adrienne Pine) is so concerned with what people find when they google her (although she doesn’t give a care about trashing AU students by name, thus hurting their post college employments prospects in the already hard-to-find-a-job field of journalism) let’s all use her full name when ranting about her so that the rants show up in her google searches and her true selfish character is revealed.

One Response to “American University Professor Attacks Student Paper for Asking About Her Mid-Class Breastfeeding”
  1. Judi says:

    Heather Mongilio, every news outlet on this planet should hire you! You are a true professional and will be an asset to any staff.