A Nebraska television station fired its news director and co-anchor after she collected signatures for a pro-life petition aimed at making her hometown of Curtis a sanctuary city for the unborn. 

Melanie Standiford, a Nebraska native, told CNA in a phone interview that her firing from the NBC affiliate KNOP-TV, owned by the Atlanta-based Gray Television, came as a “surprise.”

On the day she was fired, Standiford recounted that her boss told her she was being cut from the company for “practicing partisan politics.” 

“I said in response, ‘partisan politics’? I don’t believe being pro-life is partisan,’” she recalled.

“There are people from both sides of the aisle who believe both ways,” she told CNA. “It’s just right versus wrong in my mind.”

Report on ballot initiative prompts firing

Standiford was fired after Flatwater Free Press reported that she had distributed a pro-life petition to fellow church members at St. John’s Lutheran Church and another church in Curtis. 

The petition — for which Standiford collected 47 signatures — was circulated by town residents in order to call for a special vote in November to make Curtis a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

Curtis, which has a population of 939 (2010), is one of six neighboring towns calling for an abortion ban within their city limits.

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Standiford’s participation in the effort was reported by the Flatwater Free Press, a news website featuring investigative reporting on issues affecting Nebraska, in a story about the ballot initiative. 

“Everyone she knows is Christian and anti-abortion, Standiford said in an interview with the Flatwater Free Press. In her mind, the ordinance would be so widely supported that it wouldn’t be controversial,” the article read

Standiford told CNA that the reporter asked her whether or not it was “ethical” for her as a journalist to collect signatures for the petition. 

“I told her, 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 said, adding that the reporter kept pressing her about ethics. 

“Then I said, ‘You’re probably right. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ And that’s the only quote she took from me.”

The article as published read:

“When asked if it was appropriate for a reporter to cover an issue they were politically involved in, Standiford said: ‘You’re probably right, I probably, maybe shouldn’t have even done that. But who knew it would be an issue?’”

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Standiford has reported on the abortion topic in the past from both sides. She said that even though she is pro-life, her reporting on the issue has always been “balanced.” 

“All the time that I covered it, I would interview those who were pro-choice, and even Planned Parenthood. My writing and storytelling was always very balanced,” she said. 

“The article was an attack; an attack directly on me,” she added.

The day after the article came out, Standiford got news from her boss at KNOP-TV that she was being fired. 

“He came in and handed me an envelope and said it would be my last day,” she said, adding that she recorded the entire conversation.

“I asked him to tell me exactly why I was being fired — and he said, word for word, ‘You’re being fired for practicing partisan politics.’” 

Standiford told her boss in reply: “I didn’t think I was being political with that in my home church, sitting in the pews in my church.” 

Fired for ‘political activity’

According to the North Platte Bulletin, Standiford is well-known in the area for her live news coverage, having worked at the station for five years. While serving as KNOP-TV’s news director, she hired the station’s entire staff. Standiford, who is a mother of nine, was awarded a gold medal from the Nebraska Broadcasters Association for covering children with special needs.

In a statement to the North Platte Bulletin, the general manager of KNOP, Shannon Booth, explained Standiford’s termination.

“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,” the statement read.

“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,” Booth said.

When CNA asked if Standiford was made aware of the policy regarding political activity at the time she was hired, Booth did not immediately respond.

For her part, Standiford said that she “didn’t ever remember” such a policy.

“The stuff that I’m reading in the newspapers and hearing on the news, I’m hearing for the first time. I’ve never seen a handbook or anything,” she said.

An advocate for life

Standiford said that her town — nicknamed Easter City for the three large white crosses on the hill overlooking the town — widely supports protecting life.

She expects the sanctuary city policy to be passed and is hopeful for the city’s future as a haven for the unborn and their mothers.

“A sanctuary city in Curtis has always been, for me, a no-brainer,” she said. “Anywhere that we can, we want to spread God’s love, come beside women and let them know that they are loved.”

Standiford emphasized the importance of loving both mothers and their babies.

“We want women to be safe; we want them to not have the mental trauma after an abortion that they’ll live with for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“People who think that we are hateful and don’t care about women’s rights have it backwards. We just want to love them,” she concluded.

As to her future, Standiford told CNA that she is in contact with two lawyers who are looking at her case.

In the meantime, she has no regrets about being fired.

On Oct. 7 Standiford was appointed as temporary chair of the Frontier County Republican Party.

“The Nebraska Republican Party not only welcomes her as a leader but stands with Standiford’s strongly held belief of protecting the most innocent lives, the unborn. Melanie is a representation of what is needed as a County Chair and the courage it takes to stand for the values we hold as Republicans,” NEGOP Chairman Eric Underwood said in a press release announcement.