ROCHESTER, Minn. — A former Rochester TV reporter fired last year for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat at last year's Trump rally in Rochester has a new gig and says now, "I think it just exposed the truth about the state of journalism in this country."
Jim Bunner is now host of his own conservative internet radio podcast on Central City Radio. And far from being chastened by the MAGA episode, the one-time TV multimedia reporter for the NBC affiliate KTTC-TV is using it to market his show and reach potential listeners.
An advertisement for the podcast can be seen near the Chocolate Oasis in the Rochester downtown subway. It features Bunner, wearing the MAGA hat that got him fired, over the tag line, "Jim Bunner: Exposing Media's Biases."
Bunner, 38, said he is marketing the radio show in Rochester and Phoenix, where he now lives and broadcasts his Monday hour-long podcast. Bunner launched the show in February.
"The guy I'm working with wants to go national with it, but we're still kind of in the starting stages," Bunner said. "I know there's still people in southeast Minnesota that know who I am. So I want to get the word out there."
'Exposed the truth'
Bunner had a moment in the national limelight in October 2018 as a result of the MAGA hat episode. Bunner was captured by a Star Tribune photographer wearing the hat while covering the Trump rally at Mayo Civic Center. The perplexed photographer tweeted the photo with the caption, "Whyyy?"
Bunner was fired by KTTC-TV the next day. The news director at the time said the station does not allow staff members to cover stories while wearing apparel from political campaigns. The story created national headlines.
While a basic tenet of journalism is to maintain impartiality in covering political events, Bunner doesn't express a shred of remorse over the incident.
"I think it just exposed the truth about the state of journalism in this country," he said.
Bunner never gave an interview in the immediate aftermath of his dismissal to explain how the hat wound up on his head. Later, Bunner said a man attending the rally put it on him, likely as a joke, assuming that Bunner would take it off. But Bunner didn't.
Bunner said he kept wearing the hat not as a declaration of allegiance to Trump but as way of developing trust and rapport with Trump supporters. He said that when he arrived at the rally — but before having the hat thrust on his head — he was largely treated with scorn and derision by the Trump crowd.
People in the crowd booed him and called him "Fake News!" They pointed at him and told him how much they distrusted him as a member of the media. One person snuck up behind Bunner while he was recording and yelled in his ear, "CNN sucks!"
The MAGA hat had an almost magical effect on the crowd.
Where before it showered him with scorn, Bunner said he actually had people approaching him and showing a willingness to be filmed by him. One woman tapped him on shoulder and invited him to interview all of her kids, "which is rare because people are usually camera-shy," he said.
"They thought that for once somebody in the media was not talking down to them," Bunner said.
Bunner said it was never his intention for anybody but Trump supporters to see him wearing the hat. But then the Star Tribune "paparazzo" took a picture of him "without me knowing it and without my permission and then it just went viral all over the internet."
KTTC-TV did not respond to an email or phone call seeking a response.
Bunner said he heard it from both sides on social media in the days after the incident. Many saw it as wrong for him to wear the hat and thought he deserved to be fired. Others saw it as a hypocritical act.
"They all told me the same thing," Bunner said. "Why should you get fired for this, when so many of the rest of them look like the type of person who would wear a Hillary Clinton hat?"
Despite the episode, Bunner doesn't harbor any ill will against KTTC.
"I got along with everyone there. They were good people to work for," he said.