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UNR hosts divergent conversations on democracy and journalism


By Lizzie Ramirez

Amidst college protests happening nationwide with students fighting for the core tenets of democracy, two seemingly polar opposite events were held on Thursday, May 2, at the University of Nevada, Reno — one that was heavily advertised and another that was not. 

The events were part of UNR’s “Week of Democracy,” which allows students, faculty, staff and the Reno community to learn about the importance of voting and discuss critical issues for the coming election. 

The university partnered with The Atlantic, a national magazine that covers news and politics, to host “Democracy at a Crossroads” with Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar and political commentator and The Nevada Independent founder Jon Ralston. The event was heavily advertised throughout UNR’s social media accounts, in a newsletter sent out by President Brian Sandoval and with paid ads and a public relations blitz by The Atlantic

However, while Sandoval was praising The Atlantic and the university for working together in Nightingale Hall, members of Turning Point USA, an organization aiming to restore “traditional American values,” were decorating the first floor of the university’s Knowledge Center with conservative messaging. 

“Deception and Indoctrination: How Colleges and the Media Are Harming the Country” was held right after The Atlantic’s talk. The event was not promoted like The Atlantic discussion was. It was much different than the earlier event.

Upon arriving at TPUSA’s event, posters could be seen that said “9mm beats 911 every time” and “If you ain’t American first, you’re last.” 

While The Atlantic had a buzzing reception for the community to mingle and receive free merchandise, TPUSA had one quiet check-in table and a much smaller event space. University officials said 159 people attended The Atlantic event, more than 10 times the number at TPUSA’s gathering. Only about 14 people were there — two women and the rest men — leaving many seats unfilled. 

Cary Poarch, the CNN whistleblower who secretly recorded conversations showing bias in the network’s reporting, talked about the “red flags” in journalism. Poarch is a regular on TPUSA’s speaking circuit. He said journalists should disclose whether they’re Democrat or Republican because that’s “real news,” whereas if a journalist says they’re unbiased, then that’s a “red flag.”

Posters Turning Point USA had in the Knowledge Center.
Posters Turning Point USA had in the Knowledge Center. Photo courtesy of Nick Stewart.

“Anyone that’s giving you news, if they’re man or woman enough to say, ‘Hey full disclosure, I lean this way on this’ and if they tell you that … that is a good and honest journalist,” Poarch said. 

Zachary Marschall, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, accompanied Poarch in an attempt to recruit student journalists. Marschall described Campus Reform as a media site that tracks “liberal bias” in higher education. He said he also helps train student journalists to be unbiased and objective in their reporting. 

“I train them [students]… how to do journalism objectively and without bias,” he explained. “We’re honest about being conservative, we don’t try to hide it.” 

Marschall gave examples of how he trains student journalists. He said he tells students not to use phrasing like “peaceful protest” because protests are all “violent protest” and to not use “immigrants without documents” but to instead say “illegal immigrants.”

Following these examples, a student raised their hand in an attempt to understand where Marschall was coming from. 

“When you’re saying ‘we should have illegal immigrants’ and they’re saying… ‘immigrants with no documentation’ aren’t you just doing the same thing with accomplishing your goal?” the student asked. 

“The idea that no person is illegal, that entire phrase is meaningless… because illegal doesn’t describe a person, it describes an immigration status,” Marschall explained. “The left uses words and uses language to create a reality that fits their view of how… progress occurs.”

The student and Marschall went back and forth on their clashing beliefs of how journalism should be presented. As the student asked questions, others were shaking their heads and laughing while they filmed the exchange. The freshman, who said he wanted to remain anonymous, said he’d previously attended The Atlantic’s event before entering TPUSA’s talk. 

“I think that everyone’s saying the same thing,” he said. “I go to The Atlantic and they say, ‘We’re at a crossroads.’ I come here and they say ‘We’re at a crossroads.’” 

Lizzie Ramirez is a graduate student from the Reynolds School of Journalism with an expected graduation date of December 2024. She is also a student election correspondent for Teen Vogue.

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