“Why did you call the press the enemy of the people?”
This was the question that was on our minds when we got the opportunity to attend the inaugural event for the Center of Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity, which occurred this past Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Coverage of the event was controversial; discussion surrounding it even more so. After news broke that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former press secretary to President Donald Trump, would be speaking at the event, multiple alumni, faculty and other Chapman affiliates were publicly disturbed by Sander’s invitation to the event.
They took to the internet to voice their concern, ultimately resulting in an open letter calling for Sanders’ disinvitation to the event which, at the time of this publication, boasted more than 600 signatures, each one urging Chapman to disinvite Sanders due to her controversial history. Despite the overwhelming number of signatures, Chapman took no action and the event continued onward as scheduled.
We believe this was the right decision.
As much as we disagree with some of the past sentiments expressed by Sanders, we understand that it’s absolutely necessary to encourage critical dialogue on college campuses. Not to disregard the concern of 600+ alum and affiliates – they’re well in their right to criticize and critique. But regardless of if she comes to Chapman or if she’s disinvited – she is still going to have the ideas she does, she’s still going to have the track record she does and disinviting her doesn’t change that or erase that. And it makes sense why the center is hosting two seemingly opposing political viewpoints. Plus, if Sanders were to be disinvited, Gibbs would have to have been disinvited, as well.
That’s why we looked forward to attending; to ask Sanders about her behavior while White House press secretary and to question whether or not her opinions had changed since.
As Chapman’s independent newspaper, we care especially about Sanders past comments calling the media the “enemy of the people,” which is why we were interested in Chapman professor Brian Calle’s questioning of both secretaries about controversial issues. Afterall, the individuals who have been categorized at “the enemy” throughout the Trump Administration are the journalists we look up to, who we aspire to be. The sentiment stung when it was issued by the administration, it still does.
Perhaps surprisingly, the conversation went well. It was fluid, and although they did disagree with each other, we found it beneficial to experience genuine discourse and discussion; critical dialogue that is not just fighting. Of course, we could focus on the fact that the audience overwhelmingly sided with Sanders, we could point out the muttered comments like, “He’s not very bright” made by the audience. But overall, we support the decision to not disinvite Sanders. Nevertheless, we still believe the event could have gone very differently.
There was not enough opportunity for critical questioning from students. There were 500 attendees, 150 students. It was very opulent, under chandeliers and in a room based off of the White House’s East Room. And while some students did get to attend, it didn’t feel overwhelmingly accessible to students. The majority of attendees should have been students and there should have been a Q&A.
The intention of the event – presenting both sides – is a step in the right direction. But next time, bring the event to our actual campus, educate students rather than cater to the Orange County community. Students are not going to drive 10 miles to the Nixon Library; the conversation could’ve been held in Musco or Memorial where the majority of attendees could have been students. So while the event was a positive display of respectful dialogue, it could have been – and should have been – an opportunity for students to engage.
It’s impossible to reverse course and change the comments Sanders shared during her tenure at the White House. It is, however, entirely possible to question these comments and hold Sanders accountable, just as it is Gibbs. Had the event been more accessible to students and more focused on a student-oriented discussion, it could have been an opportunity to see both sides of an argument in a healthy manner. But as said, one step in a positive direction is better than not. That’s why we’re appreciative of Chapman’s decision to not disinvite Sanders.