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Why is Young America’s Foundation barring a reporter from Campus Progress?
Field Report, Julie Brinn Siegel, University of Pennsylvania, July 14, 2006

Why is Young America’s Foundation barring a reporter from Campus Progress?

By Julie Brinn Siegel, University of Pennsylvania

Two weeks ago, my editor here at CampusProgress.org, our daily web magazine, asked me if I would like to cover the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) National Conservative Student Conference, set for July 30 to August 5 in Washington. I’m a firm believer that if I want to learn, I can’t always be surrounded by people with whom I agree, so I wanted the assignment. I contacted YAF’s spokesman, Jason Mattera, to obtain press credentials. I thought this was going to be a routine process.

I was wrong. Mattera not only refused me credentials, but, ultimately, he did so in the name of ideology. Here is my unedited email exchange with Mattera:

Me:

I am interested in covering the Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference at the beginning of August. Could you please let me know what the process is for obtaining press credentials? Thanks so much for your help!

Mattera:

What news outlet do you work for?

Me:

Thanks for your quick reply. I’ll be reporting for Campusprogress.org.

Mattera:

LOL

Me:

Jason, I’m a little confused as to what that means. Could you please clarify?

Jason:

L·O·L

1) Laugh out Loud

2) Lots of Laugh

Me:

Does that mean you’ll issue me credentials, or not?

Jason:

I’ll tell you what… Since you are student, I’ll let you apply for a conference spot just like any other student. You must send in a resume, picture, and write a page on why you want to attend the National Conservative Student Conference. The essay should detail the activism you’ve done in college and what activism tools you expect to bring home from the conference. I can’t promise anything, but that’s your best shot.

(The conference costs $375 to attend.)

I wrote back that I was not interested in attending as a student but rather wanted to cover the event. After describing CampusProgress.org’s qualifications as a publication (see below), I again requested that if the conference was open to the press, I be granted credentials. This was Mattera’s response:

Our event is open to real members of the press. You will not receive press credentials. My advice for you is to watch it on C-SPAN. If you have a problem with that decision, you can complain to the Foundation’s media department spokesman. Oh wait…that’s…me. :)

Besides being insulting, Mattera is plain wrong. I am a student journalist. In high school I was the managing editor of The Lions Tale, my high school’s award winning newspaper and I am now on the staff of the Penn’s newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian. I’m admittedly new to the journalism game, but CampusProgress.org is a platform for student journalists.

The author on Halloween.
The author on Halloween.

CampusProgress.org is a real publication. In less than eighteen months, it has attracted over 2 million readers. Its content has been reprinted or cited by a wide range of media, including The American Prospect, The Nation, ABC News, CNN, Wonkette, and Daily Kos. CampusProgress.org pieces are featured daily on Google News. The site features journalism, opinion, and multimedia from students and other young people, and it has offered many pieces about campus life, public policy issues, media, and culture. It also has featured articles by or interviews with Barack Obama, Paul Krugman, Al Franken, Margaret Cho, Kendrick Meek, Thomas Frank, Janeane Garofalo, Jonathan Kozol, Stephen Colbert, Morgan Spurlock, Larry David, Dee Dee Myers, Seymour Hersh, Dave Eggers, and many others. Campus Progress has a point of view, but then so do Fox News, The National Review, Human Events and many other press outlets familiar to Mattera.

 
More troubling, Jason Mattera’s problem goes beyond CampusProgress.org. Ben Adler, an editor of CampusProgress.org, emailed Mattera to better understand his objections and asked Mattera if two progressive publications with whom we share content – The Nation and Alternet – would be given press credentials if they asked. Mattera responded that “The Nation and Alternet would also be denied press credentials.” The Nation was founded in 1865, and its contributors have included Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Carlos Fuentes, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre, and William Butler Yeats. Sounds like a real publication to me. Apparently, Mattera is set on excluding media outlets whose views don’t mesh with YAF’s.

That letting in a CampusProgress.org reporter was “laugh-out-loudable” to Mattera seems to indicate his disdain for people with whom he disagrees politically. Yesterday on our blog I expressed my belief that informal debates between friends with different views often yield the most creative solutions to problems. It is in the absence of such questioning that bad policy (like going to war in Iraq without fully thinking through the aftermath of invasion) is made. More than that, Mattera’s sheer disdain indicates that YAF’s conference might be a Coulter-esque bashing of ideological opponents full of name-calling and grandiose rhetoric. But I’ll never know if I’m not permitted to cover it. (Watching on C-SPAN, per Mattera’s suggestion, if C-SPAN does show the YAF conference, does not equal covering the event. You miss the hallway discussions, the tabling and the breakout sessions that C-SPAN cameras don’t reach.)

Campus Progress and the Center for American Progress routinely grant press credentials to our events to conservative media outlets like CNS News, the Washington Times, Human Events, and others. The National Review covered our Campus Progress National Student Conference last year and again this year.

The author of those National Review pieces? Jason Mattera!

Yes—the same Jason Mattera who has refused Campus Progress a press credential for the Young America’s Foundation annual conference has twice written web pieces about the Campus Progress annual conference – the second time, just days after he denied me access.

An intern from the National Review obtained press credentials from Campus Progress by email in advance, precisely what Mattera denied me. He presented himself at this year’s Campus Progress conference, signed in, and was granted full press access to the event.

Campus Progress is pleased to allow conservative media to cover events; we don’t discriminate among reporters based on their views, and we’re proud of our programs. Why is YAF hiding from Campus Progress?

 
Note: While I would like to cover YAF and report accurately, accuracy about Campus Progress may not be Jason Mattera’s strength. Last year, Mattera’s multiple errors in his piece on our conference were amply documented on this website by Asheesh Siddique. (Also, for the record, in his blog post today on this year’s Campus Progress conference, Mattera repeated the Washington Post’s misquote of remarks at yesterday’s conference by rapper Fat Joe. Read what Fat Joe actually said and watch the video here.)

Editor’s Note: Read more about this matter, including a National Review reporter asking YAF to reconsider and let CampusProgress.org cover the YAF conference, on the Campus Progress blog: here, here, here, here.

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