Conservative news site brings right-wing ridicule to GW in controversial videos

Media Credit: Madeleine Cook | Staff Photographer

Freshman Emily Rockenbach said her views were misrepresented in a viral video when she was stopped on campus by an interviewer from a conservative news site.

Updated: Nov. 4, 2017 at 3:40 p.m.

As freshman Emily Rockenbach was walking through campus last month, she said a man with a microphone and camera crew approached her to participate in a “social experiment.”

Later, her friends showed her the experiment – a video called “Liberals love Trump’s tax plan… when told it’s Bernie Sanders’ plan” – posted by the higher education conservative news outlet Campus Reform. As of Wednesday, the clip had garnered more than 1.1 million views.

“Overall, the main idea of the plan, what do you think – Bernie did a good job, bad job?” the interviewer asked her in the video.

“I think overall, good,” she replied. Later, when she was told the plan is actually President Donald Trump’s, Rockenbach laughs, saying “Wow, that’s interesting, wow.”

The videos are a feature of Campus Reform – an outlet that churns out stories alleging liberal bias on college campuses, often igniting outrage toward professors, administrators or students. This wasn’t the first time Campus Reform has visited GW to film man-on-the-street videos appearing to ridicule liberal college students. Similar videos, like “Students love socialism… but can’t define what it is” and “Sanctuary campus supporters okay with ignoring other laws too,” were also filmed on campus.

Rockenbach, who is a Republican, said the video cut the majority of what she said, an explanation of why she agreed with Trump’s tax plan, which is being drafted in Congress. She said the interviewer assumed she was a liberal – as Campus Reform often singles out liberal students – and misrepresented her views, making her sound unintelligent and uninformed.

“My parents said I looked like I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what I was talking about,” Rockenbach said. “It bothered me a little bit because I was portrayed in a different light.”

Brendan Maguire, a freshman and a Democrat who was also featured in the tax video, said a reporter asked him and his friend to answer some questions about a tax plan, but he was not told what publication the video was for or where it would be posted.

He said his views were not represented accurately because the Campus Reform reporter had a predetermined goal for the video: to show that liberal students would agree with Trump’s tax plan only if the tax plan did not mention Trump.

“They didn’t ask me and my friend how we felt about Trump’s plan, they just went right into Bernie’s,” Maguire said. “They didn’t start with anything about Trump.”

Other students featured in the video were asked what they thought about Trump’s tax plan – one student calling it “not ideal” and another calling it “not the most efficient nor beneficial to the general populus.”

Cabot Phillips, the media director at Campus Reform, said he filmed and edited the tax plan video and that the organization is “proud to stand by the video, as the content speaks for itself.”

“We go to great lengths to ensure that student’s opinions are represented accurately and fairly,” he said in an email. “This particular video was meant to point out in a lighthearted way the underlying biases that every American holds when it comes to politics and policy.”

The organization aims to oust liberal bias on college campuses, which can often place administrators under pressure to address the controversies featured in the videos, according to a 2015 feature by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said officials do not think that the videos affect GW’s reputation in any way.

“I can’t say we love their tactics, but we respect their right to pursue open discourse,” she said in an email.

Politically-affiliated student organizations said they have conflicting views about Campus Reform.

Sara Dougherty, the director of public relations for the GW College Republicans, said it is important for organizations, like Campus Reform, to show conservative points of view on campuses. While Campus Reform frequents GW for man-on-the-street videos, it has also filmed similar clips at colleges like Yale and Harvard universities.

“There is a general desire from the public to know what young people’s views are and stances are on both sides of the aisle and I think that Campus Reform does a really good job of showcasing that,” Dougherty said.

She added that the video isn’t mocking toward GW students, but “promotes dialogue about substantive policy issues” and shows there is wide support for tax reform.

Josh Kirmsse, a senior and the former executive vice president of the College Democrats, said instead of reporting issues on GW’s campus, Campus Reform just humiliates student passersby.

“Campus Reform is to journalism what anonymous profiles are to Twitter – trolls who prey on a slip-up in words, or who are just outright dishonest,” he said an in email.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Brendan Maguire is a Republican. He is a Democrat. We regret this error.

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