Why I refused my GOP debate press credentials

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Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

Like every other news organization, we were excited when it was originally announced that CNBC’s GOP presidential debate was going to be held at CU’s Coors Events Center. But since that original announcement, the debate has become embroiled in one controversy after another.

First it was the unbelievable decision to leave 10,000 seats in the Events Center empty during the debate even though demand for the seats was incredibly high. Then we were told that of the thousand people who would be allowed to watch the debate live, only 50 of them would be chosen from the tuition-paying student body. That number was eventually expanded to a still-paltry 100 students, but even those had to be approved by campus administrators. Translation: CU President and Republican operative Bruce Benson was in effect the final filter on which students got in.

Weeks ago, CU students figured out that this whole debate thing was pretty fishy. So they wisely asked for all the email correspondence concerning the debate between CU administrators, CNBC and faculty by way of an open records requests under CORA. Not surprisingly to those of us who have dealt with CU’s consistent hesitance to provide the public with its own records, the university is once again in violation of Colorado’s open records law having returned no documents within the actual three-day timeframe allowed under the law and has still only provided a fraction of the total documents requested even after weeks.

The final straw for me came this week when I was told I could pick up my press credentials for the debate and was given my logistical instructions. I was shocked to discover my precious pass only gave me and all other news media an “assigned seat” in an “assigned room” in a separate building from the actual debate, where all news coverage was to be conducted by watching an “assigned monitor” that would be airing only the pictures CNBC made available.

In other words, the news media is also being locked out of the actual debate. So when the Camera or Post say they’ll be providing live coverage of the debate, what they really mean is that they will have someone watching a TV monitor and tweeting. But don’t worry, members of the press did get access to the “Spin Room” so talking heads could explain to to them what they just watched on TV. Who would agree to cover the “spin” live after being locked out of the debate? Not me.

To even accept “press credentials” under such controlled terms would have been an insult to you, our readers. In conclusion, here’s the email I sent explaining why I wouldn’t be picking up my press credentials:

Am I to understand that the press credentials issued by your organization do not get me into the actual debate hall, but rather into a media room where I am expected to watch the debate on a monitor seeing only the part of the story you choose to let me see? Why would I let you be my filter on a news story in my town? This is a ridiculous operation that has no journalistic integrity whatsoever. If you won’t allow journalists to cover the event then at least be honest enough to say so.

If I can’t be in the hall to report on crowd reaction that I determine with my own eyes and ears, or to see what each of the candidates is doing while another candidate is speaking, then there is no reason to attend because I will only be reporting what you want me to see and hear and that is a disservice to my readers.

Please reconsider and allow me to actually cover this debate. If you won’t allow journalists to honestly cover the debate then you can keep my so-called “press pass.” Or better yet, give it to some TV news-reader who doesn’t understand that letting you folks completely control and sanitize this story isn’t journalism at all. I have no interest in sitting in your “assigned seat” in your “assigned room” and watching this news story on your “assigned screen.” Please let me know if you will allow me to cover this story from the debate hall so I don’t waste my time picking up a pass that only lets me watch your monitor and then listen to talking heads in a spin room interpret what I saw on your monitor. This is what is wrong with media and politics.

They did not reconsider.