Turning Point USA gathering of young conservatives doesn't get fair coverage from 'corrosive' media, founder says

The Turning Point USA High School Summit, a massive gathering of hundreds of young conservatives learning from the country's most prominent conservative leaders, is used to being ignored by the mainstream media.

Charlie Kirk, the 24-year-old founder of TPUSA, now in its sixth year, told Fox News that a similar event for young liberals "would be streamed everywhere... and it would be glorified as a wonderful organization," calling the media bias "blatant" and "corrosive.” 

And while Kirk is hoping an article published Wednesday in The New York Times is a sign of changes to come, other outlets' coverage of the event makes him skeptical.

"The bias is so blatant and so corrosive."

- Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk

More than 800 students packed auditoriums at George Washington University – many of them wearing red “Make America Great Again" hats – to listen to a lineup of speakers that rivals any conservative event in the nation. United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rep. Steve Scalise, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Parkland tragedy survivor Kyle Kashuv, tech entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel, and former White House communications pros Anthony Scaramucci and Sean Spicer all addressed the students, in addition to dozens of other conservative influencers. 

The $15 dollar event allowed students from across the nation to stay in GWU dormitories and mingle with fellow conservatives.

The event made headlines on Monday night when Haley cautioned the crowd that it isn’t necessary to “own the libs” with outlandish rhetoric on social media. Her comments were covered by various news organizations – but not always for the right reasons.

Some publications used Haley’s remark to shame conservatives who mock liberals. The Washington Post used her comments to paint a potential divide among the GOP with the headline, “Nikki Haley warns against ‘owning the libs.’ That’s basically Trump’s entire political strategy.”

By Tuesday, Sessions was under fire for briefly repeating “lock her up” during his time on stage as the crowd chanted the anti-Hillary Clinton rallying cry. He appeared to awkwardly utter it as well, laugh it off and move on – but several members of the mainstream media accused Sessions of joining the chant.

HuffPost wrote that Sessions “joined a group of teenagers in chanting ‘lock her up.’” Politico headlined its video, “Sessions: ‘Lock her up,’” and The Associated Press wrote that Sessions repeated the chant. BuzzFeed wrote that Sessions “joined” the chant and dozens of pundits took to Twitter to mock the situation – including MSNBC Managing Editor Dafna Linzer, who wrote, “The attorney general of the united states just joined a chant of ‘lock her up’ at an event in DC.”  

“They cover what they want to cover, if they want to cover Jeff Sessions… they can interpret that however they want,” Kirk said. “They want to make it look bad, so that’s why they covered it.”

Kyle Hager, a student from Portland, Maine, told Fox News the coverage the group typically receives is “borderline slander” and said the chant broke out any time Clinton was mentioned, not only when Sessions was on stage.  

The TPUSA founder was angered when he saw the crowd described as “rowdy high school kids” during the Sessions coverage, but rarely allows the anti-Trump media to distract him.

“I couldn’t care less about any of this nonsense, it’s noise to me,” Kirk said. “The president is doing an amazing job.”

Kirk has said that he wants to make the organization large enough that the mainstream media simply cannot ignore it – and it appears his strategy is already working to some degree.

The New York Times unexpectedly covered the event on Thursday, in a piece Kirk called “very fair,” but the positive coverage was a surprise to TPUSA staffers who aren’t used to the media taking them seriously.

“I’m very surprised because most of the news only covers the negative. They try to take bits and pieces and cut them out and change [the context]. It’s really good to see positive feedback from the New York Times,” TPUSA field programming administrator Elyse Cervantes told Fox News.

Perhaps the Times was motivated by Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted that the event should be covered by the media earlier in the week.

TPUSA staffer Richard Mills called the positive article “refreshing” and is hopeful it’s a sign of things to come.  

"I am used to seeing the typically leftist-favoring media intentionally try to paint our events in a negative light, including the New York Times."

- Richard Mills

“Seeing the New York Times report about a Turning Point USA event in a positive light was a legitimate surprise, Mills told Fox News. “As senior staff of the organization, I am used to seeing the typically leftist-favoring media intentionally try to paint our events in a negative light, including the New York Times. I hope that this newfound change of heart signifies a shift in the polarizing way the mainstream media has chosen to cover conservatives in general.”

The crowd was engaged throughout the event, with dozens of autograph-seeking students rushing to the stage after each speaker. Shirts and buttons that mocked socialism were on sale, and groups such as the NRA had stations in the lobby to attract new members.

The four-day event featured a posh dinner with Trump Jr., where attendees had the opportunity to mingle with the president’s son, but Kirk couldn’t find an article about it. “It’s like it never happened,” he joked.

Kirk is frustrated by the lack of attention, but not surprised, because he said the media is “institutionally biased.”

Kirk did allow that some media outlets weren’t issued credentials to the event because it features hundreds of vulnerable high school students who would be accessible to agenda-driven news outlets capable of destroying a student’s life with a an out-of-context comment. 

“We don’t want agitators," Kirk said, declining to name specific outlets that were denied access. He noted that all speeches were available online so a lack of in-person access wouldn’t have prevented any organization from covering a speaker.

Kirk was quick to point out that he doesn’t restrict access to other TPUSA events, and that the precautions were simply made because of the young crowd at the high school summit. His concern seems valid, as a reporter from The Daily Beast has been accused of “doxing” attendees who stop by the nearby Trump Hotel.

“.@thedailybeast reporter is doxxing attendees of #HSLS2018 just because. For people that say the fake news isn't out to get conservatives, they're very wrong,” Kashuv tweeted.

By the final day of the event, Politico had a reporter on site and NBC News had tweeted about it, so perhaps the success of this week’s summit will be a “turning point” in how the organizations is covered.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.