Less than a few minutes into Christopher Ruddy’s presentation at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Wednesday night, about 30 Point Park University students stood up silently with their fists in the air, showing off shirts emblazoned with colorful messages such as “People not Profit” and “Love not Hate.”
Ivan Bracy was among the students at the event silently protesting Ruddy’s visit. Ruddy — a long time friend of President Donald Trump and founder and CEO of conservative media outlet Newsmax Media —- was in Pittsburgh to give a presentation and hold a Q&A session concerning the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election.
The Point Park students were inspired by a silent protest organized by Harvard students at a Betsy DeVos speech, Bracy said, during which students did not verbally interrupt the speaker but tacitly held up signs and stood to show solidarity.
“We didn’t want to completely block Ruddy’s speech. We wanted to show a message that would not impede the event for others and give him a chance to speak,” Bracy said. “We wanted Ruddy to notice that we did not agree with most of Trump’s policies and wanted our voice to be heard.”
Ruddy’s talk was part of the Point Park University Talk Back Series, which promotes forums of debate across different ideologies and allows people in the audience to “talk back” to presenters on stage by handing questions to moderator Andrew Conte for discussion.
Sean Gossard, a first-year student at Point Park, said coming to politically charged events and demonstrating about major policies and ideas is a necessary action.
“I believe it is important to show our issues,” Gossard said.
Ruddy described his own views on journalism as crucial to maintaining democracy. He described how America was founded on speaking out against central powers and prioritized freedom of speech above other rights.
“There is a reason our Founding Fathers made freedom of speech part of the First Amendment. Free speech equals free society,” he said.
Ruddy brought up the danger of “fake news,” a common issue cited by Trump. He said although he thinks it is a rising problem, it is not an unsolvable one.
“A free and diverse press fights against fake news,” Ruddy said. “An educated society can combat it rather than the government coming in to censor it.”
Ruddy also spoke about his relationship with the President and his role as one of Trump’s confidants, saying he considers the president a friend despite not agreeing with him on everything.
“I don’t speak for the president. I am not representing his views,” Ruddy said. “I will give him advice and feedback, but it is public, not in private.”
Norma Hahn, an 84-year old housewife, said Ruddy’s talk gave her more insight on what Trump is like as a person and a politician.
“I come to all the Pitt lectures. I agree 50-50 with Ruddy’s views but I was able to gain new perspectives on politics and Trump,” Hahn said.
Ruddy described how Trump was different than how the media portrayed him and justified his controversial rhetoric in media, saying Trump in person is very different from the Trump seen on TV.
“He is engaging, remarkably intimate, friendly and has humility,” Ruddy said. “He is the first non-political person to get elected and doesn’t have the etiquette of previous presidents. He’ll talk what he feels, bad-mouth you, but at the end of the day he’ll still be your buddy.”
After his talk, Ruddy answered questions submitted by audience members through queries written on cards or tweeted with #MediaPioneers. In response to questions about the president, Ruddy dispelled any notions of Trump being racist or incapable of taking feedback.
“There is a myth that Trump can’t take criticism. He is actually very good at taking criticism and is always asking for it,” Ruddy said. “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. I have heard ‘locker room talk’ from him and there is no racism.”
Ruddy also answered questions regarding his role as a former reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and illustrated what he believes is the duty of a reporter.
“My job as a reporter is not to tell you the truth, because I don’t know the truth, but to give you as much information as possible that I think is accurate,” Ruddy said.
After the event, Ruddy emphasized how bias is present in the media and in everyday life, although it can be managed by acknowledging it.
“Everybody has a bias. We can’t avoid it but we should balance it,” he said. “I believe we should admit our own biases while accounting for other perspectives and positions.”