NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — One of the most exciting moments for sophomore Benjamin Dietderich at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference was when political commentator Ben Shapiro and about 20 fans showed up at the Radio Free Hillsdale WRFH 101.7 FM booth without notice.
“All the sudden, before I had written any of the questions and I was still thinking in my head what exactly I was going to ask him, I just see Ben and his bodyguard walking toward us and a big crowd of people behind them — all the fans, you know” Dietderich said. “They told me, ‘You only have five minutes, so make it count.’ And I got to talk to him for about six or seven, much upsetting his time manager.”
But Ben Shapiro was just one of many high-profile leaders student journalists interviewed. Members of the radio program talked with more than 60 of the conference speakers and members of the media during the radio station’s first trip to CPAC last week. Dietderich and junior Shadrach Strehle handled most of the interviews, and Ryan Murphy, who is participating in the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program this semester, took a few interviews, too.
The experience gave students a chance to think on their feet. Before interviewing British politician Nigel Farage, Strehle said he had about 10 minutes to prepare. Often, though, he had to interview people on the spot, even if he did not immediately recognize who the person was.
“You grab their card, just read it, and go,” he said. “I’m not a super politically active person, so it was a challenge. It’s about asking the proper questions so that you can step away and let them do the interview. A lot of people sit down and really want to talk, so it’s not super hard.”
Dietderich said his favorite interview was one with Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James on how she became a conservative.
“I just thought she had a compelling story,” Dietderich said. “She doesn’t shy away from the fact of how unusual it is to be a conservative, black woman and what that was like growing up, and I respected that a lot.”
While the marketing department had scheduled around 15 to 20 of the interviews before the conference, a lot of the interviews occurred as politicians and media members showed up. After the conference, the radio group compiled a 22-minute “best-ofs” segment to run on the radio station. Most of the interviews are also on Soundcloud, and Dietderich used several of them for his show, “American View,” which runs on Mondays at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The group also posted the clips in real time for other radio stations to use.
Station Manager Scot Bertram also did a couple of interviews, but mostly helped with production of the segments. He said a lot of people who came by the booth, including Shapiro and Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel, didn’t necessarily stop at other places on radio row, as far as he knew.
“The vast majority of the interviews were high quality,” Bertram said. “We didn’t talk to anyone we didn’t want to talk to.”
Strehle said his favorite interview was one with an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Yaakov Menken, who serves as managing director for Coalition for Jewish Values.
“We talked about the differences between Orthodox Judaism and Reformed Judaism, and how that relates to the Christian tradition. It was a lot of fun,” Strehle said. “He also talked briefly about how the Judeo-Christian tradition is Jewish in its foundation, so we talked about that foundation and how a lot of people have moved away from it or not put as much value into it as there really is.”
With all of the interviews, there was not a lot of time to sit in on the general session.
“Ben got himself purposefully locked into the Trump room so he could watch,” Strehle said.
Bertram, Dietderich, and Strehle also got a special tour of the White House because of a connection with a former Hillsdale alumnus and marketing employee, Sam Brown, who now works in media at the White House. They saw the West Wing, which is not usually part of a White House tour.
Strehle said he was impressed by the small size of the Oval Office, the “small, tight hallways,” and the press briefing room.
“The reporters are sitting in these bleacher-style seats, crammed together. If you weigh more than 150 pounds, there’s no way you’re not going to be rubbing elbows with the person next to you. The floor is covered with wires, tons of dust, there are all these cameras crammed into this small little space, and the lighting is fluorescent and really oppressive. It’s a dangerous little room.”
Dietderich said he was thankful for the opportunity.
“I am so grateful for the experience we got last weekend. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it happen,” Dietderich said. “I haven’t done anything that compares to it.”