A conservative commentator, whom local activists and media are accusing of racism and a San Luis Obispo County political consultant who’s been accused of fostering conflicts of interest, will take part in a panel discuss on fake news next week at Cal Poly.
On Feb. 13, Cal Poly will host an event called “Fake News Panel: What is it and who decides?” The panel discussion is co-sponsored by the Cal Poly Dean of Students, ASI Student Government, the League of Women Voters and the College Democrats and College Republicans.
The panel consists of Alicia Shepard, a longtime journalist and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein biographer; Bill Whittle, a conservative political commentator; Cory Black, a local political consultant; Chip Visci, a former Tribune publisher and communications director at Cal Poly; and Sue Mitchell.
Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts and Journalism Department are sponsoring panelists Shepard and Mitchell, while ASI is sponsoring Visci. Whittle is sponsored by the College Republicans, and Black is sponsored by the College Democrats.
After Cal Poly announced the event, student activists decried Whittle for racism. The Mustang News then dubbed Whittle a racist, publishing an article headlined, “Racist ‘Fake News’ panelist Bill Whittle causes student backlash.”
Likewise the Tribune ran an article headlined, “Cal Poly ‘Fake News’ panelist believes white people are smarter than blacks.”
Both articles cited a video published on YouTube in which Whittle was interviewed by conservative-libertarian online radio host Stefan Molyneux. Throughout the interview Molyneux discussed alleged IQ differences among different racial and ethnic groups, which he said correlated to wealth gaps.
Whittle linked IQ and cognition to economic success and societal problems, such as crime. He never overtly stated whites are smarter or superior to blacks. In fact, Whittle described economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell, who is black, as “the smartest guy on the map.”
The selection of Cory Black, a prominent Democratic political consultant in SLO County, has drawn little media attention.
In recent years, Black has worked for and contributed to local politicians who have, in turn, advocated for marijuana regulations that benefit Black’s clients in the pot industry. Black, who has also worked for Sheriff Ian Parkinson and the SLO County Planning Department, has been accused publicly at a board of supervisors meeting of creating conflicts of interest in the county’s process of creating marijuana regulations.
Following the 2016 general election, Black was found to have violated the city of San Luis Obispo’s campaign finance rules and ordered to pay a $600 penalty. Previously, Black faced allegations of plagiarism and of distributing a campaign mailer with a false claim about whom local Democrats were supporting.
In a statement about the panel discussion, Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said Cal Poly is aiming to present a wide variety of viewpoints on the topic of fake news and that the university is upholding free speech.
“As a public university Cal Poly is obligated to uphold free speech on campus and allow the free exchange and discussion of opposing ideas — including those which may be unpopular with some members of our campus community. It is the university’s responsibility to support the rights of all people to express their opinions and ideas while also encouraging students to think critically and independently. It is only in this environment that students hone the ability to consider a spectrum of information and reach informed intelligent conclusions,” the statement says.
The panel event is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Chumash Auditorium.