After student activists and local media teed off on a conservative political commentator invited to participate in a panel discussion on fake news, Cal Poly’s College Democrats announced they are pulling out of the event. A couple of the panelists now appear to be backing out as well.
On Feb. 13, Cal Poly is scheduled to host an event called “Fake News Panel: What is it and who decides?” Initially, the panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Cal Poly Dean of Students, ASI Student Government, the League of Women Voters and the College Republicans and College Democrats.
However, following the announcement of the panelists, uproar ensued over the participant selected by the College Republicans, political commentator Bill Whittle. Student activists decried Whittle for racism, and the Mustang News published 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.”
However, the College Democrats accused Whittle of racism and Islamophobia and said in a statement that is why they are dropping their sponsorship of the Cal Poly panel.
“This action is in response to the College Republicans invitation of a panelist who routinely publishes racist and Islamophobic commentary, the College Democrats wrote. “We condemn these statements as false and hateful and stand in solidarity with the individuals and communities they affect.
“We were told this panel was an opportunity for dialogue during a divisive political period; however, it is clear that won’t be the case. We entered into a good faith agreement with the stakeholders involved and are disappointed that agreement was not honored. Our choice to withdraw is motivated by conversations we have had with student leaders from affected communities over the past few days.
“It is important to discuss disagreements. However, there are views so odious that they do not deserve the credibility brought by a seat at the discussion table.”
The College Democrats had selected Cory Black, a prominent political consultant in SLO County, to participate in the fake news panel. Black has stirred controversially locally on several occasions, including by working for and contributing money to local politicians who have, in turn, advocated for marijuana regulations that benefit Black’s clients in the pot industry.
Black has withdrawn from the panel, according to the Tribune. Another panelist, BBC News producer Sue Mitchell, has also reportedly withdrawn.
Mitchel was selected to participate in the panel by the Cal Poly journalism department, which released a statement saying it is continuing to sponsor the event out of support for the First Amendment.
“As journalists —and especially as journalism educators — we support the First Amendment and its five freedoms,” the statement said. They are the bedrock of our democracy. Our continued support for “Fake News Panel: What is it and Who Decides?” is not an endorsement of the panelist selected by the College Republicans. It is an endorsement of civil discourse, something we value.”
The journalism department’s statement said to check the Mustang News for more information, and it linked to the article labeling Whittle a racist.
Other remaining panelists include Alicia Shepard, a longtime journalist and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein biographer, and Chip Visci, a former Tribune publisher and communications director at Cal Poly. The journalism department invited Shepard, while ASI sponsored Visci.
The fake news panel is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Chumash Auditorium.