A “fake news” discussion that was supposed to be held at Cal Poly this week fizzled in frustrating fashion. We’ll spare you the painful details, but things started going south when the Cal Poly Republicans — one of several co-sponsors — invited conservative Bill Whittle, an NRA-TV commentator.
Whittle’s been accused of espousing racist principles, including the belief that black and Hispanic people are genetically less intelligent than white and Asian people. His inflammatory views recently got him disinvited from giving a keynote speech for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Illinois, though Whittle himself denies he’s a white supremacist.
“This entire idea of racial inferiority is just not true,” he said in a recent video.
From the get-go, Whittle was a bad choice; he seemed selected more for shock value than for his expertise in fake news.
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That said, Whittle absolutely had the right to speak at Cal Poly, and the university had no choice but to allow that speech. But it was also the right of other participants to pull out in protest, and the Democrats of Cal Poly did exactly that.
(A note to those who argued that the Democratic invitee should have shown up and “debated” Whittle: This was not a debate. This was a question-and-answer session. On fake news. And more to the point, there really are some views so repulsive they should not be dignified by being the subject of a “debate.”)
Anyway, the absence of a Democrat on the panel created a dilemma, because that arguably made it a partisan event, which was a problem for at least one nonpartisan sponsor — the League of Women Voters. Long story short, another speaker pulled out, and then Whittle backed out as well, though he would not respond to The Tribune’s queries as to exactly why he chose not to attend.
There were last-minute efforts to salvage the event, but in the end, it was canceled, leaving us with the question: How could such a potentially worthwhile event turn into such a fiasco?
It wasn’t the subject matter. Other colleges have managed to sponsor similar forums without all this drama.
One takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Hancock College’s Marian Theater. Speakers include three journalists, a Hancock College English professor and a Hancock faculty librarian. For those who can’t attend, the forum will be viewable live on the Santa Maria Times website, santamariatimes.com.
Even UC Berkeley — which erupted in riots when Milo Yiannopoulos made a visit — managed to pull off what sounds like a perfectly civilized fake news forum. Again, there were mostly news people on the panel, along with a professor and a librarian.
Are we seeing a pattern here?
If someone wants to try it again — hint, hint, nudge, nudge to the League of Women Voters — perhaps it would be best to leave partisan politics completely out of it, especially since the Cal Poly College Republicans do not play nicely with others. They seem more intent on bringing in conservative media “stars” to rattle the Democrats’ cage than engaging in civil and meaningful discussion.
If you need proof of that, look at who they suggested as a replacement for Whittle: none other than Milo Yiannopoulos. That would be the same Milo Yiannopoulos who cost taxpayers more than $65,000 in security costs when he appeared at Cal Poly in 2017. The same Milo Yiannopoulos who resigned from Breitbart News last year after he seemed to condone sex between men and underage boys.
This is the guy Cal Poly College Republicans wanted to bring back on campus for a “fake news” event.
The Cal Poly administration had the good sense to balk at the suggestion: “With only five days’ notice, the university would be unable to plan and provide the security measures sufficient to ensure the safety of the campus community during an event featuring Milo Yiannapoulos,” spokesman Matt Lazier said via email.
By the way, many other conservatives could have been invited who would have been excellent choices for the panel, including local residents such as former state Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, Board of Supervisors Chair John Peschong and local Republican Party Chair Randall Jordan.
Any one of them would have maintained the focus on the subject of “fake news” — rather than hijacking the event by turning the spotlight on another talk show “personality” spouting odious views.