Graphic courtesy Cal Poly’s Associated Students Inc.
By Conor Ney
Managing Editor of Design & Layout
A panel discussion on the dynamics of fake news was scheduled to take place at Cal Poly this week, but was canceled today after three of the five panelists withdrew amidst controversy over allegedly racist comments by invited guest Bill Whittle, a conservative commentator.
The panel was planned for Feb. 13, but in the lead up to the event traction gathered online against giving Whittle a platform. Whittle was invited as a guest by the Cal Poly College Republicans. The Cal Poly Democrats were the first to withdraw from the panel, along with their invited guest Cory Black.
“It is important to discuss disagreements,” said the Cal Poly Democrats in a statement. “However, there are views so odious that they do not deserve the credibility brought by a seat at the discussion table.”
The comments in question for Whittle were those made on a video interview with the alt-right commentator Stefan Molyneux. The two perpetuated largely discredited theories claiming a correlation between intelligence, race and crime, also stating that African Americans are genetically less intelligent than whites. In the larger scientific community such ideas are dismissed as ‘scientific racism,’ lacking any foundation in empirical evidence.
“That’s the thing about intelligence: it can adapt down, but you can’t adapt beyond your ability,” Whittle said on the podcast, referring to Aboriginal Australians being incapable of completing intellectually rigorous tasks.
In response to the backlash, Whittle withdrew from the event. Sue Mitchell, a BBC News producer, also withdrew due to a BBC policy preventing employees from taking part in politicized events, according to the SLO Tribune.
Only two weeks earlier, Whittle was the cause for yet another canceled event. He was scheduled as a keynote speaker at a campaign event for republican Jean Ives, a candidate for Governor of Illinois. Due to blowback from both the left and the right, Ives canceled the event at the last minute.
In January of 2017, alt-right incendiary Milo Yiannopoulos was invited as a speaker by the Cal Poly College Republicans. The lead up to the event is reminiscent of the response to the Fake News Panel; the event proceeded as planned but there was a protest outside the theater.
According to the SLO Tribune, the event was cancelled at a meeting among event stakeholders on Friday morning. At the meeting, reportedly, the Cal Poly College Republicans proposed replacing Bill Whittle with Yiannopoulos.
There are currently no active plans to reschedule the panel.