The joint fake news panel organized by the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), Cal Poly Democrats, Cal Poly College Republicans (CP College Republicans) and the League of Women Voters entitled “Fake News Panel: What is it and Who Decides?” was canceled Feb. 9 following the withdrawal of all sponsors save for the Cal Poly College Republicans after they replaced canceled panelist Bill Whittle with political commentator and writer Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos spoke on Cal Poly’s campus in February of 2017, an event which was heavily protested.
“These were petty reactions to our willingness to make this panel discussion a success and we have learned that collaboration at Cal Poly only happens if you concede to their agendas,” CP College Republicans wrote in a press release Feb. 13.
The panel was set to feature panelists sponsored by Cal Poly Democrats, CP College Republicans, ASI, the League of Women Voters and CLA. Specifically within CLA, journalist Alicia Shepard was sponsored by the CLA Lottery Fund and support from Cal Poly’s Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts and the Science, Technology and Society Minors Program.
However, the Cal Poly Democrats withdrew their sponsored speaker because of the CP College Republicans’ choice of Whittle as a panelist.
“This action is in response to the [CP] College Republicans’ invitation of a panelist who routinely publishes racist and Islamophobic commentary,” the Cal Poly Democrats wrote in a Feb. 6 Facebook post. “We condemn these statements as false and hateful and stand in solidarity with the individuals and communities they affect.”
Panelist Sue Mitchell backed out following the Cal Poly Democrats’ departure, according to the press release from CP College Republicans.
The event was originally set to proceed with three of the five original panelists — Alicia Shepard, Chip Visci and Bill Whittle.
Mustang News originally reported that Whittle withdrew from the event Feb. 9 due to the controversy surrounding his invitation, however according to the CP College Republicans’ press release, this was not the case.
“Bill Whittle had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances at the last minute,” they wrote in the press release. “This was not in response to the negative media or the democratic cancellation. The Cal Poly College Republicans found a speaker who was willing to fill in as their panelist on extremely short notice.”
The CP College Republicans then met with the remaining sponsors — the Dean of Students, the Dean of CLA, a Journalism Department representative, an ASI Student Government representative and a League of Women Voters representative — Feb. 9. Following Whittle’s cancellation, the CP College Republicans revealed that they had secured Yiannopoulos as a replacement panelist.
“After revealing our speaker to the rest of the co-sponsors, we were bombarded with insults from the Dean of Liberal Arts, Doug Epperson,” the press release continued. “His role as a representative of Cal Poly is to uphold the standards of the University, especially concerning student’s and student group’s rights to free speech. His personal perception of our speaker overshadowed his ability to identify that he is a victim of the fake news media.”
Epperson denied the CP College Republicans’ claim.
“The group did authentically communicate deep disappointment and feeling betrayed, but no one, including me, hurled insults as the [CP College Republicans’] press release suggested,” Epperson wrote in an email to Mustang News. “It is most unfortunate that the [CP College Republicans] mistook genuine expressions of frustration, disappointment, and betrayal as derogatory insults.”
Epperson said he and every other university sponsor at the meeting found the CP College Republicans’ choice of Yiannopoulos to be unacceptable.
The remaining co-sponsors, including CLA, immediately withdrew.
Epperson added that the co-sponsors specifically asked CP College Republicans to bring an appropriate panelist and they assured the panelist would not be Yiannopoulos.
In response, the Journalism Department organized “‘Fake News,’ the First Amendment, and a Crisis of Trust” for Feb. 13. This event was eventually canceled as well, following a meeting within the Journalism Department.
“We thought we would move forward on our own, but really we weren’t considering the whole group,” Journalism Department Chair Mary Glick said. “This is why we are backing off now and canceling the revised panel.”
Though a fake news panel did not happen Feb. 13, the Journalism Department plans to discuss the issue of fake news in later events.
“We fully intend to address the issue of fraudulent news and journalistic integrity at the Jim Hayes Symposium in October,” Glick wrote in an email to journalism faculty, staff and students Feb 12.
The CP College Republicans also relayed plans to host their own panel on fake news.
“The Cal Poly College Republicans view this unsuccessful event as a lesson well-learned and are excited to announce that we are planning our own Fake News Panel,” the press release concluded.