Reporting on hate
October 27, 2017
We publish the profile of Evan McLaren, “Former Bowdoin student leads identified hate group,” with trepidation. McLaren’s white nationalism and white supremacy is abhorrent and antithetical to the core principles of our paper, our college and our nation. We are aware that our choice to include McLaren’s theories in our pages could lend them an air of credibility, and provide McLaren and the National Policy Institute (NPI) with the platform within higher education that they are so eager to create.
We would like to be clear that we publish his views neither to endorse nor to promote them. On the contrary, we resoundingly condemn them. Unfortunately, McLaren and the NPI already have a prominent national media platform. The NPI has over a million views on its YouTube page; Richard Spencer has 775,000 Twitter followers. McLaren’s voice is being heard whether it reaches our campus or not, and we are better equipped to engage if we hear from the source.
We could have reported on McLaren without granting him an interview, thus depriving him of a chance to voice his repugnant beliefs. But we believe that responsible journalism allows all parties, even those with whom we disagree, to present their views as they understand them. A robust exchange of ideas begins by grappling with those ideas in their fullest, if also their nastiest, form.
We choose to cover McLaren because, unfortunately, he is news: McLaren is a former Bowdoin student now at the helm of the most prominent white nationalist organization in America. This comes at a political moment when white nationalist and alt-right groups have gained a greater presence in our political conversations. Although we are cautious of airing McLaren’s views, we cover him as we would cover any other former Bowdoin student who has entered the national political spotlight.
And we choose to cover McLaren not in spite of his views but because of them. Confronting McLaren’s history with Bowdoin brings his beliefs—which stand in such stark contrast to the dominantly liberal tenor of political discourse on campus—into sharp relief. Too often, we approach views like McLaren’s as ideologically and physically distant from us, as things that exist “out there” but rarely touch us directly. By highlighting McLaren’s story, we want Bowdoin students to engage with McLaren’s values not as abstract thought experiments but as concrete ideas that hold real force in our world and affect the lives of innumerable people both on and off our campus.
It would be unfair and untrue to say that Bowdoin College was in some way responsible for McLaren’s views. Ideas cannot be traced to a single, discrete source, and to suggest that his ideology came directly from his three semesters at Bowdoin would be reductionist and irresponsible. But this fact should not prevent us from using his connection with the Bowdoin community to spur students to see the real force of McLaren’s ideas, and in turn to respond with the requisite force.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Rachael Allen, Anjulee Bhalla, Harry DiPrinzio, Sarah Drumm, Ellice Lueders, Ian Ward and Allison Wei.
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Bravo to the Ed Board for owning up to and covering a position they disagree with strongly. I echo their opposition to Mr. McLaren’s views, but strongly believe they should cover them. Bowdoin benefits when it recognizes the many viewpoints out in the real world, including these, and they’d do well to maintain this approach. In an environment of free speech like we are fortunate to enjoy in America, the antidote to disturbing speech is better speech.