Two weeks ago I got a phone call from our adviser that someone named Preston Wiginton wanted to purchase advertising space in The Battalion. He asked if I had seen that viral video on Facebook of a guy named Richard Spencer spouting hateful things and people giving him the Nazi salute in response.
I had, and after doing some more research on Wiginton and Spencer, I quickly turned down the advertising offer to promote Spencer’s upcoming speech at Texas A&M. We instead wrote a story about his planned visit, breaking what would eventually become national news and turn the eyes of the country toward Aggieland.
Since then, Tuesday’s coverage has been central to our discussion in the newsroom. We’ve spent hours in brainstorming sessions, going over what we wanted to do with it, what we thought would be best and what we thought the repercussions of our coverage would be.
The coverage decisions we’ve made the past two weeks haven’t been frivolous, arbitrary, in-the-moment actions. They have been difficult, carefully considered moves about what we thought would best honor our commitment to our readers.
Our decision to livestream Richard Spencer’s speech uncensored was perhaps the most difficult call we made. We had to question whether we thought giving Spencer the attention he was so clearly seeking by airing his words unfiltered would do more harm than good. We questioned what we thought the impact would be, and whether streaming it would appear as though we supported his rhetoric.
It was discussed by more than 20 people on staff until everyone was in agreement. Ultimately we decided that in order to tell the story in the most complete, accurate way we would need to be candid and open in our coverage. This included allowing the people who wanted to hear what Spencer was saying to hear the entirety of what he was saying.
We said it in our Monday editorial but it’s worth repeating: The Battalion staff does not, in any way, support or believe in what people like Spencer or Wiginton or the entire white nationalist, or so-called “alt-right” movement stand for. But we do think that for people to fully grasp the severity and true, hateful nature of this movement, they need to hear them in their frankest, most forthright form. We chose, as we always do, to prioritize telling the story rather than doing what might make us the most popular.
This was the logic behind our decision to cover every aspect of the events on campus Tuesday, even the horribly hateful ones. We covered the speech, the responses in the speech, the protests, Aggies United, the marches, the reactions. More than two dozen student reporters spent a cold Tuesday night during finals week — and I emphasize that each person covering the events of Tuesday are students who are balancing national breaking news with that chemistry exam the next day — making sure that people were informed about an event on campus that we felt people needed to know about.
The Battalion does not exist to make Texas A&M look good, we exist to inform people about what’s happening on A&M’s campus. As difficult as it was to see Spencer’s speech on our Facebook page, we felt the only way to combat hatred was to give it a name.
I stand proudly behind the work my talented staff put forward all day Tuesday, and all semester. People may disagree with how we covered it and that’s their prerogative. But we are resting assured in our job well done.
Sam King is a communication senior and editor-in-chief of The Battalion.