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Panel searches for truth among ‘fake news’

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Brooke Grasso
Editor in Chief

A panel presented “Fighting Fake News: Global Media Literacy for the 21st Century” Wednesday night to a crowd of nearly 50 in an aim to influence critical media literacy in every day media viewing.

The panel, including Mickey Huff, director of Project censored and president of the Media Freedom Foundation, Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored and Elizabeth Blakey, attorney and assistant professor of journalism at Cal State Northridge discussed their views on the growing use of the term fake news.

“Fake news in its current iteration is weaponized,” Huff said. “It is utterly and thoroughly dismissive of something that doesn’t fit a particular world view.”

Huff explained that the term fake news took off after the democratic presidency loss because the party was looking for a scapegoat. The party pinned their loss on fake news, claiming that fake news stories led to Donald Trump’s presidential win.

Although Huff said the term fake news was used in this instance as a description of fake stories emanating from sources who intended to confuse the public and act in ways to misinform the public, the term soon took on a new meaning.

The term fake news spread like wild fire and is now used by anyone who wants to discredit something they do not believe, or challenges what they believe they know Huff said.

“We are left with the problem of fake news, because that term through the process of the campaign, was weaponized,” Huff said. “It is now grasped by anyone with a confirmation bias that wants to dissuade people from listening to a source that is critical of something they don’t like.”

Huff’s most recent example was President Trump’s use of the term to describe media outlets that were uncovering and reporting stories about him that he did not like.

The result of attacks on the media has led to an “us vs. them” mentality where media sources that would not typically work together such as CNN and Fox seemed to form an alliance.

“Now with the sociological dynamic after the government saying the media is the opposition party, a group of people who were formally competing, now have a common enemy and have realigned,” Blakey said.

Throughout Blakey’s discussion she analyzed the good, the bad, and the ugly of fake news.

Blakey argued that although it may not seem like anything good comes from fake news, the phenomenon made the public talk about the news and analyze what it should be. The bad, she said was obvious. It has caused confusion about what is trustworthy and has also caused name calling. The ugly is reflected in the attacks to silence the media and the punishment of outlets who ask the difficult questions.

Blakey cited Donald Trump’s press conference where he told CNN they were not allowed to ask anymore questions because they were a fake news outlet.

Another example discussed during the panel was Buzzfeed’s release of the Russian dossier.

Blakey said that although Buzzfeed did not report the released documents as factual, they are now faced with a lawsuit and are under the scrutiny of being called a fake news organization.

The released document brought up what Blakey said is a need for the public to take what journalists report and decide on its meaning for themselves.

“The society of professional journalists say the journalist’s role is to seek truth and report it,” Blakey said. “They are not saying to seek what is real and what is fake. They are supposed to find things that are true and report them for the people to decide for themselves. We’ve lost track of that.”

Roth pointed out that the Oxford English Dictionary chose “post-truth” as word of the year for 2016.

Defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” post-truth directly relates to Kelly Ann Conway’s recent claims of alternative facts Roth said.

Roth argued that it is necessary to understand what a fact is before arguing for its truthfulness or falsehood.

“An empirically verifiable statement about phenomena in terms of a conceptual scheme,” Roth read from “The Structure of Social Action” by Talcott Parsons.’

Professor of Public Administration Matthew Witt, who was part of the day’s event planning, said the most difficult thing about facts is that everyone views them differently.

“We don’t agree on the criteria for determining what is fake and what is not,” Witt said. “What fake constitutes depends on who you are talking to.”

Graduate student Fernando Ortega won the raffle at the end of the panel and took home one of Project Censored books, but he also took home a greater sense of critical analysis.

“One of our core values is lifelong learning,” Ortega said. “I’m walking away with more ammunition to enhance my critical thinking skills.”

Ortega said the most pressing issues he sees in the media are corporate takeovers, mergers and lack of diversity. His father worked for the Los Angeles Times when he was a child and he grew up reading the paper, which piqued his interest in global events from the beginning.

Ortega said that when he hears the term fake news he thinks it is a way for administration to make the media the issue instead of focusing on the decisions the president is making.

“I think the claim fake news is what our current administration is using to avoid answering difficult questions and addressing immediate issues,” Ortega said.

To end the night’s discussion, the panel gave the audience a few tips on how to determine the trustworthiness and reliability of a source. The main suggestions were to survey a wide spectrum of sources, investigate the sources cited in the article, and compare articles from different outlets.

A checklist for determining the credibility of a source can be found at projectcensored.org.

“It makes the media more engaging,” Roth said. “You become not a passive receiver of it, but part of an active dialogue with it.”

Brooke Grasso can be reached at brooke.grasso@laverne.edu.

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