Editorial | Fight for the facts

fake news

Illustrated by Gaby Fantone

On Oct. 2, former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson spoke to an audience of about 500 in Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts about how “fake news” manifests in modern media.

A phrase that was popularized by President Donald Trump just before he took office, the idea of fake news has changed the way our society consumes the media. News that circulated on Facebook and other forms of social media during the 2016 election have caused people to question who and what they can still believe, leading some to choose “fake” news sites over reputable sources.

A 2017 study conducted by Stanford University found that social media has a huge role in perpetuating fake news, with more than 40 percent of referrals to fake news sites coming from social media, compared with just over 10 percent for top news sites.

It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when political leaders make it seem like nobody but they can be trusted. Three-quarters of Republicans trust Trump over the media, according to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll. This political era is marked by a near-constant news cycle, and it’s easy to feel barraged with questionable information and open criticism of the media from political leaders.

As recently as Oct. 4, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) accused reporters of bias in covering Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. In his time in office, Trump has made 5,001 false or misleading claims, according to a Washington Post counter. Now, more than ever, it’s important that everyone take the time to fact check claims made by powerful and influential people in society, no matter how tedious it seems.

Attkisson told The Panther Oct. 2 that conservatives define fake news as biased and sloppy reporting, while liberals define it as purposely false information, but Trump has used the term to call out people who he believes are intentionally trying to smear his image.

While journalism is a crucial part of holding the government accountable, news organizations on both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of factual errors. In 2017, Time Magazine incorrectly reported that a bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from Trump’s Oval Office, and later issued a correction. Fox News was sued by the family of a murdered Democratic aide in March after the news organization published a story about his death that was later retracted.

While most reputable news sources have staff members who are committed to fact-checking and reporting correct information, there is always the propensity for human error. It’s the responsibility of journalists to strive to report the most accurate information and correct errors when they happen.

But readers also have a responsibility. Read news sources, locally and nationally, with a critical eye. Speak up if something seems wrong. Cross-reference between multiple news sources. Use websites like Snopes and FactCheck to verify information that seems biased or exaggerated.

Responsible journalism should be a concerted effort between news outlets and those who read them. Instead of categorizing journalists as “enemies of the people,” be a part of their fight for the truth.