Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Robert Gibbs sat under the portraits of George and Martha Washington, engaging in back-and-forth dialogue about fake news and impeachment. The inaugural event for the Center of Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity, hosted at the Richard Nixon Library, saw about 500 attendees ranging from Chapman affiliates to alumni to students.
Sanders and Gibbs were joined by Brian Calle, the director of the center, in a moderated discussion that lasted about an hour and a half. Despite question cards given to the members of the audience to fill out, the conversation lasted the duration of the event and left no time for a Q&A. The audience ranged in reaction to the sentiments shared by both former press secretaries, with some chiming in with low rumbles of approval or disagreement.
One of the most consequential conversations shared between the press secretaries was about fake news. Below are the full answers given by Gibbs and Sanders on the matter.
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Sarah Huckabee Sanders (SHS): I think my boss coined that term. I think fake news is information that is not correct, not accurate or that is misleading purposely or laced with so much opinion that it is not news. It is a dangerous thing to provide the American public with factually incorrect information and not always valid information.
I think (misinformation and fake news) go hand in hand, they are very similar. Purposely misleading is different. Misspeaking, making mistakes, typos those aren’t the same thing.
Robert Gibbs (RG): Fake news started as a concept more appropriately if you go back to the 2016 races. You’ll see, people can set up a website, create a story and say hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were found in a warehouse in Ohio. You can put that story up on the internet and you can sell ads and you can make a ton of money and it’s not even remotely real. It never happened. There aren’t these mysteriously uncovered uncounted absentee ballots in Ohio. And there are articles and they interview people who say ‘I was just messing around and I can make tens of thousands of articles selling ads that are generated by algorithms on these websites.’ That to me is fake news. I get worried that we expand this definition into news were there is a mistake, news we don’t like. Show me a press secretary that likes everything that has been written by them and I’ll show you a press secretary that doesn’t believe in everything that has been said about them. I remember waking out of the White House in just a week or two that I would get in arguments with people in words for no particular reason. And thats not even the point of the story, arguing the structure of the sentence is just stupid. I get worried we are going to take the very real and dangerous weaponization and paper that very dangerous paper by worrying if someone makes a mistake, we call it fake news.
I will say this we can’t have freedom of expression and a rational civil discourse without some basis of fact checking. If all we are trying to do is structure a system in which we have civil discourse but that civil discourse isn’t based on some foundation of what is true or isn’t. Then it’s just talking the talk. And there is no particularly utility in that, there is no reason to have a center for freedom of that. Let’s have a discourse that is in good faith, good dealing, truth and fact and then we will be able to make progress. Let’s be very careful of saying I didn’t like that story in The Washington Post, I didn’t like that story in The New York Times, I didn’t like that story on Fox news, its fake news. I remember a story, I remember I was on the road in 2007 and all these stories started popping up. We used blackberrys, I’ll explain it later. I could see this story that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and I pick up the phone and I remember we are on the bus and I’m like this thing keeps popping up in my clips and I don’t know what it is. This is the silliest, craziest thing, I could ever imagine. And I talk to research and say what do we have? And she says the state of Hawaii has a copy of the birth certificate. That’s the highest documentation you can get from the state of Hawaii and I say do you have that copy? Yes, scan it, put it on the internet, create a link for it, put it on a website. And here is how dum and naive I was, this is 2007, I thought it was solved. I thought I got the replica of the birth certificate that says Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, it was like 2014 when that story finally left sight. But my guess is if I did a poll in Ohio right now I bet 20 percent of the people would tell you that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. That’s both a mistake and fake news. That’s fake news.
That’s why fake news can be such a dangerous thing, once it’s out there it can take weeks, months, or years before you can ever correct that storySarah Huckabee Sanders
SHS: I think you made a really great point about how completely fabricated stories and about how quickly they can spread due to social media and the amount of access everyone has to information. That’s why fake news can be such a dangerous thing, once it’s out there it can take weeks, months, or years before you can ever correct that story and thats why it’s so important that we have accurate information that’s out there. And with the ability for anyone with a phone or a computer to create something that looks like news and put it out. It’s a really serious thing, particularly when you have foreign countries that want to infiltrate and influence in our elections and so many other things in our society and they have the ability to. It’s a very scary and dangerous thing to have so much access to that information and the ability to spread so quickly
RG: The biggest social media platform is larger than the population of the largest country in the west. And they will tell you can’t stop us. They also accept ads-someone paid in rubles. Thats not fake news by the way. I don’t know why at some point somebody’s radar didn’t go off. If we are selling ads on Facebook and somebody is paying in rubles, so when you take the weaponization of fake news and add in the weaponization of a platform that is circulated to 2 billion people with a click of a mouse, you got a dangerous cycle that can inflict some serious damage.