Panel probes fake news

Kelsey Mattingly

Under a Trump administration repeatedly accusatory of “fake news” backed up by “alternative facts,” UK journalism professors Dr. Mike Farrell and Al Cross broke things down at a campus panel on Thursday afternoon as part of an ongoing series sponsored by the College of Communication and UK’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter.

President Donald Trump has claimed that a majority of reports about him are falsehoods. Thus, the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become topics of conversation in the media world. 

Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, believes government figures use the term “fake news” to address news they aren’t fond of. He noted that now more than ever the American public is taking their cues from politicians instead of experts reporting the facts.

“The First Amendment is a limited protection. We have to fight. We are dependent on the goodwill of the public,” Cross said.

Since 2005 there has been a gradual decline in the public’s trust in the media, primarily caused by the internet. It is easy for government officials to bypass the media to release information via social media platforms. 

“The media was never meant to serve as a friend to any government official,” Dr. Farrell said. 

Both speakers agreed it is the responsibility of the media to serve as a watchdog, not a partisan outlet for biased opinions. As the media, “We need to do a better job of reporting faithfully, truthfully and accurately,” Dr. Farrell said.

At the start of the panel, Cross mentioned that Trump claims the media has become the opposition party. Moments later, Dr. Farrell reiterated that Trump came close to the truth in that sentiment. He also agreed that some complaints about the media from Trump are justified. 

This stems from instances in which the media has incorrectly reported big stories. One such attack from Trump was targeted at Time magazine journalist Zeke Miller, who falsely reported Trump had the Martin Luther King Jr. bust removed from the Oval Office. 

“There’s no understanding or explaining why they get those big stories wrong,” Dr. Farrell said. It is the job of the media to be mindful of errors and continue to fact-check. 

Cross agreed, asking, “Should we keep fact checking? Of course. It’s a matter of attitude, we don’t need extraordinary measures.”

In a new America where the media is steadily losing the trust of the public, it is imperative for journalists to remain calm, according to Cross. Journalists are to hold political figures and institutions accountable in a dispassionate way that separates what is reality versus fiction. 

But in his closing statements, Cross warned the audience. 

“When the government starts believing its own lies, then we’re in trouble.”