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Sharyl Attkisson Event: “Fake News”

SPC Programs & Events

By William Lambert

As the sun drifted lower in the sky, the parking lot gradually filled at the Saint Petersburg College Music Center at the Gibbs campus. Birds floated around the nearby pond as people filed into the lobby to sign in and await the opening of the auditorium. New York Times bestselling author, Sharyl Attkisson, who would be speaking that evening, drew both students and people from outside of the school to the music center. She was to cover topics such as fake news, media manipulation, and ethics in journalism, but as the doors opened and people sat down, the staff made a heavy announcement. Mrs. Attkisson had come down with a fierce flu and was unable to attend.

Earlier that day, Mrs. Attkisson was answering a few questions for the local students when the symptoms worsened and she needed to take a seat. Twenty minutes before the event, Mrs. Attkisson was lying in her car and considered visiting a hospital. The staff asked the students attending to stay as the staff salvaged the situation. SPC staff decide to show Mrs. Attkisson’s TEDx talk on the subject to the remaining audience and follow it up with talks from two of the school’s professors and the dean of public policy and legal studies.

In her TEDx talk, Mrs. Attkisson goes into detail about “fake news”, a loosely defined term that ranges from entertaining tabloids, sloppy work, and intentionally misleading information. She goes on to explain how the term “fake news” was used by Google to back Clinton during the 2016 election campaign in an attempt to discredit the opposition. Trump turned the scheme around when he threw the term right back at his opponent. The plan to peddle the term “fake news” deteriorated to the point of abandonment as Trump usurped it. Mrs. Attkisson emphasizes that those who are pushing against “fake news” are the ones most likely disseminating it; or in more childish terms, the one who denied, it supplied it. She suspects that the new term “media literacy” is being used in much the same way. A way to shape and influence what people learn. A way to add another layer between the audience and the truth.

Dr. Susan Demers, Dean of Public Policy and Legal Studies, Dr. Nicholas Manias, and Mr. Christian Moriarty, JD MA, elaborated further on “fake news”. People, editors and journalists included, filter everything through their own worldview, leaving every source biased in one way or another. Identifying a source’s angle or bias often takes a skeptical mind and some critical thinking.  According to Professor Moriarty, money greatly influences a media outlet’s bias, as their continued operation and pay depends on it. By following the funding back to the source, one can help identify a bias, and by comparing different sources covering the same news, one can construct a picture closer to the truth. The pure truth will probably never be revealed, but with some digging and thinking, a person can find something close to it.

At the end of the talks, Professor Manias left some good news with the audience; Mrs. Attkisson will return and is rescheduling the event. Everyone eventually trickled out of the music center and said their goodbyes. The parking lot slowly emptied as the orange sky grew dark.

For those interested in learning more, Mrs. Attkisson also has another TEDx talk on “astroturf”, and discussed a book she wrote called The Smear at the Miami Book Fair. More of her work can be found at her blog https://sharylattkisson.com/.

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