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Journalists offer straight talk on "fake news" in annual Belote lecture

Jan 16, 2018

As news organizations struggle to deal with Trump's repeated accusations of "fake news," many have focused on trust as a solution. If people trust them, they won't be seen as fake news. Unfortunately, the relationship between trust and journalism is more complicated than that, as a new survey released this week confirms. The joint study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation finds most Americans don't trust the news media to do a good job of making sure they have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs.

The role that "fake news" has on the current political climate was the topic of the fifth annual Mike Belote Endowed Capital Lecture. Hosted by University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law on Jan. 11 at the Sterling Hotel in downtown Sacramento, this year's event was a panel discussion with experienced journalists on "Journalism in the Era of Fake News." A full house of attendees heard a dynamic discussion featuring three influential journalists on the current state of journalism, journalistic ethics, the role of journalism and how the legal community can help address the issue of fake news. The event drew more than 200 students, faculty, alumni, journalists and other members of the Sacramento community.

McGeorge Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz gave opening remarks and faculty member Mary-Beth Moylan, associate dean for experiential learning, moderated the discussion. The panelists were Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor for The New York Times; John Myers, Sacramento bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times; and Joe Mathews, California columnist and editor for Zócalo Public Square, an ASU Knowledge Enterprise Magazine of Ideas founded in 2003 and syndicated to 290 media outlets worldwide.

"McGeorge was so pleased to host 'Journalism in the Era of Fake News,' the 5th annual Belote Lecture," said Schwartz. "In an era in which the lines between real news and fabricated news, between actual facts and imagined facts, between truth and falsity feel blurred, it is important for law schools, especially the country's only law school to also offer a degree in public policy, to take a leadership role in beginning the conversation about how society can manage this new normal."

Panelists offered context on "fake news."

"Fake news was an actual phenomenon. Fake news was not bias. Fake news was not news that we did not like. Fake news was a term that was created to identify deceivers who would create false accounts that were supposed to look like real stories," Weisman told the audience, adding that the specific intent of fake news is deliberate deception for profit.

"What Donald Trump says is 'fake news' is not fake news, that's news Donald Trump doesn't like," he added.

Avoiding news may not be possible. "We have a lot of news around us, it's unescapable. News organizations depend on us spending a lot of time consuming news, but it's important to recognize that all 'news' is not equal," Matthews said.

Lorena Campos '15, one of the numerous alumni who attended the event, said, "I'm here because I think it's an important conversation to have right now."  

First-year law student Heidi Weinrich studied journalism as undergradate and attended the lecture because the topic piqued her interest. "It was interesting to hear what these long-time journalism leaders had to say on the issue," Weinrich said, noting that a degree in journalism was good training for law school. "As a student at McGeorge I've drawn on my journalism training to focus on factual information, compelling writing and a general discipline for identifying truth. That's something that seems to have been lost in what people refer to as journalism today."  

About the panelists

In Jonathan Weisman's  25-year journalism career, he has covered politics and economic policy for the Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Baltimore Sun, among other publications. He is the author of "(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump" and "No. 4 Imperial Lane."

John Myers has spent more than 20 years in radio and television news, winning awards for his coverage of California policy and politics. He served as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED's The California Report and currently hosts the California Politics Podcast. He also served as moderator of the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial debates.

Joe Mathews' syndicated Connecting California column appears in 30 media outlets. He has been a reporter the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun. He is the author of "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy" and co-author of "California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It."

The event was live-streamed via video on Facebook and can be viewed here, and more photos of the event can be found here.

The Mike Belote Endowed Capital Center Lecture was made possible by a generous donation from Mike Belote '87, president of California Advocates Inc. and a longtime Pacific McGeorge alumni donor and volunteer. Belote's gift was matched by Pacific's Powell Fund.

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