School of Journalism and New Media

The University of Mississippi

The Truth About Fake News: Washington Post columnist speaks at Overby event

Posted on: March 18th, 2019 by ldrucker

With the phrase “fake news” increasingly used in jokes and memes, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics covened a panel of journalists Wednesday, March 20, at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Mississippi for a conversation on the sobering truth about fake news and how the phenomenon is undercutting the foundation of our democracy.

Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for The Washington Post, who has called on the media to retire the phrase, led the discussion. “ ‘Fake news’ has had its 15 minutes of fame,” she wrote in a column. “Let’s put this tainted term out of its misery.”

Although Sullivan agrees that the media must deal with problems like mistakes, disinformation and conspiracies, she wrote that “putting them all in a blender and slapping on a fuzzy name doesn’t move us forward.”

Before joining The Washington Post, Sullivan was the fifth public editor of The New York Times, and the first woman to hold that job. She was also the first woman to be top editor and managing editor of the Buffalo News, her hometown paper. She began there as a summer intern and went on to become a distinguished reporter and columnist before running the paper.

Charles L. Overby, chairman of the Overby Center and a long-time newspaper executive, joined Sullivan for the conversation. He is also the former chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Diversity Institute.

In addition, Greg Brock, a senior fellow at the Overby Center joined Sullivan, with whom he worked at The New York Times. Brock was an editor for 20 years at The Times before retiring in 2017. In his final role as senior editor for standards, he worked closely with Sullivan during her time as public editor.

A conversation about “fake news” would have been impossible to have without taking into account President Trump’s use of the term, which Sullivan noted in a column in February he has used at least 400 times since becoming president. Wrote Sullivan: “It’s as simple as this: Trump doesn’t believe that the news about him is fake. No matter how many times he says it. He merely objects to the fact that it doesn’t reflect well on him.”

The program was the fourth in the Overby Center’s schedule for the spring. It was free and open to the public, like all of the center’s events.

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