In a world where some of our country’s most reputable news outlets have been labeled as “fake news,” it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what is accurate and what is not, popular NPR talk show host Ari Shapiro said during his Guarnaschelli Lecture in Frazier Hall on Oct. 25.
The Guarnaschelli Lecture Series, which began in 1984, was Bellarmine’s first endowed lecture series. This year, the lecture was incorporated into the weeklong celebration leading up to the official inauguration of Dr. Susan M. Donovan.
Shapiro, co-host since 2015 of All Things Considered, NPR’s award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, was previously NPR’s international correspondent based in London and traveled the world covering a wide range of topics. He has reported from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One. He has covered wars in Iraq, Ukraine, and Israel, and he has filed stories from five continents.
Before that, he spent four years as White House Correspondent during President Barack Obama’s first and second terms. In 2012, he was embedded with the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney, and he was NPR’s Justice Correspondent for five years during the George W. Bush Administration, covering one of the most tumultuous periods in the Department’s history.
And so he was particularly well positioned to address the topic “Lessons from the Fake News Front Lines.”
Shapiro began his speech talking about an interview with a Carnegie Mellon professor about Russian interference in the U.S. election and how online Russian bots manipulated Facebook’s algorithms so that more people would see it. He said this was done to cast Russian interference in a positive light. The point of that example was to show how news can be manipulated. He also talked about Russian involvement in U.S. controversies such as The Pizza Gate story or the NFL “Take a Knee” controversy. He said that there was at least some Russian involvement in the social media dispersal of those instances.
Shapiro then went on to talk about how consumers can distinguish between “fake news” and news from a legitimate source. Legitimate news outlets usually cite multiple sources for their information, he said. They also have fact checkers and some degree of accountability. If they print or release something that is not true, then they own up to their mistake and correct it.
But he also discussed how since President Donald Trump took office, he has de-legitimized multiple reputable news sources by slapping them with the label of “fake news” when he doesn’t like something they have reported. And he noted the fact that the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” which means relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
We live in a post-truth era, he said, where many people choose to grasp on to pieces of news that align with their beliefs and give little thought to whether the piece of news is actually true.
But consumers are also the ones who must fix the system, Shapiro said. We need to take it upon ourselves to do the fact checking and watching out for what is true and what isn’t.
The media still has a crucial role to play, he said. “The role of the media is to go beyond what leaders are telling us and find out what is actually happening that leaders might not want to tell us, and when you don’t have that happening in the state legislature and in the mayor’s office and in the governor’s office, that creates a fertile breeding ground for corruption.”
He also said that he felt confident in the future of radio and news broadcasting.
“For as long as humans have existed, we have listened to stories told by the human voice. When we are born, the first thing we hear is the human voice,” he said. “There is something so intimate and fundamental and profound about hearing stories told to you by another human, and so whether it’s an FM radio dial or an NPR One app or a podcast or whatever it is, I have no doubt that we as humans will continue telling audio stories in one format or another.”
The Guarnaschelli Lecture Series was made possible by a grant from Dr. John and Marty Guarnaschelli of Louisville, whose intent was to bring leading arts and humanities speakers to the Louisville community for appearances that are free and open to the public. Past Guarnaschelli lecturers include Isabel Allende, Wendell Berry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ken Burns, James Dickey, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, and many others.
By Tyler Hardin