‘Beat the Press’ Host Takes on Fake News

Revered Boston-based journalist Emily Rooney kicked off the 14th Annual Bissell Grogan Humanities Symposium, titled, “The Future and Function of News,” speaking in front of a packed theater.

“As you all know, you can’t turn on your radio, your television, or without looking at a newspaper and hear the term ‘fake news,'” Rooney said, explaining that the term has been popularized by President Donald Trump.

The celebrated Beast the Press host also touched upon Trump’s promise to release “fake news awards,” and she predicted that CNN would come in first place.

Rooney also spoke about the harm caused by fake news about Barrack Obama’s place of birth, 9/11 being an inside job, and “the hideous lies and rumors that the Newtown, Connecticut shooting that killed 20 kindergarteners and five adults was staged.”

Rooney called out a debunked conspiracy, spread by social media and conservative radio hosts, that during the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle, Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor in the nation’s capital.

“It caught so much traction that somebody actually took a gun and went to that pizza parlor intent of finding people who were running that pedophile ring,” Rooney said, before offering harsh words for Alex Jones, who operates the controversial site InfoWars.

“He relentlessly spreads these kinds of rumors,” Rooney said. “President Trump has quoted him on any numerous occasions.”

Rooney said that she does not believe Trump’s denials about his use of profanity to describe certain African nations.

“He’s calling CNN and other news organization fake for saying that he said that,” Rooney said. “There were ear witnesses to that, and the news media has pretty well vetted that. He can say it’s not true, but there is a big difference between something being not true and something being fake.”

While taking questions from the audience, Journalism teacher David Cutler ’02 asked what educators can to do help students discern fake news.

“Consider the source,'” Rooney said. “You have to go to what the original source is, and that’s how you find out what’s true and what’s isn’t true.”

After Rooney’s presentation, Camille Cherney ’20 attended a workshop led by Allan Ryan, the director of intellectual property at Harvard Business School, and recent author of The 9/11 Terror Cases: Constitutional Challenges in the War against Al Qaeda.

“I learned why freedom of the press is important, and why it needs to be protected at all costs. I enjoyed our engaging discussion,” Cherney said.

Rakan Alomran ’19 heard from Peter Howe, who had a 30-year career in journalism, including as a political reporter and editor for The Boston Globe, before joining  Denterlein, a public relations consulting firm.

“He showed us how people read news differently online and in print,” Alomran said. “It was interesting to see how newspaper design can influence you to read one story over another, which is different from visiting a website.”

Below, find a description of the workshops that students attended.

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