Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
Throughout the week of April 3, producer, journalist, Oscar-nominee, and emmy winner Callie Crossley could be seen on Chatham’s campus. For three days she circulated through classes, met with student journalists, and mentored Chatham’s Black Student Union in preparation for a discussion panel. Her final act as a guest on campus was to venture to receive an award and help those who filled Eddy Theatre on April 5, make sense of an issue swirling through minds and news cycles: Fake News.
Fake News. Since November that term has been thrown around by politicians, reporters, and citizens alike and definitions have varied. But, what is fake news and how do we tell what’s true and what’s false when it seems none of the old rules apply? Crossley offered a “reality check” to try and shed some light.
The evening started with Crossley being presented with the Barbara Sonte Hollander award by 2016 recipient Kelly Nestman and Chatham Student Government President Terri Bradford.
Crossley made comparisons between Barbara Sonte Hollander and her own mother, who she would describe as her number one role model.
“Barbara Hollander and my mother used their intellectual and imperfect resources for causes bigger than themselves and in doing so left a legacy as pathbreakers,” she said fondly. “Tonight I am honored to be following in the leadership tracks of my beloved mother and the visionary Barbara Stone Hollander.”
A natural storyteller, started with a story many audience members would be familiar with. One of a young man who opened fire on a pizza shop in Washington D.C. because he believed that there was a pediphile ring organized by Secretary Hillary Clinton inside.
“He knew it was true he read it on the internet,” she told the audience relaying the story from Edgar Maddison Welch’s point of view. In the aftermath of what has been dubbed “pizzagate,” the inability of many Americans to distinguish real news from fake news has been highlighted.
“I recount this story because it is a stark example of how the fake news epidemic or shall we call it a crisis is playing out on the ground,” she said. “And it is an example of the consequences we face when people believe made up stories are really news.”
The difference between authentic news and fake news according to Crossley is that in real news that when incorrect information is included it’s often a mistake. Fake news however, is often intentionally misleading. Although not every fake news story results in gunshots, the effects last longer than it takes a person to read an article because as Crossley pointed out, “Because of the technology the lie will always be with us.”
For the journalist her interest in this topic is not simply professional, but personal as well saying, “I learned while growing up about the power of the media to shape and to distort images.”
Weaving pop cultural references and paying further tribute to her mother Crossley told the captivated audience of her earliest experiences of with media. As a result of her mother’s determination to know the facts of all situations as a young people, Crossley and her younger sister grew up being exposed to varying viewpoints and new sources. She would go onto describe her own mother as a journalist, not by her choice in profession but by her constant search for truth.
While living in Memphis, Tennessee her dinner table served often served as crash course in different cultures and faiths because the people her would invite over to debate with and to learn from. Her takeaway?
“I use her skepticism and her curiosity as a launching pad for my later career,” Crossley told the crowd.
Bringing her listeners back to the present day the commentator turned the conversation to data, informing the audience that for many individuals, facts cannot compete with beliefs.
“It’s nearly impossible to get people to change their minds,” she said with a laugh.
“In this moment of post truth, post fact there has never been a more important time for journalists, there has never been a greater need for professional journalists” she said with conviction. “For truth tellers people who can provide objective and factual information.”
The Wellesley graduate drew a distinction between media and journalism. What’s the difference? Journalism comes with rules. Crossley was not afraid to admit that journalists, have at times fallen short of their responsibilities. So what separates real journalists from the fake news writers? First and foremost credentials and accountability.
“Real journalists recognize they should interact with readers and viewers as their limited time allows, they don’t mutely hide behind websites. And real work at new stations where don’t hide where advertisers have the power to influence news stories.”
As the talk drew to a close the Oscar-nominee took another hard turn to journalism under President Trump.
“There has always been an adversarial relationship between the fourth estate [the journalists] and whoever is sitting in the oval office,” she said. “President Trump has taken it to a whole new level.”
She would then go on to provide a rundown of President Trump’s ongoing battle with the press and recent scandals. Then the radio host would reflect upon a time when journalists were trusted and listed the factors that have eroded that trust over the years: social media, distrust of institutions as a whole, lack of media literacy.
Crossley would relay other popular fake news stories, to the response of groans from the audience. She would call upon the audience, students and community members alike to only support journalists. Not only at a national level, but locally. More than that to always question where they are getting their information and the credibility of the source. According to her, if not consumer will fall into similar traps that the Edgar Maddison Welchs of the world have.
After a night of tales of imaginary pedofile rings and Orwellian approaches to dealing with reporters after this talk many unhappy with the current state of our country could have left the event feeling discouraged. They could have, but Crossley a natural speaker ending her talk with a quote, a message of hope, and call to action.
“‘Facts don’t speak for themselves. Occasionally someone has to speak for them. Let’s be the people speaking for the facts,” she said with resolve. “And I plan on going down fighting speaking for facts and for the people who are counting on me to speak truth to power.”