Soka University Hosts Journalism Under Fire Symposium


Riley Goodfellow

Speaker Richard Stengel and Deepa Bharath answer questions from the audience after Stengel has spoken. Bharath covers religion for the Orange County Register and the Southern California Newspaper group. She also covers race, social justice issues, and cultures. By sitting down with Stengel she helped guide the conversation and provided insight to the problems that Stengel addressed in his presentation.

Riley Goodfellow, Editorial Editor

Soka University of America’s journalism program currently holds events as part of the 2017-2018 Critical Conversations program in hopes of igniting ideas that will change the world.

A symposium on October 25, led by Richard Stengel, focused on discerning fakeness and fact in modern newspapers.

After an introduction of Stengel’s extensive experience such as being the managing editor of Time, he begun with the statement that newspapers “don’t have a fake news problem, but instead there is a media literacy problem.”

Newspapers don’t have a fake news problem, but instead there is a media literacy problem”

— Richard Stengel

Essentially, Stengel explained that the public in modern journalism tends to simply take what news is given to it as the truth. This has led to a vast majority of sources publishing content without anyone fact checking it.

‘Fake news’ could easily have been avoided in the past if there was more skepticism and if newspapers did their jobs correctly.   

To support this opinion, Stengel introduced Putin, the president of Russia, and how he gained soft power. Soft power is the influence and taking over of people through media, rather than war and military.

Once Putin won his election and came into power, “the first action he chose was to take over every television station in order to have soft power,” said Stengel. Putin made sure his vision was made clear to his citizens, so no one decided to form their own thoughts, they just took the Russian news as it was.

Elaborating on soft power, Stengel said, “four fifths of war is informational war and only one fifth is kinetic war.”

By Anton Holoborodko via Wikimedia Commons
Picture that Stengel was referring to: In February 2014 Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine to annex Crimea while Russian president Putin claimed there were no Russian troops in Crimea.

He then showed a picture of Russian soldiers that invaded Crimea in February of 2014. Stengel was able to prove that soft power does exist by recalling the time when Putin deliberately lied and convinced the public by claiming there were no Russian troops in Crimea.

In order for this to happen, Stengel said the men had to use “a tremendous amount of social media, television stories, lying about the fact that the Ukrainians in Crimea wanted Russian troops,” which successfully became convincing media.

A slide with a picture of a newspaper cover from 1995 was portrayed by Stengel, and it contained the claim that Hillary Clinton adopted an alien child. “This is known to not be true today,” said Stengel as the whole audience laughed, “but this was a very serious article twenty years ago.”

‘Junk news’ has constantly been a problem, explained Stengel. In the election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, articles of similar inaccuracy circulated, and somehow the problem has yet to be solved.

The solution Stengel provided for society’s ‘junk news’ problem, as he refers to it, was simple. “Media literacy needs to be taught to people starting at a young age, such as civics,” said Stengel.

Since people are much more likely to believe information they agree with, Stengel encourages everyone to read and find information they do not agree with. The public needs to question everything.

It is not enough to just accept whatever is depicted as news. Facts are weaved into points of views and, “the abuse of facts makes people comfortable,” said Stengel.

Media literacy needs to be taught to people starting at a young age, such as civics”

— Richard Stengel

He explained that another way to work towards ending ‘junk news’ is by implementing and securing fact checkers throughout all newspapers that ensure accurate information. Due to the fact that people do not question what they are reading, it gives publishers the liberty to say whatever they want.

It is time for the public to obtain their own beliefs separate from what is given to them through newspapers and be taught media literacy.