February 8, 2017

We’re all sick of “fake news,” but with Trump and his goons in charge, we need to keep talking about it, and librarians are leading the way


Libraries need to be on the front lines teaching information literacy, and librarians are rising to the challenge.

On February 6, Donald Trump woke up and tweeted out what may be the purest distillation yet of his definition of “fake news”: “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.” That was followed soon after by another tweet, sure to become a classic of the genre.

Fake news, according to Trump and his campaign, is anything that reflects poorly on them. Given that, as Stephen Colbert famously said, “reality has a well-know liberal bias,” this means there’s an awful lot of “fake news” going around. And, as Chris Massie at CNN reports, you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the fake claims of fake news to stop.

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, said Monday that the administration will continue using the term “fake news” until the media understands that their “monumental desire” to attack the President is wrong.

“There is a monumental desire on behalf of the majority of the media, not just the pollsters, the majority of the media to attack a duly elected President in the second week of his term,” Gorka, a former Breitbart editor who also holds a PhD in political science, told syndicated conservative radio host Michael Medved.

(When Gorka was asked “whether he would acknowledge that the administration’s controversial statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day was ‘at least questionable’” in that it didn’t once mention Jews, he responded, “No, I’m not going to admit it. Because it’s asinine. It’s absurd. You’re making a statement about the Holocaust. Of course it’s about the Holocaust because that’s what the statement’s about.” Which, inasmuch as it’s nonsense, sounds an awful lot like “He’s using your words, when you use the words and he uses them back, it’s circular using of the word and that’s from you.”)

All of that aside, fake news—as opposed to “fake news”—really is a problem, and a serious one, and one that librarians are on the front lines helping to fight. Local libraries are holding programs to educate patrons on identifying and fact-checking fake news and new programs are popping up across the country. In the Seattle Times, Jerry Lange reports on the librarians who are taking on the challenge.

[Janelle] Hagen, the middle-school librarian at Lakeside School in Seattle, said the students she serves are online every day, and they need to be able to figure out what’s trustworthy and what isn’t. Besides running the library, Hagen said, she teaches a class called “digital life.” She meets with fifth-graders twice a week and with eighth-graders once a week. The classes are a mix of technology and information-literacy skills, but since the presidential election, she’s increased the focus on the latter.

The school librarians have a display up offering tips for identifying fake news, and Hagen uses The News Literacy Project to help students with information literacy.

Hagen’s eighth-graders use AllSides, a website that rates the bias of news stories and other articles, labeling them according to where they fit on a political spectrum from left to center to right. And it posts multiple versions of major stories and their ratings. Readers can test their own biases on the site. As the site says, “if you have a pulse, you have a bias.” And Hagen tells her students that even the most honest media have biases, but they also try hard to be fair, and articles must past muster with layers of editors, so a reader or viewer is more likely to get a more reliable version of a given story.

When the best defense a spokesperson can offer of the president’s honesty is, well, he tells the truth sometimes, it’s imperative that children learn early to tell the difference fact and fiction. Maybe then, they can teach their parents, and we can start working our way out of this mess.



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.