Finding Truth in a World of “Fake News”

by The Cowl Editor on February 2, 2018

Editor's Column

by Marla Gagne ’18


For the last few months, I have been patiently awaiting the premiere of a movie that has my three favorite things: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and journalism. Last Friday, a small group of Cowl editors and writers ventured to the mall to finally see The Post, a retelling of journalism at its finest.

The movie follows The Washington Post’s involvement in the publication of the Pentagon Papers—top-secret documents regarding the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War dating back to 1945. The New York Times initially published the classified documents, which revealed that the government had misled the American public about the state of the war, but was eventually ordered to stop publication by the government. The movie follows The Post’s journey of locating the papers and publishing them, eventually making their way to the Supreme Court to fight to uphold their use of the First Amendment.

The movie is everything you want it to be—writers huddled around  conference tables, smoking cigarettes and using typewriters. Inspiring speeches by Post editor Ben Bradlee saying the only way to assert the right to publish is to publish. And the evolution of a woman working in a man’s world as publisher Katharine Graham risks her paper, reputation, and fortune to publish the truth—the ultimate mission of any newspaper.

We may not be going against the White House or defying court orders to find our own truth, but in today’s world finding the truth is not the easiest task. Facebook fills your news feed with people and ideas that mirror your own. The internet has created a platform where anyone with anything close to an opinion can voice their beliefs. And our own president has started a trend of “fake news,” a simple write-off of any argument one does not like or want to address.

But this attitude of dismissing arguments and information we may not like is harmful to every person of the community. A New York Times article recorded Pope Francis recently denouncing “fake news”  as a way to “grab people’s attention by exploiting ‘emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration.’” The article further reports that the pope advises individuals to debunk circulating falsehoods but also “praised educational programs, regulatory efforts and social media companies’ progress in verifying personal identities ‘concealed behind millions of digital profiles.’”

At a college that values “veritas,” or truth, it is crucial that every part of the community moves beyond click bait headlines and hearsay. We must be informed and open-minded and hold everyone, from media and professors to friends and family, accountable.