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Fake news: an exhibition on the importance of accurate journalism

While a history of hoaxes, inaccuracy and lies within journalism is on display, so is an ode to a free press that is under greater threat than ever before

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fake news: an exhibition on the importance of accurate journalism” was written by Nadja Sayej, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th August 2018 16.24 UTC

In 1914, Missouri journalist Walter Williams penned The Journalist’s Creed, ethical commandments every journalist should live by.

It claims that “accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism” and “a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true”.

It also says: “Suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.”

But in a time where “fake news” is at the forefront of American politics, it makes sense to look back on journalistic integrity, the history of propaganda and the future of the mass media as America gears up for the midterm elections vote in November.

This creed and more are in a new exhibition entitled The History of Fake News (and the Importance of the World’s Oldest School of Journalism), at the Boone County History & Culture Center in Columbia, Missouri, which traces the history of fake news – from sensational hoaxes to propaganda, yellow journalism, misinformation and factual errors.

“I felt like we should take advantage of this particular year to do something everyone is talking about,” said Chris Campbell, the center’s executive director, who co-curated the exhibit with Clyde Bentley, a retired professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. “We wanted to do it in a way that reminds people that when they vote, to think about how the candidates in public office are reacting to the world of journalism and how it’s going to have a long-term impact on our democracy.”

From old typewriters to printing presses, photos of newsrooms and the front page of one of the world’s oldest newspapers, this exhibit is set on the grounds of where Williams founded one of the world’s first journalism schools, the Missouri School of Journalism (his creed is inscribed on a bronze plaque at the National Press Club in Washington DC).

“Half of the exhibit is devoted to the history of fake news, going back centuries, hoaxes and propaganda throughout the centuries,” said Campbell. “The second half is the antidote to fake news – truth, with proof, often black and white historical photos.”

The History of Fake News (and the Importance of the World’s Oldest School of Journalism)

Though the “fake news” phrase is of recent times, the manipulation of mass information has been around for centuries. The exhibit features three different kinds of fake news: error, hoax and truths deemed false.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by the first amendment written in scarlet red cursive script on the main wall, high up, hovering over all the historical objects.

“We are not just outlining the history of fake news with this exhibit, we are taking the opportunity during this charged political era to remind people that just because some people point to the press coverage they don’t like and call it fake news, doesn’t mean it is fake news,” said Campbell. “The first amendment is critical to our democracy. By putting it in huge print in the middle of the room, it would be the point we would be making.”

The idea for a fake news exhibit came about this winter when Campbell and Bentley, a museum volunteer, began brainstorming for their summer exhibition schedule.

“We started talking about what was going on in the newspapers, the midterm elections and fake news,” said Campbell. “I said: ‘That’s it, we’re going to do an exhibition on the history of fake news.’ Bentley’s eyes lit up. I saw the wheels spinning and we got excited.”

The exhibit features 30 panels and 20 loaned objects, including an early 20th-century typewriter, the Underwood No 10 typewriter, a common typewriter many journalists used from the 1930s to the 1970s (today, the typewriters are in museums and some go for up to ,700 on eBay).

One of the oldest examples of fake news in the exhibit is a reference to the Greek philosopher Socrates, who is quoted on the prevalence of lies and exaggeration as a form of deceitfulness for public gain, or “falling under the spell of an orator”.

“It was a kind of warning for misinformation people would put out,” said Campbell.

A 17th-century coffeehouse mob
A 17th-century coffeehouse mob. Photograph: The Boone County History & Culture Center

Another example which strikes a chilling chord to today, is the history of the British coffeehouses from the 1600s, where locals would chat about the daily gossip and political scandals, around the same time when newspapers began.

“Charles II was so angry with the news against the royals and his own ideas for government, he tried to shut down the coffeehouses to stop the spread of newspapers,” said Campbell. “Eventually nobles convinced him that wouldn’t be a good idea and he backed down and they continued.”

There are also examples of 18th-century yellow press in New York City, “where lies and hoaxes were sold so people would buy them”, said Campbell.

Some other examples include animals discovered on the moon and the rediscovery of dinosaurs in an issue of the Daily Press, bearing the headline: “Dinosaurs! They are Real and the Nazis Have Them.”

There is also the example of Fairies Photographed! an early 20th-century family joke that turned into a media hoax after two young girls were photographed with cardboard cutouts of fairies, which looked real.

There are also fiction stories that turned out to be publicity stunts, like Orson Welles’ famed 1938 radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. The fictional drama which modeled the format of radio news, reported an alien invasion across the world and Martian war machines releasing poisonous gas across New York City.

The New York Daily News cover the next day read: “Fake Radio ‘War’ Stirs Terror Through US.”

“It was a hoax, but Welles saw it as fiction,” said Campbell. “He claimed innocence the next day and told the newspaper he had no idea people would take it seriously, but looking back on his work, he had a genius way of promoting himself, as soon after, he would have a film deal in Hollywood and make Citizen Kane.”

Campbell says that the center is considering creating a series of fake news exhibits to continue after this exhibit closes in January 2019 (which may be extended).

While this particular exhibit covers the history of fake news, the future of it remains undetermined for the free press. “Anyone who doesn’t see that the free press is under threat, whatever side from the political spectrum they come from, are not paying attention,” he said. “The free press is more under attack than it ever has been in recent memory.”

  • The History of Fake News (and the Importance of the World’s Oldest School of Journalism) is on display at the Boone County History & Culture Center until January 2019

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.

Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.

The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)

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NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall

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Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.

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Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction. 

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Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.

The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

___

Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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