"Is that a fact?" is produced by the non-partisan national education non-profit the News Literacy Project. It seeks to inform listeners about news literacy issues that affect their lives through informative conversations with experts working to combat misinformation.
How 9/11 truthers planted the seeds for QAnon
For the second season of Is that a fact?, we’re exploring the origins of false narratives and the harm they have caused. We know that sharing misinformation is misleading and leaves people poorly informed, but we wanted to go deeper and explore how fictional information starts and then bubbles to the surface to misdirect the country’s civic and cultural discourse.
For our first episode of the season, we take a look back at the myths that surround the September 11 attacks as the 20th anniversary of that day approaches. One of the core drivers of 9/11 misinformation was the film Loose Change, which our first guest, Esquire magazine correspondent John McDermott tells us, “remains probably the single most popular piece of conspiracy media ever created.” He explains how the film started a movement of conspiracy theorists that planted the seeds for today’s Qanon believers.
Our second guest, James Meigs, former Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief, discusses how his team of journalists debunked many of the myths propagated by Loose Change even before the film came out. “What was really powerful about Loose Change wasn’t the specific claim,” said Meigs. “It was the overall mood of the film making… It had really cool music. It had all this slow motion. It had this very compelling narration, even if a lot of it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was quite powerful to watch.”
Our final guest is Ann Van Hine whose husband was a firefighter killed the day of the terrorist attacks explained dealing with the anniversary in personal terms and explains what it’s like to come face to face with so-called Truthers while working as a docent at the 9/11 Tribute Museum.
Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.
Relevant interviews and links:
A comprehensive history of Loose Change — and the seeds it planted in our politics, by John McDermott, Esquire MagazineDebunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, Popular MechanicsPieces falling: Navigating 9/11 with faith, family, and the FDNY, by Ann Van Hine9/11 debate: Loose Change filmmakers vs. Popular Mechanics editors of ‘Debunking 9/11 myths’
Special: Is misinformation to blame for vaccine hesitancy?
In this special episode of Is that a fact? we explore why some people remain hesitant to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, despite growing evidence that inoculation is the key to getting our lives and the economy back on track. We wanted to find out just how much misinformation might be to blame for that reluctance or if genuine concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines might be giving people pause.
To answer this question and more, we spoke with Dr. Erica Pan, the deputy director of the California Department of Public Health Center for Infectious Diseases and Brandy Zadrozny, a senior reporter for NBC News, who covers misinformation, extremism and the internet.
Dr. Pan has served as interim health officer and director of the Division of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Alameda County Public Health Department since 2011 and was director of public health emergency preparedness and response at the San Francisco Department of Public Health in 2011. She was also director of the Bioterrorism and Infectious Disease Emergencies Unit at the San Francisco Department of Public Health from 2004 to 2010 and was a medical epidemiologist trainee there from 2003 to 2004. Dr. Pan earned a Doctor of Medicine degree and a Master of Public Health degree from the Tufts University School of Medicine.
Before joining NBC News, Zadrozny was a senior researcher and writer at The Daily Beast for five years, where she broke stories about Russia’s Internet Research Agency, as well as President Donald Trump and some of his associates, but she started out as a teacher and librarian.
For more information on combating COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, visit newslit.org/coronavirus. There you’ll find links to reliable sources of information on the virus and vaccines, articles addressing the full spectrum of vaccine hesitancy, sites that debunk many of the myths surrounding the shots and the virus and more.
How much did misinformation impact the election?
This episode, which was recorded live on Zoom on Wednesday, November 18 with a panel of experts, is our season finale. Our host moderated a conversation with Enrique Acevedo of CBS’ “60 in 6,” Dr. Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center and Jane Lytvynenko of BuzzFeed News about how misinformation impacted the 2020 elections and what we can anticipate on the horizon.
Acevedo is a correspondent on the new CBS production “60 in 6.” Before that, he was the Emmy-award winning anchor of Noticiero Univision late-night edition. Acevedo is also a member of the News Literacy Project’s (NLP) board of directors and the host of NLP’s Checkology® lesson on Practicing Quality Journalism. Dr. Donovan is the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. She is a leading expert in the field in examining online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns. Lytvynenko is a journalist with BuzzFeed News, based in Toronto, where she covers online misinformation. Her work investigates the spread of fake news, digital deception, and the rise of hyper-partisanship online.
Truth Decay: Why Americans are turning away from facts
Our guest this week is Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist at RAND corporation, a nonprofit global public policy think tank. Our host spoke to Kavanagh about a phenomenon she and her colleagues have dubbed “Truth Decay.” We wanted to know why truth has been under assault in recent years, why Americans are increasingly rejecting the expertise of institutions we used to hold in high esteem and what we can do about it?
Kavanagh is the director of the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program in the RAND Arroyo Center and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on U.S. defense strategy, international conflict and military interventions, disinformation, and the relationship between U.S. political and media institutions. She co-authored Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.
Coming up: Join us on November 18 at 5:30 p.m. EST for our final episode, which we’ll be recording live on Zoom, featuring Jane Lytvynenko of BuzzFeed News, Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard and Enrique Acevedo of 60 Minutes’ new show 60 in 6. Our panel of experts will offer insights about how mis-and dis-information impacted the election. For details, visit newslit.org.
The mainstreaming of conspiracy theories
Our guest this week is Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst who is now the vice president for analysis for Alethea Group, where she leads disinformation investigations in the private sector. Our host spoke to Otis about why conspiracy theories have become more mainstream, what’s lending them such currency and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against them.
Otis spent 10 years at the CIA as a military analyst, intelligence briefer, and a manager in the directorate of intelligence in both Democratic and Republican administrations. She is also the author of the newly released True or False: A CiA Analyst’s Guide to Identifying and Fighting Fake News, published by Macmillan.
Coming up: Join us on November 18 at 5:30 p.m. EST for our final episode, which we’ll be recording live on Zoom. We’ll have a panel of experts offer insights about how mis-and dis-information impacted the election. For details, visit newslit.org.
Why democracy falters without local news
Our guest this week is Gilbert Bailon, the editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Our host spoke to Bailon about the importance of local news to American democracy. Local news organizations have been gutted in recent years, leaving communities across the country with little to no coverage and stripping them of their watchdogs. What are the consequences for American democracy and why should everyday Americans care?
Bailon joined the Post-Dispatch as editorial page editor in 2007 and then in 2012, became the paper’s editor. Before that, he was executive director of the Dallas Morning News and the founding editor and publisher of Al Dia, a daily Spanish-language newspaper owned by the Dallas Morning News. He has served as president of the American Society of News Editors, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Unity Journalists of Color.
By some estimates, 1,300 communities across the country now have no local news outlet at all, leaving them with no independent oversight of local government and corporate activities. Some cities, such as Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Youngstown lost their daily newspapers, while some papers like the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that used to provide award-winning, robust local coverage, are now operating on a shoestring with reduced staffs.