Journalism faculty encourage keeping up with news at Hot Potato event

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A free press gives everyone an equal voice, instructors say.

By Michael Smith

Not being aware of what is occuring daily can get people killed, journalism Instructor Irene Abrego said to an audience of 40 at the Hot Potato Issues lecture March 26 at the Methodist Student Center.

Abrego said it is important to keep up with the news to know what is going on, especially regarding food.

“We had a very widespread recall of Romaine lettuce that was making people sick,” she said.

Abrego said people should take responsibility for knowing about issues like water quality.

“Frackers assure us that no damage is being done to our water supply,” she said. “We can’t even get them to tell us what chemicals are being pumped into the ground.”

She and journalism Professor Edmund Lo discussed the importance of a free press.

“Spelling a name wrong is not fake news,” Lo said. “Fake news is a malicious story used to
persuade the public to a particular point of view.”

Abrego used investigative journalists Bob Woodward, one of two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972, as an example of someone who did his best to inform the public.

“Our news is the best obtainable version of the truth that we’re able to get by the deadline,” she said. “Tomorrow the story may change as we get more information, but at the moment we are doing the best we can to tell you the truth as we know it.”

Lo used Jayson Blair, former New York Times reporter, as an example of corruption in the news industry.

In 2003, Blair wrote a story where he claimed to interview the mother of a soldier from the Rio Grande Valley who was missing in Iraq.

In his story, Blair described the subject’s home in detail, but he never traveled to Texas, Lo said. “He just made it up.”

Blair pleaded by saying that he did not commit these acts with malicious intent, but was doing what he felt was necessary to live up to the expectations of others.

Because of lack of detail and false information about the residence, Blair was exposed by Macarena Hernandez, a reporter at the San Antonio Express-News at the time.

“In his story, he was describing the patio furniture the soldier had bought his family before he died,” Abrego said. “However, the furniture was still in boxes when Macarena arrived.”

Abrego said Hernandez was informed by the family of the soldier that the furniture was going to be set up in the living room, not the patio.

Lo said after this event, multiple instances of plagiarism were found in Blair’s other articles.

“The New York Times investigation team found that 36 out of 73 stories had problems proving if the information was true or fake,” he said. “These are the kind of things we mean when we say fake news.”

As a result, Blair resigned in May 2003.

Abrego criticized President Donald Trump for accusing various news outlets of spreading false information.

“In February he went a bit further by calling the New York Times the true enemy of the people,” she said. “That hurts because we are all here to get the truth and share it with the public.”

Abrego said news organizations being targeted is not new.

“Criticism is nothing new,” she said. “The media has always been criticized no matter what it does. There is going to be somebody who is not happy.”

Lo then spoke on sacrifices made by journalists when the circumstances of gathering news resulted in death.

“We pay a big price,” he said. “The price sometimes is life.”

In 2018, 54 journalists around the world were killed in either incidental crossfire or targeted attacks.

This year the number of deceased journalists rose to 60, with many of these occurring in Mexico, Russia, Syria and Iraq.

“They are being killed to silence the press,” Lo said.

Lo said a free press has benefited society.

“If not for free press, how would we know anything?” he said. “If the press does not make the public awar,e who will?”

Lo elaborated on the Theranos scandal of 2015 as an example of how the power of journalism has exposed companies for corruption.

Theranos was a $9 billion company exposed by John Carreyou, Wall Street Journal reporter, for false claims of a test that requires small amounts of blood.

After proper investigation from other health agencies as well as attorneys and other sources, the company ceased operations in 2018.

“The company falsifying this blood test could have endangered the lives of many people,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Wall Street Journal reporter who revealed that, we would all suffer.”

Abrego highlighted the responsibilities of a free press.

“People can’t be everywhere and hear everything that is going on,” she said. “We step in and collect information to make sure American citizens have all the information they need.”

Abrego said the First Amendment is important because everyone needs an equal voice.

“We all have laws and government programs that affect us. You have the right to speak on them.”

Abrego said independent thinking is important.

“We should not just base our thoughts on the opinions of our idols,” she said. “You have to listen to the argument and hear the reasons behind them to find out what makes the most sense to you.”

Abrego said many crises today need to be solved, such as the abuse of opioids.

Abrego said 130 people die every day of opioid abuse.

“There are a lot of people who need to answer for this,” she said.

Abrego said the pharmaceutical industry should be held responsible because regardless of them knowing the problem, they continued to sell opioids for financial gain.

Lo said the effects of certain foods on the human body change.

“In the ‘70s, the government said we better limit our egg consumption because it can increase your cholesterol,” he said. “In the ‘90s they said it was OK, but now it is best to cut down on eggs.”

Lo said the confusion of rights and wrongs need to cease.

“We need to try and find the best answer to this,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

  1. Alex Ruiz, program coordinator at the Wesley Foundation, said major media outlets will falsify narratives.

“A friend of mine was working an empty area where they just bombed an empty warehouse,” he said. “But on the news, they said they had just taken down a major weapons factory.”

Abrego’s solution is to be proactive.

“Reporters can bring you the information,” she said. “But you still have work to do.”

Asslan Khaligh, political science director, said social media should not be used as a news outlet.

“Social media is not always correct,” he said. “You have to look at the real sources and look in depth into the issues.”

Lo responded by saying that social media can be both detrimental and beneficial.

“It is like a double-edged sword,” he said. “Anyone can make a mistake, so you need to look at multiple sources.”


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