LAURINBURG — To claim that James Henery didn’t come to the Laurinburg Rotary meeting on Tuesday to discuss fake news would, in fact, be fake news. He did.
Henery is the director of communications and university chaplain for St. Andrews University. His resume includes teaching media and journalism classes since 1983, as well as serving as a Navy chaplain — and he has seen “fake news” almost every step of the way.
On Tuesday, he read the following quotes: “The press is the enemy; the professor is the enemy; and the establishment is the enemy” — then added that it wasn’t President Trump who said those things, but President Nixon.
“What exactly is fake news?” Henery asked. “Fake news is real (and) is being fed to us by untrained journalists. Attribution has become unimportant.”
He told the story about Alex Jones, a radio journalist in Austin, Texas, who told the world that the Oklahoma bombing never happened, that 9/11 never happened and the Sandy Hook (Conn.) shooting never happened. Jones claimed all of those events were promulgated by the federal government to help promote gun control.
“Fake news has been around a long time,” Henery said. “It started as yellow journalism, propaganda and intentional hoaxes. Today we know it as fake news.”
He added that what makes fake news much more acceptable is the internet.
“What makes news quicker, more potent? It’s the internet,” Henery said. “And once it’s out there, it’s permanent. It can forever be retrieved.
“It’s the same reason people were so captivated by the tabloids of the 1950s and ’60s like the Daily Star and Daily Mirror,”
he added. “It had unusual news — the weirder the better.”
What the internet has created, Henery said, is that a majority of people — especially for teens and 20-somethings — get their news directly from internet websites and Facebook. And it’s become a financial cash cow for many.
“For instance, Amazon makes $1,084 per second when a user logs in,” Henery said.
It’s also put the average resident into the position of being able to put news of any kind, whether it’s true of not, on the internet.
“What has emerged in the last several years is citizen journalism,” Henery said. “Anyone can initiate a news message on a blog or Twitter … and it will go out everywhere and people will believe it.
“Someone can say Laurinburg is under attack and we don’t need CNN or FOX to come and report on it,” he added. “It’s already out there (and) that’s called web spidering.”
Henery said that has caused many of the larger internet and print news services to employ fact checkers.
He pointed to The Associated Press as the most reliable and balanced news source, because it offers only facts without perspective. But he also said most students today, and much of the society, has “become visual with a fast-food approach to news.”
“I don’t care if a news service is liberal or conservative or whatever,” he said. “I just expect the facts and not the interpretation. I can interpret it myself.”
And despite their declining numbers, he also gave props to newspapers.
“I may a dinosaur, but I still think daily newspapers are the best at getting true news,” Henery said.
Just as he began his talk with a quote, Henery closed with one.
“I used to open my classes with a quote from Mark Twain: ‘There is a difference between a lightning bug and lightning,’” he said. “Now students will ask, ‘What does that mean?’
“I’m done,” he said.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]