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Fighting “Fake News” About African Americans Is Black Press’ Legacy

On the third day of the recent convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a panel discussion on the “Black Press Vs. Fake News,” was held and proved to be informative and testy.

NNPA met in Norfolk June 26-30 at the Main Hotel in its Annual Summer Convention, hosted by the New Journal and Guide. The week’s activities included several workshop sessions among its agenda.

The moderator of the fake news panel was the NNPA Chairman (she does not prefer the gender neutral version) who opened the session giving a history on the issue of “fake news”, including, she said, President Donald Trump’s claim that he originated the use of the term.

Chairman Dorothy Leavell, Publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers, said the Black Press was at the forefront of addressing “fake news” as early as 1827, when Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first Black newspaper, was founded.

The Black Press, she said, has challenged any and all lies about Black people including that Black women were all whores; that Black men had dubious character; and “our bondage was necessary.”

According to Leavell, it has been the FBI and other intelligence agencies that have been the greater practitioners of fake news, having printed hundreds of negative stories about Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the Black Civil Rights Movement, including Black Lives Matter (BLM) which has been falsely defined as a violent organization.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented many Black families of loved-ones killed by the police, was scheduled to serve on the panel. However, Leavell reported that Crump was delayed in Sacramento by the judge in the case of slain victim Stephon Clark. He did arrive at the convention the following day and greeted the publishers during a follow up session.

Leavell challenged the panel to answer the question: “What can the Black Press do to protect itself and credibility during the era of Fake News?”

Sarah Glover is the 21st President of the National Association of Black Journalists, an organization composed of Black journalists and media professionals working in the mainstream press.

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She said publishers should develop an internal strategy to use social media platforms such as twitter and Snapchat and the traditional tools to monitor accuracy which has been challenged, for example, by the reduction of copy editors in newsrooms.

Another panelist, columnist and author Julianne Malveaux, who referred to President Donald J. Trump as “45”, said the Trump Administration’s assertions must be put in perspective.

For example, she said, Trump claims the Black unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. But, Malveaux said, the reason is not due to his policies; Instead, it is because “many Black people, especially women, have left the job market and this is not being reported.”

She said the mainstream media has failed to report the work of Rev. Dr. William Barber of North Carolina, leader of the “Moral Monday Marches” to the N.C. state capitol building, and head of the recently reincarnated Poor People’s Movement conceived by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago.

In June, she said, Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign, were arrested on Capitol Hill, shackled and held in various D.C. jails for over a day; yet, she said, few media outlets covered the event.

She said the generation of Millennials has been vulnerable to believing fake news due to their lack of knowledge of history. As an example, she said, this generation tends to believe recent acts of racism toward Blacks are “new.”

Deborah Gray Young, who owns an advertising consulting firm, said the Black press is still trusted to keep the community at large informed.

She said during the 2016 Presidential campaign, certain organizations specifically targeted Black people with ads and disinformation to deter them from voting, especially those reliant on social media.

But, she said, Black media, because of its high standards and the penchant of Black publishers for questioning the content and intent of advertising, shielded the community from the fake news onslaught.

She said the history of Black media being excluded from receiving more advertising dollars was “a double edged sword”. Without the fear of losing non-existent advertising, the Black Press could speak more freely in its papers.

Young said the Black Press should “take a page” from the Trump playbook which depends on a base of support among Republicans. The Black Press likewise should look to “reinvigorating” its base of support in the Black community, adding the Millennials “which will be institution’s future life blood.”

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Attorney A. Scott Bolden, who is the NNPA’s lawyer, said the nation is struggling with defining what is the truth, due the advent of fake news in the Trump era. He said Trump admits fighting the mainstream press when it runs stories questioning his policies. And, since Trump is supported by 30 percent of the general public and 95 percent of the GOP base, he is able to erode 30 percent of the credibility of news stories.

Bolden said that even CNN News execs admit they cannot just “stop covering Trump” because he is the star of the show. He said to meet the challenge, the Black Press must be faster in its coverage all at levels and access resources to add digital media. Several of the publishers in the audience asserted that Black newspapers should be more reliant on Black people for their support and not be fearful of having ads being pulled, if they are questioned.

By Leonard E. Colvin

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