Is that a fact?

The News Literacy Project

"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.

Are journalists getting the immigration story right?
May 4 2022
Are journalists getting the immigration story right?
In this episode, we interview Dr. Reece Jones, chair of the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and author of White Borders: The History of Race and Immigration in the United States from Chinese Exclusion to the Border Wall, for an overview of the most enduring false narratives that have shaped our public conversations about immigration. We then speak to Roberto Suro, a professor of journalism and public policy and the associate director of the Price Center on Social Innovation at the University of Southern California. Suro helped us explore how the news media covers immigration and how that coverage helps shape people’s perception of the issue. Bear with us during this episode. At times you maybe ask yourself, how does this relate to the news media. But remember this: to be a critical consumer of news and information about immigration, you need to have an understanding of the policies that have shaped immigrations in our country’s history.On a previous episode, we explored the perception gap between Democrats and Republicans and of course the subject of immigration came up. It's a subject we wanted to continue to look at  because it's a hot button issue that will only become more heated as climate change alters migration patterns around the world in the years to come. Immigration will shape the cultural makeup of the US, future voting patterns, and whether America, a country that many would say is made stronger by its immigrant population, can continue to gain strength through balanced immigration policies. But it's also an issue rife with mis- and disinformation, false narratives, our theme for the season, some of which are even perpetuated in the news media and we wanted to dispel them by consulting experts armed with facts and lived experience.Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.Related links:White Borders: The History of Race and Immigration in the United States from Chinese Exclusion to the Border Wall, Reece Jones, 2021"'Illegal, 'undocumented,' 'unauthorized': News media shift language on immigration", Pew Research Center, 2013"'illegal immigrant' no more," Associated Press, April 2, 2013"California Dreaming: The New Dynamism in Immigration Federalism and Opportunities for Inclusion in a Variegated Landscape," Roberto Suro, August 8, 2018"We see all immigrants as either legal or illegal. Big mistake." Roberto Suro, July 13, 2012
Disinformation and Russia’s War in Ukraine
Apr 20 2022
Disinformation and Russia’s War in Ukraine
In this episode we talk to two journalists covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine to help us better understand how disinformation and propaganda are obscuring, or outright contradicting, the facts, both within Russia and beyond its borders. Our first guest, Roman Anin, is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and founder and editor-in-chief of the Russian news portal iStories and a former investigative journalist for the recently shuttered Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Now living in exile and labeled a so-called “foreign agent” by the Russian government, Anin tells us why “propaganda is like radiation” and how hard it is for Russians today to access news from independent sources.After hearing about Putin’s 20-year campaign to restrict press freedom and control the media narrative, we talk to Elyse Samuels, a member of the The Washington Post visual forensics team, about her role in verifying images and videos for breaking and ongoing news events like the war in Ukraine. Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.Related links:Russian police raid home of prominent journalist Roman Anin, The Guardian'Our job is to save history': Russian journalist on exposing Putin's lies, ViceOpinion: Putin tolerated some critical voices in his 22-year assault on Russian media. His war in Ukraine ends even that, Committee to Protect JournalistsRussian attacks hit at least 9 Ukrainian medical facilities, visual evidence shows, The Washington PostSome survivors emerge from rubble of theater bombed by Russia, Ukranian officials say, The Washington Post
The politicization of the pandemic
Dec 16 2021
The politicization of the pandemic
In this episode, we set out to explore whether false narratives about the pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccines have overshadowed science or whether science has managed to hold its own, particularly in light of the politicization of the pandemic.Politics has certainly influenced who has chosen to get vaccinated. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “there continue to be differences in COVID-19 vaccination rates along partisan lines, a gap that has grown over time.” The Kaiser study showed that almost 53 percent of people who live in counties that voted for Biden were fully vaccinated compared to nearly 40 percent of people in counties that went to Trump. To better understand why people continue to reject overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the safety of the vaccines when compared to the dangers posed by the virus, we spoke to three people to learn more about the false narratives surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccines. Our first guest is Dr. Katherine J. Wu, a staff writer for The Atlantic who has a PhD in microbiology and immunobiology from Harvard University and has covered many different aspects of the coronavirus since the pandemic began. She tells us that when there is a crisis like this pandemic, it’s not unusual for misinformation to follow and spread confusion.Our second guest is Texas resident Tony Green, a Republican voter who has written about his first-hand experience with COVID-19. In June 2020, Green and his partner invited six family members to spend the weekend at their home in Dallas. At the time, Green was still referring to the pandemic as a “scamdemic” — wildly blown out of proportion. But over the course of that weekend, he developed symptoms of COVID-19 that would eventually land him and some his extended family in the hospital. In all, the virus spread to 14 members of his family and took the lives of two of them. (Starts at 18:25).Our third and final guest is U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy who tells us why he issued his “Confronting Health Misinformation” advisory and a special toolkit to help people learn how to navigate their way through all the false and misleading information not just about the virus and vaccines, but about all kinds of health-related topics. (Starts at 35:32).Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.Related links: Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Health Information EnvironmentA Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation“What are we so afraid of?” Tony Green, as told to Saslow, Washington PostA harsh lesson in the reality of COVID-19, Tony Green, DallasVoiceCoronavirus reporting, by Katherine J. Wu
Perception or reality: Just how divided is America, really?
Oct 14 2021
Perception or reality: Just how divided is America, really?
In this episode, we set out to explore whether the narrative of the country’s deep political polarization is fiction or reality. If you follow the news, you’ve probably heard that the country is deeply divided on political issues. Since 1992, no presidential candidate has received more than 53% of the popular vote. In recent years, Congress has routinely been deadlocked over some of the country’s most pressing issues. But what’s going on in the Capitol is not necessarily reflected in the hearts of many Americans. In fact, when you step back, it turns out most of us are more moderate than this narrative of extremes would suggest. For this episode, our first guest is U.S. director of More in Common, Dan Vallone, who discusses research into what his organization has dubbed the “perception gap”. Then, we talk to former Republican Member of Congress Charlie Dent about his experience on the Hill as a moderate representing the swing state of Pennsylvania. (Starts at 27:40).And finally, we conclude this episode in conversation with Charles Whitaker, the Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, who calls out the news media for playing up the us-versus-them narrative of political polarization and shares what schools like his are doing to encourage their students to take a new approach. (Starts at 46:00).Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.The Perception Gap Quiz The Perception Gap findings“The US army veteran who's using his Harvard MBA to do good,” BusinessBecause, Sept. 24, 2019. “Charlie Dent’s War,” Politico Magazine, July 28, 2017 "Meet Charles Whitaker, Dean of the Medill School of Journalism," KUT 90.5, June 10, 2020
How 9/11 truthers planted the seeds for QAnon
Sep 8 2021
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?
May 19 2021
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.
Can journalism survive an authoritarian ruler?
Sep 30 2020
Can journalism survive an authoritarian ruler?
Within journalism circles, Maria Ressa is a hero.  She is a veteran journalist, as well as the co-founder, executive editor and CEO of  Rappler , a popular online news website in the Philippines. Ressa is celebrated for her critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte and for enduring legal challenges to her site’s reporting. She has experienced first-hand how hard it is for journalists to hold the line against an authoritarian leader when press freedoms are threatened. In June, Ressa and her former Rappler colleague were found guilty of “cyber libel.” She is currently fighting the government’s move to revoke Rappler’s license and faces up to 100 years in prison for her work as a journalist. Ressa is the subject of a recent PBS documentary, “A Thousand Cuts,” about the fight between the government and the press in the Philippines. She was named Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, was among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and has also been named one of Time's Most Influential Women of the Century. She is the author of two books: From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism;  and Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda's Newest Center. Our host spoke to Ressa about the rise of misinformation, the role of tech inmisinformation and, of course, her battles with Duterte. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity. Additional credit: Suzannah Gonzales provided producing assistance, Zoe Denckla provided research assistance and Miranda Shafer provided production assistance.