'Fake news': 10 Pennsylvanians tell us what it is. Not many agree.

Joel Shannon
York Daily Record
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It's been named "lie of the year," has been tweeted by the President dozens of times and has been blamed for swaying the election -- but many in Pennsylvania can't agree on what "fake news" is.

Politifact defined the term when it named "fake news" the "lie of the year" in 2016: "Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word."

Fake news

Among a diverse group of 10 people from central Pennsylvania, those on the conservative side tended to use the term much as President Trump has: A way of describing perceived media bias, often against the president.

There was little talk of media bias among liberals who tended to support the media and minimize the importance of "fake news."

In the middle? The term usually was taken literally: News that is misleading; sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally. 

Elizabethtown artist who has been in the news: Some media sources play 'telephone'

Artist Emily Seilhamer, of Elizabethtown, created this dress out of 10,000 Starburst wrappers. It took her four years to collect all of the wrappers and another year to sew the dress.

After making international headlines for her handmade Starburst wrappers dress, Emily Seilhamer learned that not all media sources cared to get her story right.

At one point, she said an international journalist didn't correct a crucial factual error in an article and even asked her to share the story, despite the error.

She thinks it's up to readers to judge whether a news source is trustworthy.

Written answer, edited for length

I honestly think we are individually responsible to do the research on any news ... The media these days are like playing telephone. You hear one story that may not be true to begin with and then as more people pick it up it gets misconstrued along the way. Unless you hear something directly from the original source there's bound to be some confusion. I saw that with articles that were written about me recently. The editors that took the time to personally talk to me or thoroughly research me got the story right. There were others that got the story completely wrong. I could tell those people had only heard or seen my picture by word of mouth and decided to fabricate a story without doing any research behind it.

West Manchester Twp. 'gay Republican' committeeman: Mainstream media trying to undermine Trump

Tom Smith, Republican committeeman, West Manchester Township, 3rd district

Calling himself a "gay Republican," Tom Smith thinks "fake news" is biased journalism attempting to undermine President Trump and his agenda.

One example he cites: He believes Trump's administration is protecting the LGBT community and sees media sources suggesting the opposite.

He believes continuing coverage of investigations into allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is another example of media bias, saying some media sources did not scrutinize liberal politicians in the same manner. 

Here are his written comments in full:

To myself the term Fake News means a group of main-stream media that is hell bent on trying to undermine everything President Trump and his administration are trying to accomplish to make America great again. For instance, as a gay Republican who voted for Trump twice - in the primary and the general election I will watch the news and they claim the Trump administration hates my lifestyle. That could not be more far from the truth and something the media is trying to push to make gays afraid of Trump. President Trump and his Justice Department have made it a point to protect the LGBT community. The media (especially CNN) push the nothing-burger story involving Russia and the Trump campaign when Hillary herself colluded with foreign countries such as Ukraine and they made hundreds of thousand of dollars from Russia but you hear no peep from the media. For example, CNN has had to retract  stories that they pushed without any substance behind it just because it was anti-Trump. They are a disgrace to honest journalism. I personally believe the liberal media has one goal and that is to try and destroy the Trump administration and they will try everything possible and that includes putting out fake poll numbers and fake news to attempt to brainwash the average voter. 

Abbottstown pastor: Trump administration using term 'fake news' to distract, discredit

Pastor Shawn Berkebile outside his parish, Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Abbottstown.

Pastor Shawn Berkebile of Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran Church is no stranger to politics at the state level: He was a vocal advocate for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

He sees the term "fake news" as an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine the credibility of the media.

In his opinion, most Americans do not agree with the Trump administration's use of the term.

His full written response:

As a religious person and someone called to preach the truth and good news as it pertains to scripture, I see "fake news" in several different ways. "Fake News" is a term used to deny, distract, and deligitimize the media that is called to critique the administration. This is not something new however. It has existed as a means to create and sustain realities that are oppressive for centuries. The current struggle with the use of this term, "fake news," is a majority of the country isn't buying or living in this administration's alternative reality. Finally, I also (think) the term "fake news" can be synonymous with "propaganda" which places blame on the media but benefits those in power. 

Pa.'s democratic Auditor General: Fascinated that 'fake news' is newsworthy

Eugene DePasquale

Eugene DePasquale said that working with the media is a vital part of his job.

"Sometimes you like the articles, sometimes you don't," he said.

Although he knows journalists sometimes make mistakes, he said that most journalists are trying their best. 

"I don't really think about ('fake news') that much," he said, noting that everyone makes mistakes.

Young Trump supporter from Hershey: 'Fake news' is misleading, about the shock value

Cole Wagner

To Trump supporter Cole Wagner, "fake news" usually takes the form of misleading headlines designed to shock readers.

He cites an example where he says a large media outlet posted a misleading headline that misrepresented one of Trump's policies. 

Here's his full written response:

The term fake news to me is simply misleading information. Usually it's in the form of horribly misinforming headlines. Someone posts a story with a really shocking headline. I can think of a couple of months ago the Washington post had a headline that said Donald Trump wants to get rid of the internet. Or something to that effect. But then in the article it talked about trump wanting to have better blocks in place so people won't get hacked as easily. It's all about creating shock value and getting people angry. It's not an actual representation of the news.

Shippensburg journalism professor: 'Fake news' a misused term, used to be called 'propaganda' 

Shippensburg University Associate Professor Michael W. Drager.

While Michael W. Drager can easily define the term "fake news," he says many on both sides of the political spectrum are misusing the term.

The Shippensburg journalism professor, who advises The Slate, a student-run newspaper, says "fake news" has always existed and is traditionally known as propaganda.

"Disinformation has existed forever," he said. He noted that digital publications may present a challenge for people seeking to know if their information is coming from trustworthy, verified sources.

But he sees people -- both liberals and conservatives -- applying the term incorrectly, labeling any coverage they disagree with to be "fake news."

"People don't really understand the concept of what 'fake news' is," he said.

Bosnian Muslim immigrant, author: Many meanings for 'fake news'

Indira Rucic, 21, of Hanover

Indira Rucic and her family escaped from war-torn Bosnia in 2001. Now a published author, she lives in Hanover.

She finds a number of different meanings in the term "fake news." On the surface, the term is "self-explanatory" -- it means news that is not trustworthy. But it can also be a reminder to be careful what you believe. And it can be used by some to "brainwash."

Here's her full written response:

Fake news can mean many things. From seeing something that isn't true on Facebook to not believing what you see on Tv. The word is literally self explanatory. Fake news is a matter of how trustworthy you are and how trustworthy you believe someone else to be. For example if I see something on Facebook from someone I only met once in my life, should I believe what they posted? People can use fake news to brainwash others into believing what that person believes in. Sometimes it's hard to tell what fake news is and sometimes you can catch it just by reading the headlines. So that's what comes to mind when I hear the term "fake news."


Lebanon County conservative: 'Fake news' is biased, has 'a bone to pick'

Linda Johnson of Jonestown.

Linda Johnson of Jonestown owns an apple orchard and farmers market with her husband, Ken. She was shopping at the Lebanon Valley Mall on Wednesday while Ken was getting his hair cut.

A registered Republican, the 62-year-old said she follows politics and described herself as being on the conservative end of the spectrum. To her, “fake news” means biased news.

“It means the news is swayed, depending on the opinion of the owners of the news business. They have basically a bone to pick. They are trying to get a certain opinion across, whether it is really accurate or not.”

Wrightsville resident: 'Fake news' is losing its meaning

Laurel McDonald of Wrightsville.

Laurel McDonald wanted to keep her politics out of the matter: She thinks that "fake news" is simply news that isn't reliable.

But she see the term starting to be used a different way: Some are using it to label news they just disagree with, even if it's factual.

Here's her full written answer:

The term fake news to me literally means fake news. When reliable sources can't be cited, stated facts can't be proven, or it is obvious propaganda. I believe the term is being thrown around so often when somebody disagree with what was stated, or believe it sounds biased even if it's stating facts. I believe it's lost its literal meaning.

NewsMedia Association president: News organizations are not 'fake news'

Teri L. Henning, president
of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association

Teri L. Henning, President of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, draws a distinction between "fake news," a term she dislikes, and the news provided by media organizations. 

Written answer, edited for length:

News is fact-based. Opinion is what people think about specific topics. And ‘fake news,’ as it is used today, is too often used to describe anything that someone personally disagrees with. That’s not ‘fake news.’
The term, if used at all, should be limited to intentional efforts to spread false information. There are plenty of examples on social media and elsewhere of that. But newspapers and news media organizations are not in the ‘fake news’ business.
The role of the news media is to uncover and report on what is happening in our communities and across the world. The mission is a critical one, recognized and protected by the First Amendment, and essential to our democracy.

Dustin Levy and John Latimer contributed to this report

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