Nation, World + Society

Journalist sees 'new lows' for the job of telling the truth in a polarized America

Lecture by news anchor Ray Suarez caps day of discussion by 19 other journalists and scholars on whether truth matters

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Ray Suarez
Les Dunseith/UCLA

Ray Suarez, former host of Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” and contributor to the PBS “NewsHour,” delivered the final Luskin Lecture of the academic year.

At the end of a daylong symposium during which journalists, scholars and media pundits debated whether truth matters in a polarized United States, reporter and news anchor Ray Suarez summarized the condition of American politics vs. American journalism.

“The job of telling the truth is different than the job of getting elected,” Suarez said.

The former host of Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” and contributor to the PBS “NewsHour” delivered the final Luskin Lecture of the academic year on Thursday, May 25, capping a full day of programming that addressed a pertinent question: “Do Words Matter? Journalism, Communication and Alternative Truth.” The lecture and preceding panel discussions were sponsored by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and held at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center.

Suarez spoke about the role of the media in a world in which traditional journalism is trusted only marginally and the truth seems to matter less and less.

Referring to the recent contest for Montana’s only congressional seat in a special election, Suarez discussed newly elected Greg Gianforte’s body slam of a reporter from the Guardian on the eve of the election.

“Think about where we are — physical attacks on reporters asking questions. That’s the kind of thing that happens in Moscow, not in Montana,” Suarez said. “While we’re at a perilous time for the country and the world, respect for the news business keeps finding new lows.”

‘Truth is under tremendous stress’

Suarez told the audience of students, faculty and community members about a recent exchange he had on Twitter with a critic who was unhappy after Suarez appeared on Fox News. Suarez had argued for the use of unnamed sources in certain instances, and afterward, he became engaged in a social media argument with the Twitter user, who was convinced that President Trump won the 2016 election’s popular vote. In fact, Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots.

“Truth is under tremendous stress in the United States,” Suarez said. “Observable, countable, measurable, testable truth now has to fight on an even playing field with your feelings. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, your feelings don’t carry the burden of evidence that truth does.”

Most fake news has an obvious slant, but biased reporting leads to public distrust of reporting, Suarez said. This mistrust of media threatens the ability of journalists to cover stories.

You can read the entire story on the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website

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