Panel addresses the meaning of truth, facts in President Trump's America


Panelists discuss how United States media is handling the new administration at the Society for Professional Journalists' event on Apr. 6 in Moore 105.

The frequency and nature of President Donald Trump’s lies could have serious impacts on the U.S., said the four speakers at the “Truth in the Age of Trump” panel discussion.

More than 50 people gathered in Moore Hall room 105 Thursday, April 6, to have an interactive discussion about the meaning and value of truth and facts in current political climate. Panelists addressed how the Trump administration compares to other presidents in history and what the differences mean for the country and future role of journalism.

The Society of Professional Journalists organized the panel discussion “Truth in the Age of Trump” because questions regarding the relevance of truth has been a hot topic in the news media, said Edgar Simpson, journalism professor and adviser for the organization.

Panelists comprised various CMU affiliates with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Two professors, Brad Eidahl, a history professor who specializes in dictatorships and Latin America, and Flemming Rhode, a communications professor focused on political rhetoric, sat on the panel. They were joined by CMU journalism alumnus, Bryce Huffman, who works at Michigan Radio and Mariam Saad, current president of the International Students Organization.

While Trump is in office, it is important for people to be able to openly discuss and share different viewpoints, said Hartland freshman Madelyn-Grace Traub, member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The organization wanted to "spark conversation on important issues," Simpson said. They wanted to center the conversation on how the world will be affected if the U.S. is accepting a “post-truth” climate.

Simpson mediated the discussion and started by referencing the journalism code of ethics principle: to “seek truth and report it.” He questioned how journalists should adhere to the principle.

“Facts are like frames,” Huffman said, comparing “truth” to elements of storytelling. “When you add all the facts together, you get a movie: the truth.”

The room was encouraged to ask questions and because the audience comprised students on both sides of the political spectrum, discussion was lively.

Highland junior Joe Snyder asked why President Trump’s fabrications matter, when democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was also accused of scandals involving Benghazi and her email server.

All White House administrations have lied, Rhode explained, but what matters is what the lies are about. He said the Trump administration lies in a unique way that sparks questions of morality.

President Trump often lies about trivial things that seem to do nothing to further his political agenda, Rhode said. He cited how the president claimed his inauguration crowd was the largest in history, despite photos showing the opposite.

“It concerns me how it’s habitual, lies become normal,” he said.

While past administrations worked carefully not to misrepresent facts and take responsibility to address lies that were revealed, Rhodes said the Trump administration lies blatantly and denies accusations. The cultural attitude toward lying is concerning.

Eidahl expanded on the sentiment and said the changing attitude about the value of truth could be a disaster.

“If people get used to the idea that truth is a subjective thing, then it’ll be very hard to come back from that as a country,” Eidahl said.

Though many of Trump’s lies are trivial, Saad said it still matters because he represents the nation to other countries.

“If he is a liar, what does that say about the people?” Saad questioned.

An audience member raised concerns about bias in journalism and whether personal views interfere with journalistic integrity.

Huffman responded by explaining while there’s a natural bias to everything, reducing personal bias is always the goal during professional situations. When covering controversial topics, it is impossible for the news to appease everyone.

"We get hate on both sides for being objective," Huffman said.