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The news isn’t fake, but it’s flawed, New York Times columnist acknowledges at UCR lecture

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni delivers the 49th Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture at UC Riverside on Friday, May 18, 2018. The theme of his address was: “The News Isn’t Fake, But It’s Flawed.” (Photo courtesy Carlos Puma, UC Riverside)
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni delivers the 49th Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture at UC Riverside on Friday, May 18, 2018. The theme of his address was: “The News Isn’t Fake, But It’s Flawed.” (Photo courtesy Carlos Puma, UC Riverside)
Sound The gallery will resume in seconds New York Times columnist Frank Bruni talks to community members at UC Riverside after delivering the 49th Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture on Friday, March 18, 2018. The theme of his address was: “The News Isn’t Fake, But It’s Flawed.” (Photo courtesy Carlos Puma, UC Riverside)
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The news reported by the mainstream media isn’t fake, but too often it is delivered in a flawed manner, a New York Times columnist told a crowd of 350 people during the 49th Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture at UC Riverside on Friday, May 18.
“We have to watch our tone,” said Frank Bruni, who writes columns about American politics, higher education and social issues. “We really, really do.”
And, Bruni said, reporters must “paint the fullest possible picture” and provide context.
That wasn’t always done, for example, he said, during recent coverage of President Donald Trump’s decision to declare that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Some reports did not make clear that politicians before him had contemplated taking the same step.
“That doesn’t make it a prudent step, but it does challenge the portrayal of the decision as some ploy beyond the pale,” he said.
Bruni also said that, in an age when trust of the media is “tenuous,” reporters must watch personal conduct.
Particularly, he said, on Twitter.
“It’s a handy delivery system for news bulletins, fact checks, links,” said Bruni. “But do the journalists who are mostprominent and prolific on Twitter reserve it for that? Many don’t.
“Driven by the dopamine of ‘likes’ and retweets, with an eye on those odometers of approval, we jockey to be bitchiest or most blistering, snidest or most sarcastic,” he said.
To illustrate his message, Bruni opened his 32-minute address with an anecdote about the president.
“A little less than a month ago, on the last Saturday of April, Donald Trump, who doesn’t exactly like working on weekends, made a quick trip to Michigan for a rally,” Bruni said.
And during that rally, Trump bashed the media.
“‘Fake news,’ he muttered.
That same night, he said, journalists attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., partied as comedian Michelle Wolf did “precisely what she was hired to… savage Trump and his aides — some of whom sat mere feet away from her — in vicious and occasionally vulgar terms. This predictably caused the media’s enemies to trumpet that journalists are no more dignified than the president whose indecency they take such offense at.”
Bruni questioned his own choice to write a particular column in 2016. The headline? “The Citrusy Mystery of Trump’s Hair.”
“It posited that Trump’s hair was a mood ring, with a sometimes golden, sometimes orange, sometimes even pinkish shade that changed from one month or occasion to the next,” he said to much laughter in the UCR theater.   “I theorized that no colorist or trick of the lighting was causing these alterations. No, something more soulful and mystical was going on.”
The column and headline, he said, were “clever, I suppose.”
“But still. I played into a caricature of journalists as smart alecks taking cheap shots from the cheap seats,” Bruni said.
During a question-and-answer period following the lecture, Joan Semonella of Riverside asked whether journalists care these days about fostering a “civil discourse” on issues.
Some don’t, Bruni answered. “But I think enough do to give us hope,” he said.
After the event, Jessica Rosales, a fourth-year UCR student preparing to graduate with a degree in media and cultural studies, said Bruni’s address gave her hope for pursuing a career in journalism.
“I feel invigorated,” she said.
The annual lecture series was established in 1966 by Howard H “Tim” Hays Jr., a longtime owner and publisher of The Press-Enterprise, to examine issues in journalism. His son, Tom Hays, created an endowment fund to ensure the lecture continued in Riverside after his father’s death in 2011.

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