This week at the Cumming Library, as part of the 2018 Great Decisions geopolitical discussion series, Forsyth County residents engaged in a discussion about the media, foreign policy and the concept of fake news.
The discussion was led by Christopher Jespersen, dean of the University of North Georgia’s College of Arts and Letters, who talked the participants through the history of how American media has attempted to shape public perception of the world.
“I want people to take away from this that the news is not necessarily fake. It’s not made up. It is the product of certain forces,” Jespersen said. “I’d like for people to think about why we latch on to certain ideas that support our notions of the way things should be, as opposed to thinking of things more critically.”
During the presentation portion of the event, Jespersen talked about a variety of different historical examples of how media sources have interacted with the formation of foreign policy, from the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-Boats and Time Magazine’s favorable coverage of China during World War II, to the aggression political leaders like Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump have shown towards unfavorable media coverage.
“What I want to show the audience is that this is not necessarily new,” he said.
After the 40-minute presentation, Jespersen opened the floor to discussion and questions from the audience.
The first question was made by longtime Forsyth County resident Kelly Esbeck, who asked Jespersen whether bias in media is growing as years go by.
“Approximately 12 years ago, we started getting one extreme and the other with Fox and CNN … Do you see any hope as to a neutral source?” Esbeck asked.
Jespersen replied to Esbeck saying, “The notion that things were better in the past — I’m just going tell you this: they weren’t. They were different, and the means of spreading things was different, but we are not a whole lot different.”
After the event, Esbeck said that she and her husband have been coming to the Great Decisions series since the program started in Forsyth County, because they see it as a way to get information straight from the source, hearing from lecturers who have been out in the world and know what they are talking about.
“They don’t have a left or right slant,” she said, “That’s what I appreciate; it’s just the knowledge of what is happening.”