21st-Century Journalism | Guest Faculty | J + D News

Liesl Schillinger’s Quest To Define and Defend Facts In A ‘Post-Truth’ Era

In a personal essay published in the New York Review of Books, J+D’s very own Liesl Schillinger reflects on her year spent teaching a course she designed called: Facts/Alternative Facts: Media in America from Tocqueville to Trump.

Schillinger reflects on how her “boot camp in corrective democracy” was inspired by the Orwellian rhetoric of the Trump administration and a larger, cultural tide that has swept many away from allegiance to truth in a frenzy of increasingly polarized discourse. More, she says, it’s an effort to reignite morale among a new wave of aspiring young journalists sagging under the weight of political exhaustion and media skepticism in the “post-truth” era.

“During a heated discussion after the Parkland school shooting about the conspiracy theories that erupt whenever anyone challenges Second Amendment rights, one student blurted out, ‘I hate politics! It’s so depressing!’ I paused our debate, and we all took a breath.

‘Politics is people,’ I told her. ‘Politics is the story of citizens, and how they get along with each other over time. It’s not fixed; it changes. Good cycles follow bad ones, and vice-versa; and journalists can bring on good cycles with their reporting.'”

Schillinger argues that journalists have a unique ability to hold public figures accountable through the careful collection and dissemination of verified truths. Drawing from personal experience as a member of The New Yorker’s pre-Google fact-checking crew, she relates her truth-seeking efforts to an iconic scene from a certain power-obsessed television show.

Could a journalist’s knowledge be powerful enough to wipe that smug smile from Cersei Lannister’s face? Says Schillinger: “Politics is a game people play to test their power. As journalists, you can help make the game fairer.”

Read the full essay here.