A real event on fake news: LCSC professor Leif Hoffman to speak on media bias

for Inland 360

The terms “fake news,” “media bias” and “enemy of the people” (in reference to journalists) have gained some currency, especially in the present administration.

But what do people actually mean by these terms, and how do they come to their conclusions?

Those questions are the topic of a presentation by Lewis-Clark State College political science professor Leif Hoffman scheduled for next Thursday at the Lewiston. The program is organized by the League of Women Voters and the library.

Hoffman, who grew up in Germany and studied and taught at the University of Oregon in Eugene before moving to Lewiston, said it’s ironic — but not unusual — that he was asked to speak about fake news at this time.

“This story about fake news or media bias is always very popular in election years,” Hoffman said.

Although he teaches a variety of subjects throughout the year “it always happens that I get asked to give talks in election years … because ‘fake news’ is a very popular term,” especially since the incumbent president began using it to refer to his perceived nemeses in the news media.

The term, and the idea that the news media is opposed to the welfare of the common good, however, is nothing new. Hoffman said in the 19th century in Germany, people used a phrase meaning “lying press” to refer to news gatherers.

“All these terms … are all linked to one conceptualized in the public mind,” Hoffman said. “Newspapers: You are the enemy. You are the opponent. There’s a bias there, and people are getting fed up during periods of anxiety.”

What people fail to recognize, however, is that not only are news organizations constrained by a number of different factors that influence their coverage of news, but those who read or listen to news also have biases that color not only the way they view it, but to which news organizations they pay attention.

Hoffman plans to play some interactive games with his audience to prompt them to consider their inherent biases — not only about news coverage but other subjects as well.
One such game will be to ask audience members the iconic question of whether the glass is half full or half empty.

“The question is: What do you see?” Hoffman asked. “No matter what you write, one part of the room is already going to be mad.”

Such questions, he said, illustrate the binary way in which most people approach controversial subjects, especially when it comes to politics. This is true not only in America but in other countries as well, although the biases are sometimes defined differently.

“We need to have people think about all the biases which are there, no matter what,” he said. “And to highlight, or educate, to have people question or think about more broadly the challenges which the media has, but at the same time recognize the biases we already have going into what we are looking at.

“I see my mission … as just to have the audience think beyond partisan biases and to look at the media differently and look at themselves differently,” he said.


Who: Leif Hoffman, political science professor at Lewis-Clark State College

What: Public discussion examining categories of media bias

When: 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 27

Where: Lewiston City Library, 411 D St.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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