Watergate icon takes aim at fake news at SXSW

Those are two of the lessons pinging through this year's SXSW Conference and Festivals. As a new "virtual cinema" takes users through alternative realities, journalists in a series of panel discussions and talks are brainstorming how to best deliver facts to readers in a world increasingly inundated with fake news.

Veteran investigative scribe Carl Bernstein kicked it off for the journalists on Saturday with a CNN-hosted panel discussing journalists' role in the digital age. Readers — as much as journalists — have a responsibility to seek out facts, Bernstein told a crowd gathered at a rain-soaked venue on Austin's Rainey Street.

"We have the reporting today," he said. "We need to look at ourselves as citizens and whether we’re open to what the facts are."

Bernstein shot to fame for his reporting on the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, which led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon. Today, he is a regular contributor on CNN and is involved with the network's investigative team, which has done a series of stories critical of the administration of President Trump.

The Watergate investigation was possible because people from both political parties and all backgrounds were interested in getting to the truth — a quality seemingly lacking today, he said.

"What we have today is a news consumer base citizenry that is not as interested in the best obtainable version of the truth as there was at the time of Watergate," Bernstein said. He added: "I'm not at all sure that environment — that openness to the truth — exists today."

Other sessions exploring how journalism and online news sites can combat fake news will take place in the coming days, including "A Post-Truth World? Nope — We Can Fight Fake News," scheduled for Monday, and "The War At Home: Trump and the Mainstream Media," led by another journalism icon, Dan Rather, scheduled for Thursday.

Follow Jervis, USA TODAY's Austin-based correspondent, on Twitter at: @MrRJervis.

USA TODAY


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