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In Upcoming Lecture, Walter Kirn Tackles "Fake News"

The idea of "fake news" is not something lost on any of us here at Nevada Public Radio, or, likely, to our audience.

It's also been on the mind of journalist and author Walter Kirn.

He's delivering the second biennial Jim Rogers Contrarian Lecture at UNLV Thursday, put on by the Black Mountain Institute.

His topic?

Fake news.

"Sometime during the fall, you started hearing it bandied about as a term for possibly Russian-inspired, propaganda-flavored, anti-Clinton news, often about her allegedly failing health and so on," Kirn told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Fake news, he explained, wasn't just something that had wrong information or was poor reporting. Instead, it was entirely made up.

"They were not factually wrong, but spiritually, completely invented," he said.

Now, the term has shifted again. It is now being used to describe something the other side is lying about. 

"It’s become the club with which you hit the other side and try to destroy the credibility of anything critical of your own agenda," Kirn said.

Kirn believes how consumers get news now has contributed to the rise of fake news.

"The way we consume our news now through the internet doesn’t allow a lot of time for us to discern between lies, poor reporting and so on," he said. He argued because of how Facebook's algorithms work, an article from the New York Times is on par with a fabricated story that has gone viral. 

But Kirn doesn't blame the social media sites where stories are posted and shared. Instead, he believes it is dangerous for consumers to outsource their trust to automation.

"Once it becomes Facebook’s job or Google’s job -- and we just sort of eat what’s on our plate as it's delivered without tasting our food a little skeptically at first -- we will have offloaded that very human obligation to doubt and to question and be skeptical on to machines," he said.

He said people need to exercise their skeptical skill sets and read critically. 

Walter Kirn, author and journalist

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)