SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – While the term “fake news” is relatively new, the concept is not. Just ask former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit.
The Independent Voter Project and The City Club of San Diego hosted Breton Peace, author of Actual Malice, at a book signing and discussion on Saturday, April 1, at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. Faculty, students and community members at large attended.
Watch more in the above video.
The concept “actual malice” refers to publishing with “the knowledge that the information was false” or that it was published “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” The concept is used as the standard for establishing slander or defamation against a public figure or official, in order to pursue a legal case.
Actual Malice was written by Peace with the assistance of Condit and his family. The events recounted in the book are not only true, but were so meticulously documented that it sends readers right back into the heart of the Chandra Levy scandal. Peace tells the behind the scene scheming that drove an unprecedented media frenzy that derailed the prosecution of Levy’s killer and ended a politician’s career.
Peace read a number of excerpts from his book and discussed the consequences of fake news on the lives of real people:
“First of all it’s been 10 years, Gary answered… I do think that we’re all entitled to some level of privacy. I think I’m entitled to some level of privacy. I think my family is and I think Chandra is. It just seems that in this country we have lost our sense of common decency.” – Bret Peace, reading an excerpt from book
Peace emphasized the importance of journalism a number of times. The media’s apparent obsession with Gary Condit within the Chandra Levy case meant they were camped outside his office and his condominium. Since Condit wasn’t making any comments to the media, they picked apart his every action, down to CNN analyzing the length of his neckties.
“This is the bind a public person is in,” said Peace. “Very simply put, unless Gary is willing to give up his privacy [the press] can more or less work with impunity if they’re smart in terms of reporting anything they want about him.”
Dr. Dean Nelson, founder and director of the journalism program at PLNU, highlighted the difference between distrusting entire media outlets versus distrusting certain reporters. Peace agreed that while he is able to ascribe malice to a number of reporters in the Condit story, it’s important that students pursuing journalism keep in mind it’s not always the news outlet to be blamed for fake news.
Peace pointed out that when the media prints something, law enforcement must thoroughly investigate any claims made.
“You see this consequence? Something gets published and law enforcement resources have to go investigate it,” said Peace. “Every time something is put on the front page of a major newspaper the federal or state or local law enforcement had to go investigate even if it’s crazy.”
For example, in the throws of the Levy and Condit scandal, one of the most skilled FBI counterterrorism experts, Brad Garrett, was assigned to former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit’s case, at the same time that there was an increase in Middle Eastern men signing up for flight school in the Southwest before 9/11.
It was on 9/11 — when Gary Condit turned on the television for the first time since the media frenzy began to see those tragic events — that those very reporters packed up to never return to his condo, office, or California home.
After the reading and discussion, Bret Peace signed books and talked one-on-one with audience members.
Photo Credit: Shawn M. Griffiths / IVN.us