The Sift: ‘Printing Hate’ | Rumors: Clint Eastwood, Colin Powell and gas prices


Teach news literacy this week
'Printing Hate' | Rumors: Clint Eastwood, Colin Powell and gas prices

classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

Top picks

Explore the “Printing Hate” project, which examines how white-owned newspapers in the United States stoked violence and incited lynchings of Black Americans for decades from the late-19th to mid-20th century. The collaborative project — led by the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism — features the investigative work of dozens of student journalists as they shine a light on the racist past of many newspapers while also calling attention to the role played by the Black press in countering harmful coverage. Washington Post reporter DeNeen L. Brown — whose reporting on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre inspired “Printing Hate” — writes that the project “shows how widespread this incendiary coverage was.” (Warning: These pieces include disturbing details and images.)
  • Discuss: How has mainstream news coverage historically harmed certain communities, including Black Americans? How has news coverage changed since the mid-20th century? What problems remain? How should the news industry respond to the project’s findings on newspapers’ role in fueling racial hate?
classroom-ready icon Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to help students consider how problematic news coverage can harm communities.
People still want news to be impartial and would like opinion pieces to be clearly labeled and kept separate from straight news coverage, according to a new study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The report found that people generally acknowledge the risks presented by “false balance” — or reporting all sides and views, including those that are baseless or extreme — in news stories. But they are “even more concerned about the suppression and silencing of viewpoints,” particularly by social media companies.
  • Discuss: Should standards-based news organizations exclude viewpoints from news reports that amplify baseless conspiracy theories or other falsehoods? Should quality news reporting exclude extreme views from reporting? How should these decisions be made?
  • Idea: Set aside time to discuss coverage of one issue or event in the news and determine which news reports or sources were most impartial.
  • Another idea: The study notes that people who are news-literate can create news feeds for themselves that they consider to be fact-based and fair. Discuss this idea with your students and work together to craft an impartial news feed using a class social media account or shared document. 
Women in journalism face gender-based harassment both in their newsrooms and online, and the news industry should “do more to create spaces where women feel supported, believed and safe,” argues Hannah Storm in this Poynter piece. Failing to do so, Storm notes, “runs the very real risk of losing the diverse perspectives and access women can bring to stories and communities long underserved.”
  • Related:
  • Discuss: Why do you think so much harassment is based on gender? Have you ever experienced online harassment? How did you respond? What steps could news organizations, social media platforms, authorities and others take to curb gender-based harassment and to support women who have been targeted? How could losing diverse perspectives in newsrooms, including among women working as journalists, hurt news coverage?

Viral rumor rundown

Meme “comparing” gas prices uses old photos out of context

A Facebook post of a meme with two photos of gas station signs. The first photo shows prices above $4 a gallon and has the words “don’t blame me when you voted for this” on top, while the second photo shows gas prices just over $1 a gallon and has the words “cause I voted for this” on top. The News Literacy Project has added a label saying “false context” over both, and given the photo showing high prices a label that says, “San Rafael, California, 2011” and the photo showing low prices a label that says, “online since at least September 2016.”

NO: The top photo in this meme showing unusually high gas prices was not taken during President Joe Biden’s administration. YES: It was taken by a Getty Images photographer in San Rafael, California, in April 2011. NO: The bottom photo in this meme showing gas prices less than $2 was not taken during former President Donald Trump’s time in office. YES: It is a stock photo that has been online since at least September 2016. YES: Both photos were published online before Trump was in office.

NewsLit takeaway: Rumors about gas prices, including photos of gas station signs, are common. Many people pay close attention to the cost of gas in their everyday lives, which makes the subject ripe for eliciting strong emotional responses — especially when mixed with partisan politics. But as popular as political rhetoric — including false and misleading claims — about gas prices may be, “presidents don’t actually have much effect on the prices.” Additionally, people’s perception of the president’s influence over gas prices shifts depending on whether their party holds the White House. Gas prices were severely depressed by the pandemic for most of 2020 — and as pandemic conditions improved at the start of the Biden administration, prices went up as demand spiked and supply remained low.

Gas prices have fluctuated significantly during the last several presidential administrations.
(Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)


“Problem is not guns” meme not a Clint Eastwood quote

A meme with an image of Clint Eastwood holding a rifle and the words, “the problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God, homes without discipline, schools without prayer and, courtrooms without justice.” The meme is watermarked with a “Punisher” skull icon that includes a Roman numeral three, which is a logo for the Three Percenters anti-government militia movement. The News Literacy Project has added labels for the Punisher icon and one identifying the meme as a “FAKE QUOTE.”

NO: Actor Clint Eastwood did not say the quote on this meme. YES: The meme — which uses an image of Eastwood holding a rifle taken from the 2008 film Gran Torino — was previously posted to Facebook in August 2019 by Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio politician and current National Rifle Association board member, shortly after two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

NewsLit takeaway: Quote memes — especially about controversial issues — are highly engaging because they often are pithy, they strike a strong emotional chord and they draw on the reputation or notoriety of a public figure to appear legitimate. They also tend to be “zombie rumors” that come back repeatedly when either the quote or the person being falsely quoted surfaces again in the news cycle. This meme also contains a version of The Punisher skull icon used by the far-right anti-government militia movement the Three Percenters.

Related: “Rumor Review: Denzel Washington supports Trump (FALSE)” (The News Literacy Project).


Colin Powell’s death doesn’t raise new concerns about vaccine effectiveness

A tweet from John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) that says, “The fact that Colin Powell died from a breakthrough COVID infection raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term.” The News Literacy Project has added a label that says “FALSE.”

NO: Colin Powell’s death from a breakthrough case of COVID-19 does not raise new concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines. YES: Fox News anchor John Roberts made this claim in an Oct. 18 tweet he later deleted. YES: Roberts posted a second series of tweets explaining the deletion, but later deleted those as well. YES: Fully vaccinated people make up “far less than 1% of COVID deaths” but those with underlying medical conditions and those who are immunocompromised have an increased risk of developing severe and fatal breakthrough cases of COVID-19. YES: Powell was immunocompromised and had multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.

NewsLit takeaway: Roberts’ initial tweet was posted soon after news broke of Powell’s death, which suggests it may have been a knee-jerk reaction rather than a verified claim. In the wake of major news events, it’s best to wait until all details are available before drawing conclusions and to rely on high-quality news coverage that cites experts on the topic. Some news organizations also made missteps in their early coverage of Powell’s death by failing to mention that he was immunocompromised in their initial headlines.

Idea: In small groups, ask students to review headlines on Powell’s death from a variety of news sources, then have them select which they think is best (clearest, most accurate and responsible) and explain why.


You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
NLP's FREE News Literacy Educator Network. Join NewsLit Nation.
Kickers: Journalism slang. The ending of a story or nes report, often intended to leave a lasting impression.
A surge of new reporting on the trove of leaked Facebook documents — dubbed "The Facebook Papers" — is dominating headlines, with more to come. (Here is one running list of select stories published so far.)
Twitter’s own research suggests that its content algorithms amplify tweets from both elected officials and news outlets on the political right more than those on the political left.
Engagement with extremist content online — including hate speech, fringe conspiracy theories and terrorism — has grown during the pandemic due, in part, to increased isolation, time at home and mental health challenges.
A Miami private school with a history of pushing vaccine misinformation recently announced that students who get COVID-19 vaccines must stay out of school for 30 days to prevent (non-existent) “shedding” of the virus, a widely debunked junk science claim. (The school's founders have also previously backed anti-vaccination efforts.)
In Montana, one woman's local disinformation campaign has polluted civic discourse and derailed efforts to designate a national heritage area.
And a reporter filed a records request in 2009 involving a corruption case in Louisiana. The FBI finally sent him the documents — 12 years later. (One First Amendment attorney said, “The Freedom of Information Act is broken.”)

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the non-educator version of The Sift called Get Smart About News here.


Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.