GSAN: Atlanta coverage fallout | Biden press illusion | Russia’s 2020 strategy

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the general public Get Smart About News.


Learn about news literacy this week
Atlanta coverage fallout | Biden press illusion | Russia's 2020 strategy

NOTE: Get Smart About News is going on spring break next week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, April 6.

Shooting coverage debates

News coverage of the March 16 fatal shootings at Atlanta-area spas that occurred amid a recent spate of anti-Asian violence across the country spurred important debates over journalism ethics and news decisions — especially as the story first unfolded. Questions and criticisms of coverage highlighted several notable issues, including the bias and credibility of law enforcement sources; the need for more diverse news organizations, journalists and sources; and hesitation by newsrooms to call the shootings a “hate crime.”

As the story developed, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) published guidance for newsrooms covering the shootings. Its recommendations include providing context on the recent increasing violence, and understanding the history of anti-Asian racism. It also underscored the need to consult Asian American and Pacific Islander expert sources and to be careful with language that could contribute to “the hypersexualization of Asian women.”

AAJA reported that some newsrooms have questioned whether Asian American and Pacific Islander journalists will show bias or are “too emotionally invested” to cover the shootings. Calling such reports “deeply concerning,” it urged news organizations to empower these journalists “by recognizing both the unique value they bring to the coverage of the Atlanta shootings and the invisible labor they regularly take on, especially in newsrooms where they are severely underrepresented.”

Note: AAJA also released a pronunciation guide for Asian victims of the shootings.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: Video of President Joe Biden speaking to reporters at the White House on March 16 was not staged or manipulated using a green screen or computer-generated imagery. YES: Biden had an actual exchange with reporters, and the video of him with microphones in the foreground is authentic. YES: An illusion of depth caused Biden’s hands to appear to move through the microphones when they actually were moving over and in front of mics extended on boom poles to maintain social distancing.

Note: This is a fragment of the QAnon conspiracy belief system in which followers believe that Biden — or an actor, hologram or other illusory device — is only pretending to be president until former President Donald Trump returns to power to reveal a vast satanic cabal of child traffickers. This claim circulated beyond QAnon communities online.

Screenshots from a YouTube video created by conspiracy theory researcher and debunker Mick West that dissects the visual illusion created by the boom mics in the viral clip of Biden’s exchange with reporters outside the White House.


NO: The alleged shooter in the deadly Atlanta-area spa shootings on March 16 did not claim that COVID-19 is part of China's "plan to secure global domination" and did not call for Americans to “fight back.” NO: The Facebook post shared as an image at the bottom of this tweet is not authentic. YES: Fact-checkers at Lead Stories noted irregularities in the image, including outdated blue lettering no longer in use on the platform, that prove it is a manufactured hoax. NO: The suspect in the killings did not live in Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district.


NO: The gas prices in this photo are not representative of the current gas prices across the United States. YES: These are recent prices at just one gas station in downtown Los Angeles that is notorious for prices that are substantially higher than other stations nearby and around the country. YES: The average price of gas nationwide — $2.86 per gallon as of March 15 — has increased significantly in recent weeks due to increased demand, rising crude prices and limited supply due to the February power outages in Texas. YES: Gas prices collapsed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and have recently returned to pre-pandemic levels.

This chart showing average gasoline prices since January 2018 helps put current gas prices into context. Source: The American Automobile Association (AAA)


★ NewsLit Picks


“Foreign Threats to the 2020 U.S. Federal Elections” (National Intelligence Council).

The National Intelligence Council on March 16 released a report outlining actions taken by foreign actors to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It concluded that while no foreign actors “attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process” in 2020, Russia and Iran did engage in significant information influence operations to manipulate the outcome of the election. Those operations aimed to erode Americans’ confidence in U.S. institutions and the integrity of the electoral process and to intensify social divisions. Both countries worked to push false narratives and misleading “evidence” of alleged voting irregularities and voting fraud.

While Iran worked to undercut former President Donald Trump, Russia used U.S. media outlets, public officials, influential figures close to Trump along with its own state-run media to “launder” and legitimize false and misleading narratives to try to damage then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden.



Quick Picks

“Amazon Is Pushing Readers Down A ‘Rabbit Hole’ Of Conspiracy Theories About The Coronavirus” (Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News).


“That’s not real!: Six tips to help you detect fake science news” (Marc Zimmer, Local News Matters, Bay City News Foundation).


Analysis: “What Conspiracy Theorists Don’t Believe” (Tim Harford, The Atlantic).


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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


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