Magazine article The New Yorker

Firewall

Magazine article The New Yorker

Firewall

Article excerpt

Firewall

Last Monday, twenty-one public-school students burst through the door of a building at Thirty-ninth Street and Lancaster Avenue, in West Philadelphia, for a session of Fake News Finders, an after-school workshop run by the nonprofit group Mighty Writers. An eight-year-old named Thomas parked his scooter opposite a framed photograph of Barack Obama beneath a "Black Lives Matter" banner. A ten-year-old named Musa carried his violin sheet music. James, eleven, had a backpack filled with snacks. All but three of the students were boys. Most found seats at a conference table.

"How many people know what fake news is?" the instructor, Annette John-Hall, asked. She is a former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who now reports for public radio.

"News that is fake," a student said.

"A made-up story," said another.

John-Hall, a tall woman, who was dressed in a pink skirt, a navy sweater, and ankle boots, asked, "What's the danger when you talk to other people about something that's not true?"

"You'll either end up in a war or a riot," one boy said. "Something really bad will happen."

At the back of the room sat Tim Whitaker, the former editor of PhiladelphiaWeekly. He founded Mighty Writers, in 2009, because the city had some of the highest rates of illiteracy and poverty in the country. Whitaker believes that in order to write clearly students must think clearly.

"We have a new President," John-Hall said. "Who knows his name?"

A chorus: "Donald Trump."

"Wait, wait, wait," a teen-ager in a hoodie said. "Donald J. Trump."

John-Hall said, "When you think about our new President, give me a one-word descriptor."

"Evil." "Dumb." "Racist." "Sexist." "Disrespectful."

John-Hall said, "There are facts to back up every single word you just used."

She cued up a CNN video--"First 100 Days: Price of Protecting the First Family." The students watched as the moderator, Don Lemon, interviewed guests about Mar-a-Lago and golfing and business conflicts.

"Paris, what do you think?" Lemon asked Paris Dennard, President George W. Bush's director of black outreach. Dennard said, "I think this is fake news." Lemon, clearly irritated, cut the interview short.

John-Hall explained to the class, " 'Fake news' has been redefined, for a lot of people, as news that they don't agree with. …

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