The Indian Business Chamber of Luxembourg invited Pulitzer prizewinning journalist David Schrieberg to give a talk entitled “Donald Trump, Thought Leader? How bad information leads to bad decisions” at the BGL BNP Paribas headquarters in Kirchberg on Tuesday 12 July.
Photo: LaLa La Photo
The summer event attracted close to 100 participants who came to hear Schrieberg, a digital media expert and entrepreneur, who is dismayed that one of the core values of news reporting (namely fact-checking) seems to be going down the drain as rapidly as traditional media is. An American based in Luxembourg since 2003, Schrieberg used Trump as a prime example of the power of thought leadership, the dangers of digital information overload and the importance of collecting and delivering accurate, trustworthy news.
Schrieberg took the audience back to 30 October 1938, when radio was the main source of information, and the significant date that Orson Welles broadcast a dramatisation of “War of the Worlds”. At a time of global unrest, the American public listened to Martians invading their land, to an orchestra performing sound effects, an actor imitating Roosevelt calling for calm, and in the space of 40 minutes half the nation spiralled into a state of mass panic, with reported cases of heart attacks and attempted suicides as many thought what they were hearing was real.
Welles became an international superstar overnight; just as real estate tycoon Trump started low in the polls and is now on the verge of becoming the US president, through a relentless stream of deception and false information. “These are examples of master American showmen; of thought leadership in action,” stated Schrieberg.
Considering that 40-minute radio show had such an impact, we can only begin to imagine Trump’s thought leadership impact given that he has tireless global media coverage. It is up to us to sift through a mass of information from increasingly questionable sources and try to puzzle together a truth.
Schrieberg concluded that we are living in an unhealthy post-factual democracy and that fact-checking is a core of the reporting profession’s integrity, not a minor detail to be mocked as Boris Johnson--the former London mayor and Brexit campaigner--and Trump do. “Trump and truth are polar opposites,” said Schrieberg. “It is because of Trump--AKA Lord of the Lies--that CNN started fact-checking while he speaks: something they had never previously done.” When confronted, Trump simply doesn’t care: he appeals to people’s negative emotions, not to their rationality. You cannot fight somebody with facts if they don’t care about the truth.
The audience voiced their concerns and questions ranged from the practical to the philosophical: “How many times does a lie have to be told before it becomes true?”; “Is this the end of democracy?”
Offering a glimmer of reassurance, Schrieberg told the IBCL audience, “Thankfully the reverse is also true: good information leads to good decisions.” As Barack Obama, the current US president, recently commented on Trump’s candidacy: “the American people have good judgement and good instincts… as long as they have good information”.