They are words that echo from Jerusalem to Washington: “Fake news.” And on Tuesday morning in the capital of Israel, two respected news figures from the two countries sat down to discuss the news industry at the Keshet INTV conference.
TV news anchor Yonit Levi interviewed David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, about covering the White House, the #metoo movement and even porn star Stormy Daniels.
Rhodes told Levi he hoped his first visit to Israel would give him a better understanding of the region when directing news coverage. At times, he added, there has been criticism leveled at him for not visiting, “and now I can say I’ve been.”
The two discussed the epidemic of both actual fake news and the “fake news” label that both US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have used.
“It’s easy to draw comparisons,” said Levi, “between a US president and an Israeli prime minister galvanizing their base by attacking the media.” She added that both often seek to bypass the media – Trump on Twitter and Netanyahu on Facebook – “they act like they don’t need you or us as an outlet and they don’t want us as an outlet.”
But Rhodes – who got his start at Fox and then worked at Bloomberg – said he stills sees viewers appreciating media coverage and the “higher value information” it provides. He also said that some coverage of the White House in the Trump era has been overblown.
“There are important things happening and we try to cover those things, but some of this is a distraction,” he said. “It’s not new, there is too much in our news industry in the US lamenting that it’s never been like this and it’s totally different, a little bit of an argument that the standards need to be different.
That’s a mistake.”
Rhodes acknowledged publicly for the first time that the CBS flagship show 60 Minutes had conducted an interview with Daniels, the adult film star who allegedly had an affair with Trump and was paid $130,000 in hush money. He would not give an air date for the interview – which he said he hasn’t seen – between Daniels and Anderson Cooper, but said it would be “in the coming Sundays.”
The reason for the delay, he said, is not any injunction but that “there’s still a lot of journalistic work left to do – conversations with attorneys and documents, we have to run all that down before it runs.”
Rhodes was most animated discussing the spread of fake news online and its impact on the public.
“Social media has basically created a platform to amplify fake news in equal measure with real, authentic information,” he said. “And it’s really disgusting.
There is not a strong enough effort to clean that up.”
He added that part of the spread is fueled by the fact that “some people want to be manipulated” and would rather believe a fake version of events.
“A lot of what we report and a lot of what’s going on out there is scary, and people would rather it’s not true.”
Levi asked Rhodes about the decision to suspend and then fire veteran CBS journalist Charlie Rose after accusations of sexual harassment and assault.
“We as an industry have a long way to go,” he said. “We’re only partway through a process... we have a lot more to do.”