Cheryl Owsley Jackson, left, and Dr. Robin Blom, right, listen as Dr. Anthony Fargo answers a question during a discussion of media ethics, conspiracy theories and other issues Saturday at the Anderson Public Library. Andy Knight | The Herald Bulletin
Cheryl Owsley Jackson, left, and Dr. Robin Blom, right, listen as Dr. Anthony Fargo answers a question during a discussion of media ethics, conspiracy theories and other issues Saturday at the Anderson Public Library. Andy Knight | The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — Common sense remains the most reliable way to help root out misinformation that’s running more rampant than ever, a trio of panelists told an audience of about 30 Saturday at the Anderson Public Library.

The two-hour discussion featured media experts from the academic world and with professional backgrounds in print and broadcast journalism. Topics included newspapers and their roles as gatekeepers of information in their communities; identifying bias in the media; and recognizing and reacting to conspiracy theories and their sources.

“We felt like a program of this nature would help clarify some of the misinformation and how people can go about figuring it out,” said Joyce Moore, president of the League of Women Voters of Anderson and Madison County.

The panelists spoke about the presence of individual bias that can color opinions even before a person picks up a newspaper or turns on a television news broadcast.

“A lot of our opinions are formed on emotion,” Dr. Anthony Fargo, an associate professor in the Media School at Indiana University, told the audience. “We don’t like to hear ideas we don’t agree with, and all that plays into what we think should be in the marketplace (of ideas) and what shouldn’t.”

The discussion also included a presentation from Cheryl Owsley Jackson, a journalist-in-residence at the IU School of Journalism. She spoke about her efforts to unearth the truth behind the 2013 death of her brother, Cary Owsley.

Owsley Jackson and former WTHR-TV anchor Andrea Morehead, an Anderson native, have produced a documentary chronicling Owsley Jackson’s efforts to shed light on missteps by investigators in the case. With no immediate autopsy, the coroner quickly ruled Owsley’s death a suicide.

Owsley Jackson said her hometown newspaper — where she had previously worked as a reporter — for reasons unknown to her, declined to print letters she wrote and repeatedly failed to pursue developments in the case that suggested her brother’s death was not a suicide.

“The omission of important information happened repeatedly,” Owsley Jackson said. She added that members of the public bear a responsibility for holding media outlets accountable when their reporting fails to present all the relevant facts.

Dr. Robin Blom, an associate professor at Ball State University, discussed how pervasive conspiracy theories have become. Such theories, he said, appeal to a fear that events and circumstances are controlled by unseen forces.

“There’s basically a fear that there are forces behind the scenes that are ruling everything,” Blom said. “We’re pretty good at perceiving agency where none exist, but we’re very bad at perceiving randomness.”

Fargo said that recent significant events including the COVID-19 pandemic and the disputed 2020 presidential election have exacerbated divisions that already existed.

“We live in a time where there’s a lot of economic uncertainty,” he said. “We’ve been brought low by something we can’t even see. Trying to solve these problems runs us into a massive partisan divide.”
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