Collection Spotlight

The Long View on Fake News

Fake news, truthiness, and alternative facts—today’s media landscape is saturated with content that is unreliable and unverifiable. The challenge is, how can we recognize disinformation? How can we separate fact from fiction?

In a new installation, OMCA offers an intriguing perspective on this phenomenon. Fake news, the exhibit reveals, isn’t just a result of today’s tweet-obsessed culture; it actually has a long and troubling history in the pre-Trump era.

History Now: Fake News is the latest installation in the Gallery of California History to explore a current topic with deep roots in the past. On display are a number of artifacts from OMCA’s collections, including the splashy front page of the San Francisco Examiner from April 26, 1898. Always keen to sell more copies of his newspaper, Examiner publisher William Randolph Hearst was known for sensational “yellow journalism”—and the newspaper on display illustrates how he used fake news to stir up anti-Spanish sentiment. And Hearst got the results he desired. His distortions and hype played a major role in the United States’s decision to enter the Spanish-American War.

The exhibition invites people to make connections between the fake news of today and that of previous eras. An interactive board prompts you to respond to questions such as: How can you tell if the news you get is fake? How has social media changed the news? How can we learn to be more discerning?

“People talk about how ‘junk science’ distorts the truth,” says Drew Johnson, curator of photography and visual culture, “but it’s important to realize that we have ‘junk history’ too. It’s my hope that visitors to this exhibition will realize how important it is to think critically about fake news—both past and present.”

SF Examiner, 1898. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California.

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