Michelle Nickerson is an associate professor of history at Loyola University, Chicago, where she teaches U.S. women's, gender, urban, and political history. She studies American conservatism, suburbanization, American Catholicism, the anti–Vietnam War movement, feminism, and the Cold War. Nickerson is the author of Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (2012) and a coeditor of Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region (2011). She is also a co-moderator of the Newberry Library's women and gender seminar. She is currently writing about the Camden 28 of the Catholic antiwar movement in 1971.
In “Our Problem with Truthiness,” Nickerson talks about American journalism’s historical and politicized relationship to facts. Starting with the partisan newspapers of the early republic, then moving through the sensationalistic and lurid decades of late 19th-century yellow journalism, she shows how Americans did not start demanding accuracy from news until the early twentieth century, when influential Americans grew tired of their privacy being violated by muckrakers and tabloid writers. This is when codes of ethics in journalism were first developed. Elite newspapers (New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post) and other news sources (Time, Newsweek) then become national civic institutions over the 20th century, critical to the meaning and understanding of what national community is. The final part of my talk discusses how the development of cable news and online social media, arriving as they did in the age of the culture wars, fractured American political culture with their double-whammy. Unlike the early nineteenth-century era of partisanship, however, we find ourselves in a post-truth era, when politics structure the packaging and delivery of news (as it did in the early republic), but this time “truth” and “fact” remain elevated standards to which journalists and politicians lay claim.