April 6, 2022

Andie Tucher

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes historian and journalist ANDIE TUCHER for a discussion of her newest book Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History. She will be joined in conversation by KATHY FORDE—professor of journalism history at University of Massachusetts.


Long before the current preoccupation with “fake news,” American newspapers routinely ran stories that were not quite, strictly speaking, true. Today, a firm boundary between fact and fakery is a hallmark of journalistic practice, yet for many readers and publishers across more than three centuries, this distinction has seemed slippery or even irrelevant. From fibs about royal incest in America’s first newspaper to social-media-driven conspiracy theories surrounding Barack Obama’s birthplace, Andie Tucher explores how American audiences have argued over what’s real and what’s not―and why that matters for democracy.

Early American journalism was characterized by a hodgepodge of straightforward reporting, partisan broadsides, humbug, tall tales, and embellishment. Around the start of the twentieth century, journalists who were determined to improve the reputation of their craft established professional norms and the goal of objectivity. However, Tucher argues, the creation of outward forms of factuality unleashed new opportunities for falsehood: News doesn’t have to be true as long as it looks true. Propaganda, disinformation, and advocacy―whether in print, on the radio, on television, or online―could be crafted to resemble the real thing. Dressed up in legitimate journalistic conventions, this “fake journalism” became inextricably bound up with right-wing politics, to the point where it has become an essential driver of political polarization. Shedding light on the long history of today’s disputes over disinformation, Not Exactly Lying is a timely consideration of what happens to public life when news is not exactly true.

About Author(s)

Andie Tucher, a historian and journalist, is the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor and the director of the Communications PhD Program at the Columbia Journalism School. She is also the author of Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass MediumHappily Sometimes After: Discovering Stories from Twelve Generations of an American Family; and other works on the evolution of the conventions of truth-telling in journalism, photography, personal narrative, and other nonfiction forms. Tucher previously worked in documentary production at ABC News and Public Affairs Television.

Kathy Forde is an American journalism historian with research interests in democracy and the public sphere, the Black freedom struggle and the press, the First Amendment, literary journalism, and the history of the book and print culture. She is the Associate Dean of Equity & Inclusion in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences at University of Massachusetts. She served as Chair of UMass Journalism from 2014-2017 and her book Literary Journalism on Trial: Masson v. New Yorker and the First Amendment (University of Massachusetts Press, 2008) received the Frank Luther Mott-KTA book award and the AEJMC History Division book award.