On November 16, the League of Women Voters of Tulare County welcomed journalist Jerry Sullivan to speak about misinformation and disinformation. Sullivan avoids both in his popular digital newsletter, SullivanSaysSoCal.com, a leading source of news analysis and commentary for Southern California.
In his talk, Sullivan made clear the distinction between misinformation and disinformation. A lot of misinformation comes from journalists who may be poorly educated, poorly trained—or just careless, he suggests. He considers misinformation to be most likely accidental, while disinformation is more purposeful.
Disinformation is sometimes a business model, he contends, stirring up dissension and polarizing people to make money. “Polarizing can be very profitable,” as seen on money-making platforms such as blogs, influencers, and TikTok.
It starts to get poisonous—whoever is doing it! Today’s ever-present cell phone gives each of us “the power of the Library of Congress, radio and television stations,” to spread toxicity—and maybe even evil.
Asked about talk radio, Sullivan replied that this is opinion, not reporting. “Opinion is cheap to produce,” he says. It is accountable under libel laws, but “most people who are libeled or slandered can’t show monetary damages, whether or not they exist.”