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Former White House press secretaries Sarah Sanders and Robert Gibbs debate at the Nixon Library

Chapman University’s Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity launch
Former White House press secretaries Robert Gibbs, left, and Sarah Sanders, center, and moderator Brian Calle speak during a Wednesday panel at the Richard Nixon Library & Museum in Yorba Linda. Chapman University sponsored the event.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Chapman University launched its Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity Wednesday with a debate on so-called fake news and media bias featuring former White House press secretaries from the Trump and Obama administrations.

The event, which was held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, had been criticized for including Sarah Sanders, who served as President Trump’s press secretary until July.

Brian Calle, the center’s executive director, said there were indeed requests, which were denied, to rescind Sander’s invitation.

During the debate, Calle asked Sanders whether there’s credence to complaints that she shouldn’t be a featured debater on media integrity when her former boss has repeatedly called the press the “enemy of the people.”

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“I don’t view the press as the enemy of the people,” Sanders said. “What I have said is that I do think there is a big problem with fake news.”

Sanders defined fake news as published or broadcast information that is incorrect, misleading or opinionated.

“Freedom of the press doesn’t mean the freedom to make things up,” she said.

By way of example, the former White House spokeswoman said the media largely ignores Trump’s successes.

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“If you look at the country as a whole, we are doing tremendous,” she said. “That is because of the president and his leadership. However, 90% of the news about this president is negative. If you look at what his success has been, and look at the coverage, you wouldn’t think a single positive thing ever came out of the White House.”

 Chapman University’s Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity launch
Sarah Sanders, former press secretary to President Trump, attends a launch event for Chapman University’s Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity at the Richard Nixon Library & Museum on Nov. 20.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Robert Gibbs, who served as Obama’s press secretary from 2009 to 2011, disagreed with Sanders’ criticisms of the press, saying fabricated stories on social media are the real threat.

“I get worried when we expand this definition into news where there’s a mistake, or news we don’t like,” Gibbs said. “Show me a press secretary who likes everything that’s written about them, and I will show you a press secretary who is not reading anything written about them.”

Gibbs said a good example of a damaging fake news story is the false assertion, spread widely by Trump, that Obama was born abroad.

“My guess is if I did a poll in Ohio right now, I bet I’d find 20% of the people would tell you Barack Obama was born in Kenya,” he said.

Both debaters agreed that social media websites should institute fact-checking.

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The hundreds of guests who attended the event in conservative-leaning Yorba Linda mostly reserved their applause for Sanders.

Chapman University’s Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity launch
Robert Gibbs, former press secretary to President Barack Obama, speaks at the Richard Nixon Library & Museum on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The new center will host a debate series on campus that focuses on issues that affect “civil discourse in the workplace and society,” according to the center’s website.

 Chapman University’s Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity launch
Chapman University President Daniele Struppa, second from right, listens to the debate on media integrity at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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