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Biographer Ron Chernow interviewed Obama ahead of a virtual gala on Tuesday, when the former president will accept the “Voice of Influence Award” from free-speech advocacy and literary expression organization PEN America.
“The lines have blurred now between propaganda and what we would consider journalism in a way that has been described as truth decay,” Obama told Chernow in the interview.
“You’ve got an epistemological problem where people don’t know now entirely what’s true and what’s not, and the old authorities and curators of what is factual are greatly weakened.”
The former president added that the phenomenon is “dangerous for our democracy,” and he does not “think that that’s going to be solved just by a new president.”
“I think, internally, news organizations and all of us, culturally, are going to have to think about what to do about that,” he said.
Obama also discussed the difficulties politicians currently face in addressing race issues in the U.S. He recently came under fire from progressive Democrats for criticizing the phrase “defund the police,” which was popularized over the summer following George Floyd’s May 25 death.
He said politicians sometimes stoke “fears of the other in the white population” and might consider using more “universal” language in discussing racial injustice.
“What I think has changed—and we saw this summer—is, because of people’s witness of George Floyd, because of what seems like a constant stream of irrefutable evidence of excessive force against unarmed Black folks, that I think white America has awakened to certain realities that even 20 years ago they were still resistant to. That creates a new opening for a different kind of political conversation,” he said.
The former president’s full interview with Chernow is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. EST Dec. 8 on PEN.org.