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In Tampa, NBC’s Kerry Sanders talks about reporting in the age of fake news, Donald Trump and Twitter

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Veteran NBC News reporter Kerry Sanders says he’s concerned about the proliferation of talk about “fake news,” and says that the perception of partisanship in the media is hurting the credibility of mainstream reporters like himself.

“People think that we all have an agenda, and it makes my job that much more difficult,” he said while speaking to an audience in downtown Tampa’s Floridan Palace Hotel in an event for the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Tuesday night.

Based in South Florida, Sanders spent hours reporting on the fatal shootings at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport earlier this month, where five people were killed and eight others injured. He says in the midst of his reporting, a man walked by him at the airport and said, “fake news.”

“I’m looking at him and I’m like, this is what I do for a living. This is not a fake event, this actually happened,” he recounted. “But there’s this momentum that’s developed now where people go on Twitter, go on Facebook and they read what they want to read.”

He says it’s up to every discerning reader to take the responsibility of checking out the facts and the source of a story before they end up believing it.

“If it says something like ‘realznews’ and the next article on your Facebook feed comes from NBC, I think you can recognize, if you take the time, that there are professional journalists who spent their time trying to hone a craft and tell as much as you can in a short period of time, vs. the agenda driven ‘let me tell you a part of a story’ that tells you half of an agenda, because I happen to lean towards the left or the right, whichever way it is, and just sort of leaves people wondering where we’re going to go in this next year,” he said.

The 56-year-old Sanders is a 1982 USF graduate and worked for more than five years at WTVT Channel 13 in Tampa, when it was a CBS affiliate. He’s been with NBC since 1996, covering stories mostly in the Southeast and Latin America.

Before he spoke, a five-minute video montage of some of his reporting was shown to the audience, with the last story coming from South Carolina before the GOP primary last year. That’s where he reported on what he called  “the Trump effect,” where supporters of the New York City real estate magnate who would ultimately become the 45th president of the United States weren’t being surveyed by many pollsters, since they hadn’t participated in recent elections.

“Polls rely on who are most likely voters,” he said. “But these voters hadn’t voted in the past, and they weren’t showing up in the polls.” He talked about meeting voters who spent up to eight hours in the middle of America or in the south going to a Trump rally.”We were beginning to realize that this is something more than just a anomaly of a few voters here and a few voters there, but that this was a movement,” he said.

During the Q&A session, Sanders was asked if it was a positive trend that reporters seem to be more declarative than ever in calling out false statements made, certainly in the past week, by President Donald Trump, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer. He then used a provocative figure to say how sometimes “traditional reporting” sometimes isnt’s sufficient anymore.

“If we had to go back to Hitler and we had cable TV then, would we want to say, ‘Well here’s his side of the story, and here’s another side of the story? We would not want that. And I think that we’ve evolved to a point … where it’s no longer, here’s one side, and here’s the other side, because that suggest that hashtag #alternativefacts exists.”

Sanders praised his colleague Chuck Todd for using the term “falsehoods” on Meet The Press on Sunday, after Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway mentioned “alternative facts.”

Sanders added that he liked the idea of more fact checking by reporters, but said these days it’s expected to happen almost in real time, which he said is not only labor intensive, but “not particularly easy.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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