Rutenberg of New York Times Takes on ‘Fake News’ Maelstrom

Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist and reporter at The New York Times, will speak at the East Hampton Library on Saturday evening about the role of the press during the Trump era. Kathy Ryan

The Tom Twomey Series of lectures on topics of local and national interest will return to the East Hampton Library for its fourth season on Saturday at 6 p.m., when Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist at The New York Times, addresses “Fake News, Real News, and Failing Upward at The New York Times.” 

Brooke Kroeger, a journalism professor at New York University, will conduct the interview. A question-and-answer period will follow. 

Six subsequent programs, which will continue into October, will focus on the economy, life lessons, gardens, craft breweries, corporate culture, art, and estates. Each one-hour program includes a question-and-answer session.

Mr. Rutenberg recently shared a Pulitzer Prize with a team of colleagues put together by The Times, in the wake of its reporting on sexual harassment allegations against the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, to investigate other men who had abused their power. He was among the group that reported on the film producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long harassment and abuse of women. 

He has most recently been reporting on the allegations by a former Playboy model and a pornographic film actress of affairs with President Trump during his current marriage. The allegations, one of which involves a hush-money payment from the president’s personal attorney shortly before the 2016 election, have raised a host of questions for a president already the subject of an investigation probing Russian meddling in that election. 

Mr. Rutenberg, who has a house in Montauk, said that he enjoys events such as Saturday’s lecture, and has spoken about his work around the United States as well as in Europe. “I like getting different questions because it makes me think outside of my own box,” he said on Sunday. Because Mr. Trump’s presidency “is like nothing before,” he and his colleagues are in demand for speaking engagements. “People everywhere want to talk about this, and I think it’s a good thing to talk about, because we don’t have the answers yet. There’s been a ton of good thinking, and the questions from the crowd really help me as a reporter.” 

Every newspaper, he said, “should be doing as much of this as they can, because you tap in with what people’s concerns are, and what they want to know.”

It is a particularly strange time for media professionals: Reporters, publications, and truth itself are under withering assault from the president of the United States. “I’ve come under some attack,” Mr. Rutenberg, who co-led The Times’s coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign, said. “All my colleagues have. It was really bad during the campaign. I feel like now it’s, ‘Fake news, fake news, fake news,’ and we’re just doing our jobs and reporting. As you find things that are happening in an investigation and you have that established as fact, it’s strange now that a certain part of the country, and part of the media listenership and viewership and readership, just will not believe it, because they’re being told from the top that it’s not true. That’s kind of a new thing.” 

He also covered Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, the administration of George W. Bush, and Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign, “and in my time I’ve never seen it where, when you debunk something solidly, to some people it just doesn’t matter, because they don’t trust anything you say. . . . Not to say the press is perfect — we open ourselves up, at times, to it — but the campaign against the press is decades in the making. Now, here we are.”

But many journalists and newspapers are equal to the challenge, he said. “Active journalism is always rewarding, or I wouldn’t do it, but this is extraordinarily rewarding work. You unearth things that are true, it’s a spectacular story . . . and journalism is really succeeding in figuring things out through this haze.” 

It is important not to “overcommit” or make predictions, given, for example, the widespread belief that Hillary Clinton would defeat Mr. Trump in the 2016 election, he said. “We’re not here to have an argument with the president, we’re just here for the truth. That’s the key.” 

The Twomey series was named in memory of Tom Twomey, the former chairman of the library’s board of managers who died in 2014. Admission is free, but advance reservations have been requested and can be made at tomtwomeyseries.org or by calling the library’s reference desk.