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Lynn Sherr Discusses Journalism, Fake News and More

The former '20/20' correspondent will moderate a talk with actress Charnele Brown at Guild Hall.

There’s something reassuring about talking to someone as smart and lovely as Lynn Sherr. The 77-year-old journalist and East Hampton summer resident is most known for her 22-year run as a correspondent on ABC’s news magazine 20/20. She will moderate the next installment of Guild Hall’s Thinking Forward lecture series featuring actress Charnele Brown, who was born and raised in East Hampton, on Saturday, March 23. Few people are more equipped to moderate a compelling interview than Sherr, and even fewer are as informed and insightful.

“I was really happy to do the lecture,” Sherr says. “The Bridgehampton Child Care Center asked me to do this and I love the center—it’s a wonderful and creative safe place to get these kids on their way. I’m always happy to help them out when I can. This one sounded like it would really be fun. I have never met Charnele. A Different World was quite exceptional. And I love the fact that she’s from East Hampton.”

East Hampton actress Charnele Brown
East Hampton actress Charnele Brown, Photo: Courtesy Guild Hall

Sherr may be retired from 20/20, but she’s far from done with her work. “I’m really active. I’m totally freelance now on a bunch of platforms. I do a lot of writing, a lot of speeches and a lot of appearances. Sherr also reveals that she has just finished writing a play.

“It’s a one-act play. I’ve done a lot of work on women’s history and I’m a big Susan B. Anthony fan. I did a biography of her, among other things. This is a one-act I refer to as a comedy-infused drama. It’s historical, but it’s also very contemporary. It’s about a moment in history with Susan B., and it’s utterly, completely related to what’s happening in our world today. I just finished it, so we’re talking to people now about it. It’s exciting. I’ve written books, and I love writing books, but this felt to me like it had to be a play. And it turns out I really like writing dialogue and creating characters and I’ve done it, so here I am in this new world all of a sudden!” Sherr notes that she loves the East End theater scene and is open to have the piece produced here.

Contemporary topics have always been important to Sherr, and as a journalist, she has seen a lot—but nothing compares to the current political and ideological unease. Sherr points to the heinous mosque shootings in New Zealand as a sobering and dark example of just how bad things have gotten. “It’s horrible, it’s horrid, it’s ugly, it’s the worst in people, and I fear, without putting the blame on anybody because I don’t know who these terrible people are, there’s no question that we’re living through a time when being hateful is more acceptable than ever before, and that troubles me a lot,” she says. “I don’t think it’s about any one individual, any one group…I think it’s about a general lowering of civility, which is probably a too-polite way to put it.”

As for the state of journalism in these situations, Sherr is incredulous. “I’ve never seen it as bad as it is right now,” she sighs. “And I’m a student of the history of journalism. Yellow journalism was a pretty ugly period when papers were one party or another and you picked your newspaper by which party it was. This was not a new idea. There has always been very ugly things written in newspapers—certainly in the area that I know most about, which is women’s suffrage and of course during the civil rights movement—but what we’re seeing now is very troubling because it’s an erosion of trust in an institution that, whether it’s right, left, or center, deserves to be taken seriously. I find that very depressing. The idea that anything you don’t like is called ‘fake news’ completely undercuts what I believe this country was founded on, which was you’re all allowed to have opinions, that’s what free speech is about, but facts are facts.”

Sherr, who notes that she gets her news from multiple outlets so she can develop her own thoughts and views on any given issue, has what she calls a third ear. “I can read something and know pretty quickly if I’m skeptical about it and look elsewhere for more facts, and that’s something I wish more people would cultivate. You can’t take only one truth all the time, you’ve got to look around, and then you judge for yourself. I think I have a good idea of who the good reporters are and where the good sources are.”

But despite the tumultuous times we live in, Sherr hasn’t lost hope. “I would encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and watch, listen to or read something they would not normally. That’s the only way you are going to have a fuller picture of what’s going on and of how it’s being reported. How it’s being reported tells you quite a lot…I have faith in a lot of the great institutions in our government and private world and media world, and I’m hoping we come out of this with our heads screwed on straight.”

See Lynn Sherr moderate a lecture with Charnele Brown on Saturday, March 23 at 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit guildhall.org.

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