At a meeting with faculty and staff on Monday, Neeli Bendapudi, the president of Pennsylvania State University, referred to a local newspaper as “fake news” in discussing a recent article about potential plans for mass layoffs at the university amid larger budget cuts.
Bendapudi’s comment was prompted by a question from a staff member, who expressed a list of concerns about recent budget developments.
“Staff morale is low. It’s really low,” the staffer said. “The story in the Centre Daily Times didn’t help at all in talking about staff layoffs … it seems that when we talk about balancing the budget and making cuts, it means staff.”
Bendapudi responded by saying there was “no truth” to the story and accused the paper of irresponsibly making predictive claims without evidence.
“Regarding headlines, I need your help, people. I don’t know what to do,” Bendapudi responded. “I never thought I would use the word ‘fake news,’ but I don’t know what to do.”
The Daily Times published the article in partnership with the investigative nonprofit Spotlight PA, and the outlets responded to the president’s comment with a joint editorial rebuking the president’s language and defending their reporting.
“Disagreements over headlines aren’t new, and reasonable people can come to different conclusions. But that’s entirely different from leveling charges of ‘fake news,’” they wrote. “We are not fake news. We are your neighbors … and we spend countless hours ensuring our coverage of the community is fair, transparent, and factual.”