Journalist Maria Ressa maligns Trump, criticizes GOP

The Notre Dame Forum hosted Maria Ressa, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, on Wednesday, March 20, for a keynote address entitled “Safeguarding Democracy in an Era of AI and Digital Disinformation.” An accomplished journalist, Ressa is the co-founder and CEO of Rappler, the Philippines’ top digital-only news site. The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the President and the Keough School of Global Affairs. It was the final keynote event for the Notre Dame Forum’s 2023–24 series on “The Future of Democracy.”

Speaking to a packed Smith Ballroom in the Morris Inn, Ressa argued that the unchecked power of social media has put American democracy in dire straits. She lamented that journalists have been usurped in their role as “gatekeepers to the public sphere,” as tech companies have replaced mainstream journalism with person-to-person communication. Ressa expressed concern that the advent of such free communication has left the public unsure of what to believe, as social media platforms are flooded with disinformation. 

Ressa then spent significant time criticizing the “disinformation” campaign surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the idea that its results were significantly affected by voter fraud. First, she asserted that the “metanarrative for election fraud was seeded” by nefarious forces, such as Russian state media. She then tracked its mainstream propagation by figures like Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, and Alex Jones. Though nearly seventy percent of Republicans and more than a third of all Americans think that Joe Biden won illegitimately, Ressa condemned their “metanarrative,” lamenting that, though “they were all taken down … no one was responsible for the damage they did. Someone should be responsible.”

She then connected the problem directly to former President Donald Trump, insinuating that he bears responsibility for the January 6 Capitol riot: “QAnon drops it, and then President Trump comes out with it afterwards. And what did we get? That violence [of January 6].”

Transitioning to a discussion of current violent metanarratives, Ressa put a New York Times headline on the screen: “G.O.P. Targets Researchers Who Study Disinformation Ahead of 2024 Election.” Ressa fumed, “You are walking into your elections with news getting choked … Demand better.”

As he introduced Ressa prior to the address, Fr. Jenkins claimed that she “exemplifies what we really prize here at Notre Dame,” and praised her commitment to “combatting disinformation.”

During a question and answer session following the lecture, Ressa was asked to elaborate on her comment about holding responsible those who speculated on election fraud. She labeled these as “crazy neighbor” types who must not be allowed to influence the national conversation: “Your crazy neighbor can still say crazy things, but he doesn’t get to make the headlines.” She continued, describing “the information ecosystem as a river, a very polluted river. And there is this factory that is polluting the river … The river is still polluted until you close [the factory] down.”

Some students thought Ressa delivered an important message. Senior Mike Jekot told the Rover, “She was an extremely engaging speaker, very informative.” 

Like Ressa, Jekot is concerned about the promotion of disinformation: “Those individuals that … I once wrote off as crazy in high school, unfortunately now I have to grapple with the fact that they hold the same exact power that I do.”

Ressa’s attacks on Trump and the Republican Party did not sit well with other attendees, including some who were especially troubled by Fr. Jenkins’ role in hosting the event. Jack Docherty, a freshman political science major, told the Rover, “This event had a clear partisan bent. As President of the university, Fr. Jenkins has a responsibility to represent all students. By endorsing this left-wing lecture, he abdicated that responsibility.”

Some believe that Notre Dame Forum events have made a pattern of half-veiled partisanship. During Steven Levitsky’s December keynote address, the Harvard Professor asserted that the Republican party “is no longer committed to playing by the democratic rules of the game” and accused its politicians of “flirt[ing] with violence.” 

At that event, Fr. Jenkins expressed his hope that the forum would help people “reach across party lines.” 

Eric Gordy, a sophomore in the Department of Economics, said of Ressa’s lecture, “This is the kind of language I expect from College Democrats, not at an event sponsored by the President. That the President’s Office would host this and pretend it’s nonpartisan is a slap in the face to conservative students.”

This year, the Notre Dame Forum’s series on “The Future of Democracy” sought to “invite reflection and dialogue on the rising threats to global democracy,” per the Forum’s website.

Aedan Whalen is a sophomore with majors in the Program of Liberal Studies and political science. Email him at

Photo Credit: Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

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