Misleading us for years: looking back at bias in the US and Canada
Editor's note: for those who might have thought the radical bias of today's mainstream press media was only a very recent thing, this 2004 blast from the past will show how it goes back decades further.
Every few years citizens in countries such as Canada, the USA and Australia receive the opportunity to make a very significant political decision - the selection of their governments. In some cases citizens also receive the opportunity to help decide public policy outside of the electoral process. Whatever the case may be, good information is a prerequisite to good decision-making.
But where does this information come from?
The most common source of political information is the mainstream media. In and of itself this is nothing to be concerned about... but what if they all reflected the same political perspective? What if they have taken sides in the great political conflicts of the day? What if the vast majority of people who work in the media are personally committed to certain political causes at the expense of others?
This, unfortunately, long appeared to be the case, at least in North America. As a result, citizens don't always receive pertinent information on political affairs and are shielded from legitimate and credible perspectives.
Pro-life journalists, unbiased reporters, and other mythical creatures
In the USA political conservatives have been concerned about a leftwing bias in the media for years. Their concerns were verified already back in 1986 when a major study of the media was released, called, The Media Elite, by S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda S. Lichter. This study entailed interviews with over 200 journalists at the most influential media outlets in the United States.
To put it bluntly, there is no question that a large majority of journalists are leftwing. And it is inescapable that their perspective affects the way they report the news. A small sample of the findings of this study demonstrated the extent of the problem. Journalists were asked to describe their own political leanings. The researchers reported as follows:
"54 percent place themselves to the left of center, compared with only 17 percent who choose the right side of the spectrum. (The remainder picks 'middle of the road.') When they rate their fellow workers, an even greater difference emerges. 56 percent say the people they work with are mostly on the Left, and only 8 percent place their co-workers on the Right – a margin of seven to one."
The disparity is especially great with regards to social issues. For example, 90 per cent of these journalists were "pro-choice" on the abortion issue. In short, "they are united in rejecting social conservatism and traditional norms." This information led the researchers to conclude that, "members of the media elite emerge as strong supporters of sexual freedom and as natural opponents of groups like the Moral Majority." The now-defunct Moral Majority was the most prominent conservative Christian political organization in the United States during the 1980s. The point is that the vast majority of American journalists were leftwing in the 80’s and they continue to be so today. And this bias is especially obvious concerning the issues that matter most to Christians.
Do leftwing journalists produce leftwing news?
Demonstrating that most journalists are leftwing doesn't automatically mean that news is presented with a leftwing slant. It's at least theoretically possible that these journalists would work to produce a balanced presentation of the issues.
But, in fact, other studies do provide considerable evidence that the leftwing perspective comes through loud and clear. University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper has been studying the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for years, and the most significant result of his efforts is the book Sins of Omission: Shaping the News at CBC TV (1994). From his evidence, it is clear that the CBC has long had a leftwing bias.
To conduct his study Cooper poured over a large number of transcripts from TV news broadcasts and compared what was said with the political reality of the situation being portrayed. The main drawback to his book is the fact that he decided to focus on the coverage of foreign affairs, and in particular, issues related to the Cold War and the Soviet Union. Thus the material is of less interest to Christians concerned with domestic social issues. Nevertheless, Cooper is able to clearly demonstrate that the CBC had its own political agenda in its coverage of foreign affairs.
Making evil look attractive
One part of the study looks at how the internal affairs of the Soviet Union were portrayed, including the Soviet occupation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was a major issue at the time. The general tendency in the coverage was to make it appear that the Soviet Union was much like Canada.
"Obvious external or elemental differences, such as the absence of genuine elections, the existence of a secret police, the concentration camps, and restrictive emigration policy, were ignored, played down, or euphemized into innocuous variations of normalcy. In short, the substantive political and, indeed, cultural differences between the political regimes established by communism in the USSR and those set up by liberal democracy in the West were minimized."
In fact the political life of the Soviet Union was very different from Canada's due to the brutal nature of the totalitarian ideology that guided its regime. The CBC was apparently happy to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the people in that country.
A major feature of the Cold War, of course, was the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. During the period studied by Cooper there were a couple of summit meetings between the leaders of these two countries (Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan) that received considerable media coverage. Officials from both countries presented the views of their respective countries, but the CBC did not treat these statements in the same way. As Cooper puts it, "the surface meaning of Soviet accounts was overwhelmingly accepted at face value. Accounts by U.S. officials, in contrast, were severely scrutinized, and alternative visualizations were presented." The CBC was skeptical of American claims but not of Communist Soviet claims.
There is considerably more detail in Cooper's study carefully documenting his conclusions, but the long and the short of it is this:
"The visualization of the summit meetings was remarkably consistent: the USSR was seen as a progressive and dynamic actor, the United States as a source of resistance to peace initiatives."
The CBC "advanced the vision of a progressive USSR and a dangerous United States." The Communists were the good guys and the Americans were the bad guys. It's almost hard to believe that journalists from a free country could so blatantly side with one of the most oppressive regimes in history. But as Cooper sees it, "CBC visualizations were 'objectively' in the service of Soviet propaganda."
According to Cooper, the basic philosophy guiding CBC coverage of US-Soviet relations was "moral equivalence." Basically this view assumes that the USA and Soviet Union (liberal democracy and communist totalitarianism) have similar virtues and vices, and so one side is not to be seen as morally superior to the other (although the analysis above shows that the CBC gave the Soviets the upper hand).
But "moral equivalence" is extremely erroneous. "The doctrine of moral equivalence, which is the articulate conceptual statement that the CBC operationalized in its coverage of the Soviet Union, ignored the most fundamental distinction in political life, the distinction between tyrannical and non-tyrannical forms of government. This omission led to such otherwise inexplicable curiosities as equating or balancing U.S. support for the Afghan mujahedeen with the Soviet invasion of that country. Moreover, some stories did more than bend over backwards or forwards to excuse the actions of a tyranny." To put it crudely, Canadian taxpayers underwrote Soviet propaganda in the form of CBC TV broadcasts. It's bad enough to have to endure leftwing media bias, but to have to support it through our taxes only adds insult to injury.
The money trail
In their book And That's The Way It Isn't: A Reference Guide to Media Bias (1990), editors L. Brent Bozell and Brent H. Baker make another point that is rather striking. Like other businesses, media corporations in the USA contribute money to many charities, educational groups and other organizations that advocate particular political agendas. The vast majority of this money goes to support leftwing causes. At the time of their study:
"Of nearly four million dollars contributed to political organizations, the foundations for ten of the biggest media empires allocated 90 percent to liberal organizations and only 10 percent to conservative ones."
Furthermore, the organizations that receive that money also receive more media coverage than those that don't. "A media company which feels that a group is impressive enough to deserve funding seems to feel it is impressive enough to deserve its publicity."
The problem of media bias is not without political consequences. People in democratic countries make decisions based on the information they have, and the media slant can help to bend that decision-making in a particular direction. According to Bozell and Baker:
"By exercising control over the nation's agenda – picking and choosing which issues are fit for public debate, which news is 'fit to print' – the news media can greatly influence the political direction of the country."
Everybody has a perspective, and everybody's perspective affects how they interpret politics, so journalists are not unique in this regard. But when the vast majority of people in the media share the same leftwing perspective, the conservative side is marginalized and does not receive a fair hearing in public debate. Thankfully there are Christian publications such as Reformed Perspective which can help to offset this imbalance. But the truth is these alternative publications do not (yet?) reach a large audience, so their effectiveness is limited.
Christians need to maintain a critical and skeptical stance towards the mainstream media. To a large degree, we rely on those who oppose our perspective for information about current events and political affairs. But we should not allow them to lead us to accept views contrary to our confession. Being conscious that much of the mainstream media has a leftist political agenda can help us to avoid accepting non-Christian or even anti-Christian viewpoints.
This first appeared in the May 2004 issue of the magazine.
Media bias, News
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Our dangerous diet of clips, tweets, memes, and headlines
We live in a 200-word blog post /140-character tweet /30-second YouTube clip /headline-reading kind of world. People read and watch more than ever, but with this larger volume comes the need to skim and sample. And that means even as we might know about more of what’s going on our knowledge isn’t as deep. And that can cause problems. What sort of problems? The sort of problems that happen whenever we have facts without context – what we think we know, just isn’t so. Hearing the other side Here’s one example: the September issue of the creationist magazine Acts and Facts included a wonderful article on “Our Young Solar System.” It was already a summary itself, giving a broad overview of a vast amount of research, and briefly highlighting 6 different evidences for the solar system’s young age. One problem common with summaries is getting just the one perspective (Prov. 18:17). Author Dr. Jake Hebert does mention secular scientists have objections to the young earth creationist interpretations – he's fair – but his article doesn’t have the space to get into, let alone respond to, any of those counter-arguments. Prov. 18:17 says that we can make our best assessment when we hear both sides, and summaries don't always allow for that. What we know isn't so But the bigger problem shows up on the Institute for Creation Research’s website (ICR.org) where the article begins with an even briefer – just 30-seconds long – summary. Viewed on its own, the opening line could leave viewers with a mistaken impression. “Secular scientists estimate our Solar System is around 4.6 Billion years old, but evidence suggests it’s far younger.” ICR isn’t suggesting the all the evidence suggests it’s far younger – the article makes that clear. But for the many people who skip the article and watch the video instead, that’s an impression they could leave with. That’s already an impression that many a Christian high school student holds. And should such a student head off to university he'll be unprepared for the attacks coming his way – he’ll be shocked, and maybe even shaken, to learn there is all sorts of scientific evidence that can be interpreted in support of an older universe. The problem here isn’t with the ICR video. Maybe it could have been improved with the addition of one word: “…some evidence suggests it's far younger.” But the article right below it already makes that point. The bigger problem is our growing habit of ingesting facts without context, of reading just summaries – headlines, tweets, video clips, memes, and more – and believing that we are informed. There is a place for skimming and for a shallow understanding; we don’t all need to know the ins and outs of jam-making, cricket, or dolphin echo-location. But if a topic matters – if it is something we are going to share with others, debate, and hold strong opinions about – then as servants of the Truth, we need to dig deeper and truly understand. That's what we need to do to properly reflect and represent the God of Truth (John 14:6). ...
Religious “ghosts” haunt the mainstream media
Back in 2004 a couple of Christian journalists were frustrated at how, in the words of William Schneider: “The press…doesn’t get religion.” So Terry Mattingly and Douglas LeBlanc started Get Religion, a daily news blog that would explore how the mainstream media was covering (and most often missing) the religious dimension behind the stories we were all reading. They called this missing element the “religious ghost” – it’s there in so many stories, but unseen by the media covering them. So, for example, a July 13 story on The Telegraph’s website reported on how: “a school in Leeds is attempting to tackle forced marriages by giving their pupils spoons to hide in their underwear to trigger airport metal detectors.” According to a spokesperson for the academy: “80% of UK forced marriages happened abroad during the summer holidays, making it a peak time for parents to take their daughters abroad to be married.” The hope was, that if a girl was being taken against her will to be married abroad then, after this spoon set off the metal detector, it could create an opportunity for the girl “to raise the alarm with security staff privately.” A reporter is supposed to get to the 5Ws of a story, but here we see a couple of glaring omissions. Who are these parents forcing their daughters to marry abroad? And why are they doing it? This is described as “‘honor’-based abuse and forced marriage” and we’re told that these girls are “often conditioned from a very young age to consider arranged marriage to be normal.” But, again, who is doing the conditioning, and whose idea of “honor” is this”? Might there be an identifiable cultural or religious group linked to this, or has Britain always had this problem? There is a religious dimension to the story that’s left unexplored. But why? Can’t the reporter see it? Or is she deliberately looking away? Whatever the case, there is a huge “religious hole.” There probably isn’t anyone left who thinks the media is objective and unbiased. But do our children understand that this bias comes out, not just in what the press says and writes, but also in what they leave unsaid, and unwritten. When the media has no interest in the religious angle, they are treating God – who He is, and who He isn’t, what He thinks, and what He wants us to do – as unimportant. Daily doses of such perspective can have an impact, especially if we are caught unawares (1 Cor. 15:33). So let’s teach ourselves, and our children, to spot the “religious ghosts” that haunt so many front pages stories....
Humor, Media bias, Satire
Even a talking horse beats quiet convictions
I still remember the day I officially became an expert on everything. Many people go to school for years just to become an expert on one small particular thing so you might assume that becoming an expert on everything would be even harder and take longer. Actually it takes but one simple step: become a journalist. A journalist can be expected to write about as many as five separate subjects a day and to write about all of them knowledgeably. You might imagine that this incredible task requires the best and brightest that mankind has to offer. It may indeed but unfortunately the best and brightest are already tied up trying to extrapolate the existence of the sixth dimension based on the cube root of pi’s trillionth digit. So the task is left to whoever is silly enough to work for a starting wage of $15,000. They are the few and the desperate, yes, these are your dedicated daily information providers. As both a Christian and a newly anointed expert on everything I’m often asked: “Why is the news so biased against Christians?” The first time I was asked this question I immediately took steps to answer it as only a journalist could. Fred the hot-dog vendor was standing a scant three steps away so I pulled out my very professional looking tape recorder, held it up to Fred and then asked him the same question. Fred gave his usual thoughtful response while I got my usual chili dog and paid him $2.50 for both. I then returned to my still waiting inquisitor and repeated what Fred said with a quick “Sources say...” added in front of it. I found out rather quickly that while this technique never fails to impress when found on the printed page, it works less well in person. My inquisitor asked me the question again and, just to show she meant business, placed her clenched fists on either hip (her hips not mine), “Why is the press so biased against Christians?” Unable to avoid the question I bought her a coffee and we sat down to discuss it. She had her own theory about the press being left-wing, liberal, and full of atheists who lived just to take shots at Christians. She flipped through that day’s paper and pointed out a dozen stories that promoted gay-rights, euthanasia, or the latest evolutionary "discovery." She also mentioned that Christian and pro-family groups and politicians often complain their quotes are purposely taken out of context. While it’s obvious the press has an agenda, it’s been my experience that it is not as left-wing, liberal, atheistic as Christians believe. I explained to her that quite often the press’s agenda is far less nefarious, and can be summed up in two parts: 1) to sell as many papers as possible, and 2) to get home before lunch. This startlingly un-ominous agenda didn’t seem to please my questioner. She clenched her teeth and leaned across the table grabbing my tie to pull me close. My clip-on made this last action less intimidating than it might otherwise have been but the overall effect still captivated my attention. “So why,” she whispered hoarsely, “is the news full of so many anti-Christian stories?” As her hot breath blew over me an alarming sense of deja vu overwhelmed me. This had all happened before! But try as I might, I just couldn’t think of when or where. Sure, an ordinary man might be able to remember the last time a women he was drinking coffee with suddenly reached over and ripped off his tie. As a journalist this has happened to me far too often (thus the clip-ons – both cheaper and safer) and after a while all the separate occurrences have blurred together. Then it hit me. The situation had been quite different but the question had been exactly the same. And I had been the one asking it. It was just a year before, and I had taken a run at political office. As a small party candidate I couldn't afford paid ads, and was desperate for any free publicity I could get. That's why, when the daily paper called I did my best to take full advantage of the opportunity. I talked to that reporter for almost an hour explaining both my party’s, and my personal stances. But the reporter ignored my explanations and kept asking personal questions. I told him I wasn't important. I told him people wouldn't be voting for me as a person, but instead, would be voting for me as the only candidate who stood up for the important issues. Over and over I downplayed my own importance and stressed the issues. After a long and impassioned conversation with the reporter, the following quote appeared in the paper the next day: "There are 2,000 people who would vote for Mr. Ed as long as he was pro-life. I could be a talking horse and they would vote for me if I was pro-life." – Jon Dykstra Not quite what I was hoping for, it was by far the stupidest thing I had said. As a politician I was convinced the reporter had selected this worst possible quote because he didn’t like my Christian stances. As a trained journalist I now knew better. The simple truth is, stupidity sells papers. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not, if you say something stupid the press will use it. We've seen politicians make headlines for misspelling a word, or forgetting how many states there are. I got my highlighted with a more original approach, referencing a talking horse. As one of my more compassionate friends told me later, “If stupidity sells papers, you doubled their circulation.” My recollection complete, I turned to my companion to see if this trip down memory lane had done anything to answer her question. She was staring intently at the place where my tie had been. “Stupidity?,” she asked, still staring, “Is that the whole answer?” It was not. I became a reporter to write about issues that aren't usually covered. I was determined to write about everything from AIDS to Zebras with a distinctly Christian perspective so I began the research for each new story with a few calls to pro-life, pro-family or Christian organizations and politicians. They were quite wary of the press, and as my coffee companion had already noted, they do seem to have reason to be. But they were so scared they refused to answer my questions. Of course they weren't quite as blunt as that. One place kept telling me the director was out and that she would phone me in an hour when she got in. I got the same message every hour as I regularly phoned back and finally had to give up as lunch approached. Another organization told me that only one person was allowed to speak to the press and he was away for three weeks. A few groups did get back to me, but anywhere from two days to several weeks too late. In contrast, I managed to talk to two AIDS activists in the space of a single hour. They were very cooperative and very outspoken. As an unbiased, objective and Christian reporter I absolutely refused to write all my stories with two AIDS activists as the only sources (they just didn’t add anything to my gambling story) so I sucked in my gut and decided to work after lunch. I spent my afternoons alone in the cavernous office tracking down Christians sources and experimenting with the room’s acoustics. But because I refused to go with just the most available sources, stories that should have taken half a day took more than a week. So why is the newspaper and nightly news full of anti-Christian stories? In part, because most reporters won’t take that week. If Christians want better press coverage they need to start working at it. They need to start appealing to the lazy and sensationalistic nature of the press. Our most basic beliefs are pretty radical nowadays so we already have sensationalism covered but we still need to work at appealing to the lazy nature of the press. That means, if they aren't calling us we better be calling them. This isn't as intimidating as it may sound; calling a reporter doesn't mean you personally have to give him a quote. As a "regular" person they may not even be interested in talking to you. Instead you can compile a list of Christian sources with impressive titles behind their names, people who have spent the time to become experts about one small particular thing. Admittedly, coming up with this list is no small task, what with fewer and fewer willing to speak up. But if you can come up with such a list, then when you hear or read about an issue that should have a Christian voice speaking out on it, you can phone up the reporter and give him the appropriate phone number. Many reporters don't like sounding biased, so if you can give them a ready source from the other side of an issue they may well be happy to have it. And if you’re afraid you might say something stupid, trust in God and do your best. After my idiotic Mr. Ed comment I received calls from dozens of curious voters, and the reporter found the comment interesting enough to follow it with six column inches about my campaign positions (more coverage than he gave any other fringe party candidate). After the good that came of this escapade I pinned up a little sign in my room which read “GOD Can Overcome Even Your Stupidity.” It kept me humble, but more importantly, it freed me from worry. My coffee companion wanted to blame the media’s anti-Christian stance on some kind of hidden agenda. There is some truth to that, but that’s also taking the easy way out, shifting the blame to an available scapegoat. The news media may have more than its share of liberal, left-wing, atheists, but many aren’t so much anti-Christian as lazy, and sensationalistic. These reporters take the path of least resistance and talk to the people who want to talk to them, like gays, euthanasia advocates, and other radicals desperate for publicity. They won't stir up controversies unless there are groups and politicians willing to speak out and take the hard stands. And these reporters don't have the time or patience to talk to people who will, "get back to them." It’s not just the media’s fault; it’s ours too. The news is full of anti-Christian content because Christians are too often boring, timid, and reclusive. And that’s my expert opinion. A version of this article first appeared in the magazine in 1997....
Internet, Media bias
Wikipedia: reader beware
I recently assigned a group of Grade 7-10 church history students a research project. I observed them as they began their work on their personal computers and for many their first stop was Wikipedia. On an average day, I would probably check something on Wikipedia myself at least two or three times. But who can guarantee that all the information on Wikipedia is accurate and unbiased? As it turns out, bias is also a problem on this website. And that’s particularly evident in the realm of controversial subjects like creationism and Intelligent Design (ID). A recent example involved Dr. Günter Bechly, a paleontologist and entomologist affiliated with the Discovery Institute, an organization promoting ID. He is notable for his groundbreaking research on fossil insects. Wikipedia used to include an article about Dr. Bechly. However, it was deleted after prejudiced pro-Darwin editors decided he was not notable enough to be included anymore. Wikipedia is unreliable in terms of what it withholds from the public eye. It’s also unreliable in terms of how it presents the material that it does include on ID. For example, the main article on ID (as of Nov. 13) asserts in the opening paragraph that ID is a “pseudoscience” and “a religious argument for the existence of God.” So Wikipedia prejudicially discounts any scientific basis for ID. Though pro-ID contributors have tried to edit the article (as anyone can normally do), the volunteer Wiki editors always switch it back or lock the article down. Wikipedia can be helpful for checking basic facts like dates. But once one gets into areas of controversy or opinion, its usefulness and objectivity begin to diminish. The problem is that human beings edit it. And human beings all have that heart condition: notoriously prone to deceive and be deceived. While editors of the print encyclopedias of the past were not immune to this condition, because there was a monetary incentive involved there were more checks and balances. Today, more than ever, we have to do our own checking. Apply the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Just because you read it on Wikipedia doesn’t make it true! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqiXgtDdEwM Dr. Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Launceston, Tasmania, and he blogs at Yinkahdinay....
Don’t watch the news, read it!
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Someone, somewhere, said something stupid today
Earlier today someone, somewhere, said something stupid. People saying stupid things isn’t all that unusual, so one might question this story’s newsworthiness, but this particular someone made a guest appearance on the Lone Ranger back in the 1960s. So this was a celebrity someone! Celebrities saying something stupid isn’t unusual either, but this was a left or right wing celebrity, which made this a political event, so, of course, the right or left wing media had to cover it! In addition, today’s event is just the latest in a trend which makes it doubly newsworthy. Observers aren’t sure when making big of small started, but some trace it to 1992, when a Vice President made international news for adding a “e” to the end of “potato.” Historians say it goes further back still, with literary references to “making much ado about nothing” appearing as long ago as 1598 or 1599. Whatever its origin, the trend has only grown in recent years with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter dramatically increasing opportunities for making public mistakes. In addition social media allows regular folk to join hands with the media in broadcasting these minor matters. It is only by sharing and reposting and really working together that we can alert the world to whenever someone somewhere says something stupid. Or...we can focus our energies and our outrage on issues that actually matter....
Lies, Mistakes and Half-truths – 3 types of media bias
“People like you don’t deserve fair treatment!” This wasn’t the sort of statement I expected from our local station’s 11 o’clock news anchor; on camera he seemed like such a nice man. But now that I had him on the phone he was using an obscenity every second word. I phoned him to correct a notable but seemingly accidental mistake in the station’s political coverage. It turned out, though, that no correction would be made because, as this news anchor explained it to me, he had a gay sister, and he didn’t like my political party’s stance against entrenching homosexuality in Canada's Charter of Rights. So he intentionally lied about us on air. 1. Blatant/Intentional lies This type of blatant media bias used to be the rarest kind. Yes, there were always members of the media, like this evening news anchor, who would lie boldly and baldly. But as recently as ten years ago, this type of media bias was relatively rare. Today, though, there are plenty of "fake news" sites that just don't care about the truth. Their goal is to draw in readers any way they can. Since very few of us are going to click on headlines about aliens or Elvis sightings, these sites craft headlines that are outrageous yet plausible. They give us stories like "Justin Trudeau Sets Legal Age for Smoking Marijuana to 24 Years Old" and "Fireman Suspended & Jailed by Atheist Mayor for Praying at Scene." Neither is hard to believe. But neither has actually happened. To make it even more confusing, some of these fake news outlets mimic real news sites. A careful reader at ABCNews.com.co will be able to tell it is a parody site, but their domain name is meant to deceive the less discerning into thinking this is the mainstream media outlet ABC News (whose website is ABCNews.com). So if you're reading an article from a news site that doesn't seem quite right, or the site is one you've never heard of before, you have every reason to be cautious, and even suspicious. Do a google search or check it out on Snopes.com (though they have their own decided bias); find out of they are real or fake before passing anything on. While fake news abounds, among the established media – news outlets that have been around for at least a few years – most reporters do care about the facts. They have to, because they'll only have readers and viewers so long as they are credible. That's why even the media outlets that have the strongest anti-Christian bias can still – for the most part – be trusted on what facts they present. They might be highly selective about what facts they share, but they almost never just make stuff up. 2. Half-truths And that brings us to a more common sort of bias, where the media lets their worldview dictate what facts they pass along. "Worldview bias" can be intentional, or entirely inadvertent, and it is everywhere. All reporters have their biases, so even when they are trying to be fair and balanced their biases still come out. In fact, as conservative news icon Ted Byfield once noted, it is impossible to cover all sides of a news event because there simply isn’t enough ink in the world. Reporters by necessity must pick and choose the facts they report and their worldview may cause them not to pursue, or even consider, some critical facts that may put an entirely different slant on a story. Let me illustrate by way of a fictitious example. Below are two very different accounts that could have been written about the very same event. Reverse Discrimination Alleged Allegations of reverse discrimination are being leveled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Acme Company store in Fort Keg River. Chris Hamson, a mine worker, claims that Brooner grants almost every native a store credit card but refuses more than half the whites who apply. “I got refused about a month ago,” Hamson told the Gazette, “and then I found out a couple of my buddies at the mine were refused too. Then we started asking around and it turned out that while all the native guys had one, only a few of the white guys at the site had gotten a card. There’s only one explanation, that Brooner guy is racist.” Racism Alleged Allegations of racism are being leveled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Acme Company store in Fort Keg River. A lawyer for the Entartee Band says Brooner regularly grants much higher credit limits to whites who apply for a store credit card than Natives applying for the same card. “Some of the band members complained to the chief about this a few months back,” said band lawyer Joe YellowHorse, “so he asked me to look into it. I’ve been asking around and it’s true. This guy starts us at $500 or maybe $1000 credit limits, but every white guy who gets a card starts with at least a $2000 limit. Brooner is clearly racist.” In both articles the facts seem to show that Jim Brooner is a racist, but in the first article he comes off as an anti-white racist and in the second he comes off as an anti-native racist. In both cases the reporters got their facts right. Everything stated is true - but neither reporter managed to get the whole story. Jim Brooner isn’t racist – not at all. The store he worked at was located next to a northern native reserve. The whites in this part of the world were all imported from further south where most already had a credit history established. So when these whites applied for credit, if they had a good credit history, they were started off at a high limit, but those with bad credit didn’t get a card at all. The natives, for the most part, didn’t have any credit history yet, so almost all of them got a card, but with a lower limit, as you would expect for someone just building up their credit. There was clear bias in these two stories, though both contained only the facts…just not all the facts. Media outlets are going to be most attuned to, and more interested in, the facts that fit their own worldview, which means a CBC reporter would be more likely to come out with the second story, and a more conservative outlet, like maybe The Rebel Media, would be more likely to uncover the first. That's why, to get the full story, we need to read it from more than one perspective. As God tells us in Proverbs 18:17: The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Conservative media are friendlier to our side – they feature many more Christian, pro-life, and pro-family stories – but that doesn't mean they aren't biased. Everyone is. That's why, while I'm not a big fan of The Globe and Mail, if I read about something absolutely outrageous on, say LifeSiteNews.com, I might check the Globe to see how their take matches up. Anything on Fox News, or The Blaze, or the National Post, could be compared with the same story on MSNBC or The New York Times or Macleans. It would be too time consuming to do this with every news story, but on the important ones - a story big enough that you're thinking about passing it along via your social media feed - take the extra time to read about the event from a completely different perspective. Make sure you're sharing the truth - not a half-truth. 3. Systemic bias The final type of bias is systemic – it is unavoidable bias that is part of the news business by its very nature. And this type of bias runs directly counter to the Christian worldview. How so? News by its very nature has to be something unusual. So, for example, “Dog bites man” isn't newsworthy, while “Man bites dog” might make the front page. That’s why attacks on Christianity makes the news: “Atheist wants to be minister” is quirky and interesting, while the faithful work of your local pastor is too ordinary to ever get coverage. This systemic bias in the media also works to normalize perversion – journalists can’t report on normal ordinary things (who would want to read about stuff like that?) so instead, they cover the strange and bizarre. But by covering it they start to make it less strange, and less unusual. Just think of homosexuality – 30 years ago it was shocking; today, after years of continual exposure, it is just another lifestyle. More recently we've seen euthanasia and transsexuality go from fringe ideas to rights, due in large part to ongoing coverage by the media. The daily deadline pressure of the news business leads to another type of systemic bias. Reporters might be expected to write up to five stories a day on a range of topics they may know little or nothing about, so they have neither the time to dig for all the facts, nor the expertise to know what to look for. What they do instead is “attribution.” So when some scientists make claims about global warming, or overpopulation, or evolution, the reporter doesn’t have to find out if these scientists are correct – he merely has to attribute the claim to them. If the claim turns out to be untrue the scientists will be wrong, but the journalist will still have reported only the facts - that some scientists had made a particular claim. This “attribution” technique allows reporters to always tell the truth, even when they are passing on misleading or even deceptive information. Conclusion Many Christians base their political, cultural and economic opinions on the news they read while forgetting what the Bible tells us about how deceptive the Evil One can be. Reporters rarely lie outright, but many of these same reporters deny the truth of the Bible. Why should we expect the truth and nothing but the truth from reporters who can’t recognize the reality, accuracy and validity of the Bible? They may try their best to be fair, but even fairness only has meaning when it is rooted in God’s standards. They may claim to be unbiased, but God tells us there is no impartiality – you are either for Him or against Him. Understanding the nature of media bias is more important today than it has ever been because with today's social media, all of us have become media outlets. Every one of us have dozens and even hundreds or thousands of readers, and each day we "publish" content for them. So what sort of media outlet are you? Are you a trustworthy one? If you are to be a light to the dark world – if you are going to be an ambassador for Christ – then in all that you share you need to be sure that you maintain your credibility. Christians need to known as truth-tellers, and not rumor mongers. We need to sure that what we share is the whole truth and nothing but it. So be skeptical, be discerning, and be willing to check a story from multiple news sources, because bias is a part of every article you read. A version of this article first appeared in the April 2005 issue of Reformed Perspective....