Proverbs 18:17: the antidote to Fake News
In the era of, not so much fake, but exaggerated, partisan, and selectively reported news, how can we discern the truth of a matter? God shows us the ...
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Media bias
A call for Christian journalists: an interview (of sorts) with Marvin Olasky
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 knew better. The simple truth is, stupidity sells papers. 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 attention 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. 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 twenty years ago....
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....
FAKE NEWS: Media gets it wrong about the Bible getting it wrong
This past week, newspapers and other media outlets published articles about how a recent find had disproven the Bible. The Telegraph, The Independent, Express, and the Daily Mail and others told readers: Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people The story even made it to at least one Chinese website under the headline: Is the Bible wrong? Gene evidence that the blood of Canaanites is still flowing in the Lebanese So what was it that the Bible was supposed to have gotten wrong? The articles reported on the work of Chris Tyler-Smith and an international team of geneticists and archeologists who had dug up bones from five ancient Canaanite bodies, estimated to be more than 3,600 years old. The bones contained enough DNA for them to make comparisons to the genomes of 99 living Lebanese. They found that the modern-day Lebanese shared about 93 per cent of their ancestry with these ancient Canaanites. In other words, the ancient Canaanites live on in the Lebanese. But, according to the researchers that contradicted God’s order to Israel (Deut 20:17) to completely wipe out the Canaanites. As the researchers wrote: The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations… How could there be modern day Canaanites, if God ordered them all killed? After all, if God told Israel to do something, they always did it. Right? The media wanted to expose the Bible’s inaccuracies, but only exposed their own biblical illiteracy. Yes, Israel was ordered to wipe out the Canaanites but they disobeyed again and again. One example occurs in Judges 1:21 where we read: But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. The rest of the chapter is an account of Israel’s disobedience, and how the Canaanites lived on. So these new findings don’t disprove the Bible, but even compliment it. A day or two after it was first published The Telegraph article was corrected. And The Daily Mail piece, despite a headline that claimed, “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim,” acknowledged near the end that it did no such thing. But who reads more than the headlines these days? And who re-reads an article days after it first hits the web? This devilish attack has already done its damage. So what can we do to counter this type of attack? We need to expose the media’s biblical illiteracy and their journalistic incompetence by sharing rebuttals like this one (or a more in depth one like Gary DeMar’s here). There is an old journalism saying that "if it bleeds it leads." News stories like this one show that, whether they say it out loud or not, there is another credo many reporters live by: "If it is a Bible attack, we won't worry if it's fact."...
Don’t watch the news, read it!
This first appeared in Reformed Perspective in 2000, and yet the thesis of this article is just as relevant for today's Internet Age, as entertainment is an even bigger part of the news now. ***** Entertainment is the news. When the hit television series Seinfeld went off the air in 1998, all the major networks ran lengthy stories. The Hollywood press conference that announces the nominees for the Academy Awards receives coverage comparable to the president’s “State of the Union” address. And the box office tallies of the sequels to Jurassic Park and Star Wars become major network news stories. In this day and age of giant conglomerates, a number of networks are now owned and operated by film studios, but there is no grand media conspiracy. There are plenty of independent news sources that provide competition. So who is responsible for the triumph of “infotainment” over information? It is us, the consumers of news. We allow television to be our main source of news, and this leads to three critical distortions in our lives. 1. Self-pity Television news encourages self-pity. TV spokesmen talk a lot about the importance of the “news business,” but what they really mean is the “bad news business.” Except in small doses, good news simply doesn’t make for good television. The tube inevitably emphasizes violence, mayhem, death, destruction – it doesn’t matter if we are talking about battles, riots, train wrecks, or hurricanes – as long as it is visual, dramatic, and compelling. That is why news producers love wars and natural disasters. Bad news is not only the lifeblood of the major networks but also the local news stations across the nation. A USA Today survey indicates that 73 per cent of the lead stories they air are devoted to coverage of some kind of natural disaster or violence. Bad news literally drives out good news. To understand why this happens, try putting yourself in the position of a television news director. How do you make your show gripping? Do you show a computerized graph on the declining national crime rate or live footage of an elementary school shooting? Do you interview a small business owner who has created 100 new jobs in the plumbing industry or an environmental activist who claims to have proof of a deadly new toxic threat? Do you run a lead story about a Detroit janitor who moonlights as a cabdriver so he can send his five children to a Christian school? Do you tell your cameramen to zoom in when he arrives home late at night, kisses his sons and daughters as they lie sleeping, and asks God’s blessing on them? It happens every night in Detroit, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, and New York. But is it news? Never! What if the same janitor arrives home and something snaps? He gets a pistol from the closet shoots his children, and then shoots himself. You don’t have to think about whether to run this story. Your decision is automatic: “If it bleeds, it leads.” 2. Shortened attention span Television news encourages a short attention span and a lack of perspective. Forget about nuclear wars and germ warfare. The most destructive invention of the 20th century is the remote control. Channels magazine notes that the average adult male (who wins the gender and age battle over possession of the remote in most American households) changes stations every 19 minutes. If this keeps up, “channel surfing” will soon be an Olympic sport. Imagine once again that you are a news director. You know that most guys are incapable of watching a half-hour program. How do you respond? By changing the entire nature of television in a desperate bid to keep viewers riveted. In the 1950s a typical camera shot lasted 35-50 seconds. In the 1990s it lasts 5 seconds. Commercials are even more frenetic, often switching images after only one second. Television sound bites have also been reduced to the point of absurdity. Forget about the interview subject who tells you what he thinks about the state of the economy of the defense budget in 25 words of less – you have to find someone who can do it in three words – and they better be pretty titillating, or they won’t make it onto the evening news. Titillation is the new and ultimate entitlement of television viewers. We want to be excited by what we watch. It doesn’t matter if topics are presented in a thoughtful and thorough manner, just as long as we aren’t bored. Who among us would tune into a broadcast of the Lincoln-Douglas debates today? We ought to remember what life was like before television. In 1858, 20,000 residents of Freeport, Illinois, heard presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas speak for four hours without microphones, teleprompters or commercial breaks. In city after city, Lincoln and Douglas grappled with consequential issues, and they attracted huge audiences of ordinary citizens – farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, housewives, and even school children. Today, they would be hard-pressed to get an hour of airtime on PBS and even if they did their Nielsen ratings would be abysmal. 3. Superficiality and subjectivity Our love affair with television has led to an obsession with appearance. Look at the current crop of anchormen and anchorwomen. Do you think they were chosen to read the news because they were at the top of their class in journalism school? Everything on television, even the “truth,” is subordinate to appearance. Television is all about surface impressions and this means that intentions, feelings and desires take precedence over logic, substance and reality. Worse yet, television news infects viewers with what I call the “do-something disease.” It presents alarming stories about every imaginable tragedy – famine, cancer, illiteracy, pollution, you name it – and encourages viewers to feel that they should do something right away. It doesn’t matter if they can’t solve these problems. What does matter is they will feel a whole lot better. Stop watching and start reading Self-pity, lack of focus, superficiality, subjectivity – how do we deal with these? Do we try to improve the quality of television news, to make the medium work for us instead of against us? Certainly that is an important and worthwhile effort. It isn’t the ultimate solution, however, because the fundamental problem isn’t a lack of quality programming. We now sit in front of the “boob tube,” 28 hours a week. We spend more time watching television than we do pursuing our careers, since we don’t retire, or take vacations, sick days, or weekends off from our favorite programs. We also spend more time watching television than we do reading to ourselves or to our children. Best-selling novelist Larry Wolwode is right. Television is the “Cyclops who eats books.” When it comes to the news, this one-eyed monster also has an insatiable appetite for newspapers and magazines. But Cyclops in not all-powerful. We can defeat him Unlike the Greeks, we don’t need clever tricks or deception. Armed only with our remote controls, we can turn off this giant glowing eye. Nearly all Americans say they want to cut down on TV viewing. Where is the best place to begin? By eliminating the time you spend on television news. Most material on the tube doesn’t pretend to reflect reality, but news broadcasts do, so they are particularly, potently poisonous. The hour you spend each night watching local and network news could easily be redirected to reviewing not one but two newspapers in their entirety. Sure, print journalism has its own biases, but because of the way we read and comprehend it, we are more capable of compensating. Reinvesting your time in this way may not instantly change the world, but it can change your world and the way you respond to reality. And like and wisely planned reasoned investment it can pay long-term dividends. Reprinted by permission, from IMPRIMIS the monthly journal of Hillsdale College. Be sure to check out the "sequel" to this piece, Don't read the news, read a book....
Don’t read the news, read a book!
No, you’re not paranoid, the media really is out to get Christians. In his book How the News Makes Us Dumb, C. John Sommerville argues that news by its very nature is incapable of portraying Christians (or any conservatives) positively. He also insists that reading the daily news is bad for our brains, and that news media is beyond repair. Instead of reading the news, Sommerville wants people to stay informed by reading books. Fluff, fluff and more fluff But how could following the news make us dumb? The news is filled with important events from around the world. Shouldn’t we know stuff like that? There are a few reasons to think, no, it isn't important at all. As Sommerville notes, “Important people don’t like to be in the news.” The people out there actually getting things done don’t have time to deal with the press. Celebrities on the other hand, love to be covered, and so they are. Instead of leaders of industry we hear all about TV and movie stars. We might watch the news to keep abreast of important issues, but all too often we hear celebrity gossip instead. Our brains grow fat and flabby hearing about President Trump's latest tweet or Beyonce's latest publicity stunt. Our daily dose of news is also time consuming. Many of us feel compelled to read or watch the news daily but we don’t feel the same compulsion for daily study in other fields like science, history, or sometimes even the Bible! How many people spend as much time on their Bible study as their news intake? The daily nature of news also undermines its importance. News doesn’t occur regularly; it occurs in erratic spurts. However, reporters have to provide news on a daily or even hourly basis, even if nothing is happening. Busy news day or not, a newspaper will still have to be delivered the next day, and the evening news will still have to last a full hour. So a story that was too insignificant to broadcast one day can suddenly become the lead story on a slow day. It wasn't important 24-hours ago, but now it's trumpeted as something we absolutely need to know. You’ll also never hear life’s big questions, the really important ones, answered on the news. Why are we all here? What does it all mean? The important questions in life are simply beyond 20-second sound bites, and 400-word articles. Novelty-focus is inherently anti-Christian Of course, if the media ever did answer the big questions they would put themselves out of work. Why would anyone tune in the next day? And so instead of focussing on important matters, the media focuses on change. It’s this focus on change that makes the media unavoidably anti-Christian. Churches that have held steadfastly to the word of God, and haven’t changed, don’t appear anywhere in our news. The churches making radical changes – ordaining homosexual priests, or denying the existence of God, or endorsing transsexuality – these churches can even make the headlines. Of course, this bias isn’t aimed specifically at the churches. It is actually a broader anti-conservative bias. Conservatives, by their very nature want to conserve, and preserve things the way they are. Conservatives don’t like change. By focusing on change the media has turned itself into an anti-conservative organization. This is one of the reasons why Sommerville thinks the media is beyond repair. Entertainment, not information Many news broadcasts end with a feel-good story about some lost puppy finding their way home, or maybe a story about a panda birth at the zoo. We all recognize the entertainment nature of this type of new s, but do we recognize that even hard news has the same entertainment focus? Just think about how the media reports scandals. Day after day we hear just a little bit more, but we never hear it all. Sommerville calls it news as a “striptease.” He notes that, “the last thing news people want to do is end a good story….The longer it takes the more news gets sold.” And when there is nothing new to report, the investigation itself often becomes the story. Sommerville blames us for this type of feeding frenzy mentality. He says if we really just wanted the truth we would wait for the investigation to conclude and then read a book about it. Why a book? Because a book has the space to provide the depth that the news media misses. The daily nature of media means they can’t offer real analysis because they don’t have the time. Sommerville offers a number of contrasting headlines throughout his book to make this point (these are old examples, but familiar newspapers): "Prosperity Eludes Grenada 5 Years After Invasion” – Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1988 “5 Years Later, Grenada Is Tranquil and Thriving” – New York Times, same day “In Autos, U.S., Makes Strides” – New York Times, March 24, 1989 “U.S. Vehicle Sales Are Sluggish” – same paper, same day “Scores on College Entrance Tests Fall” – Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 1989 “SAT Scores End ‘80s Up” – USA Today same day “Minority Students Gain on College Entrance Tests” – New York Times, same day “SAT Scores Take Dip for Women, Minorities” – Westchester-Rockland Daily News, same day Which of these media outlets got it right? If you’re relying on them to keep you informed – if you’re relying on their analysis – then you’re obviously in trouble. Instant analysis is going to be hit and miss The emphasis on immediacy and up-to-the-minute reports guarantees that news will be over-hyped. Remember the Ebola outbreak in 2014? It was constant coverage for months as the media explored what might happen if Ebola broke out in North America. In total, two people on this continent died. But the constant and terrifying coverage kept people tuned into their news feeds. The need for speed also leads to the use of shorter words in headlines. Sommerville uses the example of the word “cut” (as in “Budget Cut”) in his book. It’s a short word, and it gets the reader’s attention but it doesn’t always mean what the reader thinks. Some cuts are merely lower than average increases! When we consider how many people now get their news just from reading headlines, the ambiguity these short words add to headlines really “cuts” into the actual information we receive. The harm done All these problems undermine the informative nature of news, but can watching or reading the news actually harm us? Well, we’ve already seen how the media’s focus on change promotes anti-Christian ideals. The same holds true when the media pretends to be unbiased. All these panel discussions with one person "for" and another person there to represent the "against." There can be a benefit to having two people on opposites sides debate an issue (Prov. 18:17). Just imagine what would result if we had a pro-choice and pro-life representative really debate the issue of abortion. Lies could be exposed, the truth could be presented – wouldn't that be wonderful! But the segments we see on the nightly news don't allow the time for any sort of fruitful discussion. What we see is simply quarreling – fighting for fighting's sake (or, rather, for entertainment's sake) – which God warns us against (2 Tim 2:23-24, Prov. 20:3). This is a reason why reading books is a better idea. In a book we have the space to really explore an issue, and have the truth come out. If the media was truly unbiased it would seek the truth; instead it seeks disagreement. And in doing so, in pitting two sides against one, giving them equal time, they leave the impression that the two viewpoints are both valid, and that there is no absolute truth. This again is in direct opposition to our Christian worldview. The news media also hurt our governments. While the media likes to promote itself as a watchdog carefully monitoring the government for us, the truth is quite different. An effective government that goes about its business and doesn’t change too much, and doesn’t hand out much money will never make the news…until they mess up something. Then they’ll make the news but for all the wrong reasons. Voters will hear about the scandal, but they won’t know anything about all the quiet good the government has done in the past. To counter this negative publicity the government will become more inclined to change things and start handing out money. And if they hand out enough money, and pass enough laws, maybe the public will forget about the scandal. And so the media, by their very nature, encourage big interfering governments. Conclusion When I started reading Sommerville’s How the News Makes Us Dumb, I was also reading four newspapers a day. That didn’t leave me with much time to read anything else so it took me almost three weeks to read the first half of the book. At the halfway mark I cut down to only one paper a day and managed to finish the book in another couple of days. I’m still a news addict, so I still check out the news online every day, but by cutting down my news intake I have found more time to read better material. Sommerville also forced me to evaluate the news I do read in a much more critical light. I would recommend his book as a must read for anyone addicted to their daily dose of news. A version of this article was first published in 2000, under the headline, "Don't read a newspaper, read a book." And yes, the author does realize the irony of writing an article that encourages readers to read less articles. This is a follow-up to Michael Medved's article Don't watch the news, read it!...
Media bias, News
Now YOU are the media
What do you think the public needs to read, hear, and see? If you had your own media outlet what sort of news would you pass on to the public? Don’t mistake this for a hypothetical question. You do own a media outlet – we all do. In an age of Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, we are publishers, one and all, with each of us serving up the news to anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred followers and friends via our social media feeds. Now, some of those are close friends and family who think just like you do. But you also have some college friends, or neighbors, or even family members who most definitely do not share your way of thinking. And their only exposure to your perspective – to a biblical perspective – might well be your social media feed. So what do you want to share with them? What do you think they most need to hear? Another cute cat video? Pictures from your latest camping trip? Those might be appreciated. Those have their place. But your media outlet can share so much more. Remember that teammate from your high school volleyball squad, the one who now says there is no God? What if you included a video highlighting some of God’s creative genius on your social media feed? And how about that co-worker who asked to be your Facebook friend, and who seems to have no interest in talking about God? What if you could deliver them some well-thought out, well-written articles about how the world only makes sense when viewed through biblical lenses? Maybe they’ll see your posts. Maybe they’ll read them. But even if they don’t, by regularly sharing God-honoring articles and videos you can have an enormous impact on how many others will see this material. You know how Facebook works – the more Likes or Shares an article gets, the greater the number of people who will have that article show up on their own Facebook page feed. The fact is, while all of us are now media outlet, together we can be even bigger – we can challenge the media empires by highlighting and sharing content we want our friends, neighbors and family to see. This is one of the reasons why, a couple months back, Reformed Perspective decided to make a big change. We still publish a print magazine, but now we're also publishing 5-days-a-week-250-times-a-year online. The only restrictions on how many we can impact are the excellence of our articles and how many others are eager to share them with others. It doesn't matter how good our content is, if other media outlets – if you – aren't willing to share it. To give you an idea of the type of influence just a few people can have online, when just a half dozen people "Share" one of our articles from RP's Facebook page, the number of other people who read it that day will jump from mere dozens to hundreds – a dozen Shares and the article will likely be read by thousands. Facebook "Likes" and comments also help an article reach more, but a single Share seems to have the impact of at least 10 Likes – Facebook knows that when you share something you think it really is good, and they boost it based on your enthusiasm. Of course RP is just one small corner of the Internet – there are many other great resources to highlight too. But whether it’s sharing RP materials, or sharing a great article from DesiringGod.org, AnswersInGenesis.org, OneChristianDad.com, or Challies.com, we all need to embrace our roles as media outlets. Social media has given us this opportunity and we need to seize it for all it’s worth!...
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 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 a claim that global warming could be lethal 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 ambassadors 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....