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Media bias, News

"Conservative" media fails the test

In the lead-up to the Olympics, one New Zealand athlete got more attention than his athletic ability warranted. What drew the media spotlight to him was that he was participating in a woman's event. Gavin Hubbard had changed his name to Laurel, and the International Olympic Committee was willing to buy into his delusion and pretend he had become a woman. Hubbard had reportedly gotten into the sport as a young man in the hopes it would masculinize him, and something could be said about whether weightlifting is an inherently masculine sport. The world would now laugh at the notion, but for 100 years at the Olympic level, it was exclusively male, only changing at the 2000 Syndey Olympics. Should Christians laugh at the idea of a sport being for one gender and not the other? While there is a fuzzy line between what exactly is masculine and what is feminine, God has assigned men and women different roles, made us differently, and wants women to be women and men to be men (Deut. 22:5). That Hubbard could look quite like the female competitors was not because he looked feminine at all, but rather that their bulked-up bodies looked quite masculine. But the real story here was the media coverage of Hubbard. Predictably, mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and ESPN referred to him as her. This was a shibboleth of sorts – a one-word test to uncover whether the media source you were reading had bowed down to the woke mob in defiance of science, common sense, and most importantly what the Bible has revealed, that God decides gender and no one else (Gen. 1:27). If an outlet called Hubbard her, then they'd outed themselves as being part of the problem. While the mainstream press all bowed, how did "conservative" media outlets fare? Fox News carried stories about how unfair it was for Hubbard to compete in the women's division, and yet still used female pronouns for Hubbard. It might have been too much to hope that the National Post would stand strong, and, in fact, they did not. But it will surprise some to learn that Canada's "renegade" news outlet, Rebel News, followed the same pattern, making the case against Hubbard's participation, and yet still referring to him as her. At least some of National Review's coverage passed the test. WORLD magazine's few articles on him seemed to studiously avoid any use of pronouns for Hubbard, using his name instead. One of the only news outlets to actually use male pronouns for Hubbard was LifeSiteNews.com. While these outlets passed the test, that's not an endorsement of all they write – this is just one mark in their favor. What's more definitive is what it reveals about the outlets that failed the test. If they can't even be relied upon to state a simple biological fact everyone knows to be true, they've shown themselves incapable of standing up to the mob and not worthy of our trust.

Media bias

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....

Media bias

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 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....

Media bias

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."...

Media bias

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....