If God Held A Press Conference

Does the liberal bias of reporters allow them any degree of fairness and objectivity?

“Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you read,” warns the cynic! That is ridiculous if taken literally; sound, practical wisdom if taken seriously. Every Christian needs to heed this time-honored advice as he watches TV, listens to the radio, or reads his daily newspaper.

At Columbia University, Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman recently prepared a major study of the “media elite.” They profiled a group “out of step with the public and raised serious questions about journalism’s qualifications as an ‘objective’ profession.” The article describes them as “a new leadership group” with immense influence upon society. Business leaders rule them most influential. They rate themselves second.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S readership polls show that our articles on topics discussed in the public news media are better read. The news media unquestionably rank at or near the top in influence on modern society and certainly determine what issues we discuss, if they do not determine our conclusions.

Who are these movers and shakers of American society? They are the people who write our newspapers and magazines, and whose voices we hear over radio and television. They are white (95 percent), male (79 percent), well-heeled, college graduates, and from highly privileged homes. We have every reason to believe that they are also dedicated to their profession, hard-working and at least as honest as the average. But they are not religious.

When asked to state their religion, exactly half responded: “None.” Nearly a quarter were reared in a Jewish household, but not many are still practicing Jews. Only 8 percent said they attended church or synagogue on a regular basis; 86 percent declared they seldom or never darken the door of a house of worship. Over half characterized themselves as ideologically liberal or Left-leaning. And most thought their fellow journalists really stood still farther to the Left than did they.

In politics, they are consistently and overwhelmingly liberal. Most are opposed to Marxism and state ownership of industry and business and are firmly committed to capitalism. However, they are equally committed to the welfare state and generally discontented with the social system. A large segment (28 percent) are convinced that America “needs a complete restructuring of its basic institutions.” With many others they consider the most important goal of our nation is to attain economic stability. But their second most important goal is to move the nation toward a less impersonal and more humane society—clearly interpreted to include greater moral and social permissiveness.

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The importance of the stance of these journalists for American evangelicalism, for our nation, and for the world’s impression of America (and therefore also for American missionaries) can scarcely be overestimated. Note, first of all, how wide is the divergence between the world view of this group and that of the rest of the country—and particularly how widely it varies from the religious world view of evangelicals. For example, half the “media elite” possess no religion; for the rest of the nation, 60 percent are church members, 90 percent regard their religion as important, and 80 percent profess to believe in the deity of Christ. Fifty percent of the “media elite” see nothing wrong with adultery, while 95 percent of the public and 100 percent of the evangelicals disapprove of it.

But how does this world view affect a journalist’s reporting and in turn shape the views of the rest of us? We cannot assume that his world view will necessarily cause him either to twist the facts or to reveal his own convictions, let alone that his world view will necessarily determine the conclusions we draw from his reporting. We believe the newsmen and -women in most cases sincerely desire to reflect to us a fair picture of what happens. Moreover, there is a built-in system of checks in their profession. Too slanted a report will be discovered by others, with the result that the reporter loses his credibility.

Yet no one can ever free himself from his own world view. An evangelical newsman, Wes Pippert, has said: “A large segment of good journalists simply turn off moral information. It’s as if they were tone deaf in this area. They don’t understand Christian doctrine and they don’t really understand the Judeo-Christian ethic. Since they don’t understand it, they find great difficulty in reporting it accurately or interpreting it fairly. They lack a cultivated religious and moral sense.”

Examples of this are not hard to find. Sam Hart, the black Christian nominated for an important role in the present administration, was blasted by journalists from every side. They attacked him because of his very conservative political and social stance and also because of what they thought were irregular financial arrangements. But nowhere did it appear that they made any attempt to check the very plausible explanation Hart gave of these arrangements. The public was all too willing to accept any suggestion of shady dealings by a conservative black preacher. And Sam Hart withdrew his name.

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C. Everett Koop’s long-delayed appointment to be U.S. surgeon general is an even clearer case. When his name was proposed, one would have thought his only accomplishment in life was his opposition to abortion. He was derided as a “fundamentalist” and “a clinician with tunnel vision.” His extraordinary contribution to his field and brilliant medical pedigree never showed up in newsprint, radio, or TV.

The fact is, the world view of reporters does influence their reporting. How could it be otherwise? Their world view determines what they see, what they understand, what they think is important (or unimportant), how hard they work to check their sources, to what they choose to give prominence, the code words employed (like fundamentalist, or extreme Right), comparisons made, interpretations suggested even when not stated, and value judgments of approval or disapproval.

We appeal to the journalists themselves. We would remind them of their responsibility to report the news fairly, to seek to understand the American culture of our day, and especially to recognize the role of religion in our society. If they would be faithful journalists—faithful to their professional task—it is their duty to understand the role of religion, to understand the spiritual and moral commitments of the people whose actions and thinking they are endeavoring to interpret for our society. They cannot divest themselves of their world view, but they can recognize that they have one, and lean over backwards to represent fairly those whose views are alien to their own.

Finally, the awesome power and influence of the public media coupled with its strong antimoral, antireligious, and antievangelical bent ought to challenge evangelicals to greater participation in this influential instrument in our society. If evangelicals are to penetrate our culture and, indeed, become the salt and seasoning of the society in which they live, then it is necessary that they prepare themselves to function effectively at this neural point in our modern social structure.

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We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Us

What will happen when, as many scientists hold, the sun turns red and roasts the earth alive? One physicist answers, “Probably we will have escaped to [a friendly planet near] another star in the Galaxy before then.”

We may take comfort, he would say, in knowing either that the sun will not fail us for six billion years, or that we can escape our problems by fleeing in spaceships.

Such optimism gives the Christian a case of theological indigestion. Granting that the “old earth” people are right and that we are to measure the life of our solar system in billions of years, still there is that business of escaping in spaceships.

Jonathan Schell, writing in the New Yorker of February 8, cannot stomach it either. Such a view “assumes that if only we could escape the earth we would find safety—as though it were the earth and its plants and animals [and sun, or something out there] that threatened us, rather than the other way around.”

Why is the spaceship view wrongheaded? Because, for one thing, “wherever human beings went, there also would go the knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons, and, with it, the peril of extinction.” Schell concludes that “science cannot deliver us from its own findings.” True enough. But even more basically he points out that it cannot deliver us from our own “destructive and self-destructive bent.”

The fact is, all those people escaping in six billion years will (if we provisionally accept that time system) carry the same defects that corrupted their ancestors long ago. William Golding has illustrated in Lord of the Flies that homo sapiens is selfish, and more than selfish, downright vicious.

How many brinks must humankind teeter on, how many world wars must it fight, how many Jews must it kill or classes exterminate before it realizes that the problem is not mainly “out there” but “in here”?

Our hearts betray us, for “out of the heart come evil thoughts.” We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Old optimisms die hard. Perhaps biblical realism, which calls for repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, poses radical surgery for an evil too radical to bear the thought of. Perhaps many today, glimpsing in a preternatural moment the wickedness of their own hearts, are driven by a momentary horror to look on fantasies more pleasant than reality.

The thick and dreadful darkness, the setting sun, the smoking pot, and the blazing torch pose a covenant-in-blood too real and too certain for us to accept. Escaping in spaceships seems easier by far.

And after all, in the spirit of ancient Belshazzar’s handwriting on the wall, does not E=mC2 portend a time when one atomic blast will reduce us all to sunbeams?

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