Christian Information Ministries

4/18/2003  Vol.2 #6
Editor: Bill Crouse



Fifty years ago if you would have asked a freshman journalism student why he wanted to enter this profession he more than likely would have replied that he was interested in the dissemination of truth. However, today's entering students are more likely to reply that they want to change the world. The current news media's self perception is that they are the self-anointed fourth branch of government. If you don't believe this to be the case, listen in on one of the daily press briefings. Notice how their questions are stated dripping in arrogance and condescension, and are more instructive and accusatory than interrogative. What in the PM world is going on? Just as we must now be wary of PM science (a future topic) which has lost much of its zeal for objectivity and is now increasingly ideologically driven, the news media now suffers from the same disease. In a world where all life is political, everyone is a victim, and truth is relative, you can expect a major cultural confrontation. As I write, the second most important topic in the news, after Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the news media itself. Interesting! The news media is one of the main topics of the news! These spin wars have gotten so hot that one writer, Howard Kurtz, for the Washington Post, now confines the subject of his columns almost exclusively to how the media spins important events.

Why is this subject of utmost importance? Because the maintenance of freedom is dependent on the dissemination of the truth. The old Soviet Union fell because the stupid apparatchiks forgot to pull the plug on the phone lines! With their fax machines the revolutionaries were able to communicate freely. That we live in a PM world is a fact, and the news media now see themselves as more agents of change than disseminators of truth. For this reason believers must cultivate a healthy skepticism about the news, and we must, more than ever, know how to discern the truth. Fortunately, the rest of what we have to say is positive and even breath-taking. It was only a little while ago that our only alternative to TV broadcast news was three networks that held a monopoly. It didn't matter much which channel you watched; you heard the news from the same basic humanistic outlook. Then 24 hour cable news came on the scene, AM talk shows dominated by conservatives, and finally, the greatest innovation since Gutenberg's press, the Internet. Yes, it is soup to nuts, and the choices are overwhelming, but the astute, wary believer can learn how to manage the news to inform a Biblically driven worldview. Our ability to discern the prevailing culture can directly affect not only the quality of our citizenship, but our effectiveness in the Body of Christ, and how we work out the imperative of the Great Commission.

Summary: The news media, not unlike the entertainment media, is a major battleground in the culture wars. In this PM struggle, the media is a powerful weapon. It can easily become propaganda when it intentionally pushes a certain ideology but vigorously denies its bias, or is couched in pleasing art forms.  There will always be bias; the question is: is the bias easily discernible, or do they only masquerade as being objective while being manipulative and subversive?

The success of this ministry (CIM) depends a great deal on our ability to be discerning. We interact with a variety of media on a daily basis. There are certain guidelines that help keep us on an even keel. (Warning: we all have, I believe, a propensity toward one extreme or another, and we need all the help we can get to keep balanced. Where would we be without the steadfastness of Biblical Revelation, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our spouses, great Christian scholars, and our godly forefathers?) To not be easily duped takes effort! Here are a few ideas that help us:

1.  Reckon with the fact that the news media is biased. Beware when they claim they have none! It will always be biased; it can be no other. Facts will always be interpreted according to some worldview. Because we live in a PM world we can expect to see the media present things from that perspective. It is our job to be discerning. Once we know the bias of a source it can be helpful even if it is contrary to our own.

2.  Use multiple sources. (Prov. 11:14 "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory.") If your only source is one of the dominant media evening news programs you will indeed have a very narrow and even limited perspective. Normally, we tend to gravitate toward sources that are more in line with our own ideology (worldview). Nothing wrong with that. But to be more broadminded we need to sample a spectrum of political and philosophical bandwidth, both Christian and non-Christian. For example, we like the cultural interpretation of Atlantic Monthly, they take the Evangelical contribution to our national life seriously, but we also read Harper's which has only loathing for anything Christian. By reading it, however, you will be more understanding of how many intellectuals perceive Evangelical Christianity. Note for example, the article by Jeffrey Sharlet in the March, 2003 issue:  Jesus Plus Nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats This article just drips with venom. But on the other hand, as we read this article, we ought to be asking: "Is there anything in this article that is instructive about how Christians present themselves before the world?" The writer's chief concern, being a convinced PM, is that Christian's believe their story (worldview) to be true!

3.  Make an effort to know the writers and journalists at the worldview level. This is not easy, and may require some time, but thanks to the web, most commentators now have their own website. Most will have some kind of bio. The Drudge website contains a link to virtually every major newspaper and journalist in the U.S.

4.  Look for consistency. If a certain journalist writes an analytical piece about some government action, or whatever, and in the end it turns out they were wrong, note it. Do they consistently get things wrong? For example: I recently found that the following writers for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Vernon Loeb, and R.W. Apple, were almost always wrong about events in the Middle East and Operation Iraqi freedom. It seemed to me, their analysis was more what they hoped for, rather than a realistic perception.

5.  Don't always assume you've heard the whole story. An important element of propaganda is often what is left out. What we have to grapple with, and admit, is that a thoroughly PM editor or writer will not be beyond prevaricating the facts (for two examples, see this analysis of the New York Times, and another of ABC News). As we write this, CNN is in hot water over dire facts that were withheld from the public because they did not want to lose their privileged position with Saddam Hussein.

6.  Avoid interpreting the news from the standpoint of unproven conspiracy theories. This is a major problem in the Middle East where often world events are interpreted in the light of incredible (dare I say looney!) conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, some of the brethren are likewise guilty of perpetrating some pretty fanciful, and often anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This will be the subject of a forthcoming briefing paper, and, we will name names!

7. Read some of the recent books on the media.  The big blockbuster was the recent book by Bernard Goldberg once a prominent insider. In Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, Goldberg shows how the news is managed to promote a certain political viewpoint. I believe you cannot fully understand media spin without some understanding of the PM world we live in. Goldberg, a winner of seven Emmy awards, now finds himself an outcast of the dominant media, but a hit among cable news and conservatives who have been claiming the news has been managed for some time. Goldberg is now predicting the collapse of the liberal dominant media.

Another book we found helpful is William Proctor's The Gospel According to the New York Times. Proctor, who once worked for the Times, still believes it is one of the nation's best newspapers, but believes it is guilty of promoting ideas that are contrary to our Christian heritage. There is nothing illegal here; it is a free country, but what Proctor wants to communicate and make us aware of, is the immense power the NYT has over the news industry. What the author labors to point out is the fact that the powerful editorial board promotes definite values they would like to see everyone adhere to, while at the same time denying any absolutes! This is in keeping with the inconsistency of the PM mind which we've tried to point out many times in these pages. For a good, short review of this book click here.

Just off the press: How the News Makes Us Dumb, C. John Sommerville, published by Intervarsity Press. I am just now reviewing this book, and my guess is that the author is a journalism professor. His perspective is quite different than the two mentioned above in that he analyzes how media saturation and sound bites affects our knowledge of events.  In other words, there are more facts presented but with no increase in meaning.

Recent Articles About the News Media

Cable's War Coverage Suggests a New 'Fox Effect' on Television, Jim Rutenberg New York Times. April 16, 2003. What the old Gray Lady thinks of Fox News.

Left behind: the democratization of the media, Ben Shapiro.  Townhall Oct. 16, 2002.

Internet Opens Americans to Alternative Views, by Anic Jesddanun.  Associated Press. Mar. 7, 2003. Excellent article explaining how many Americans are bypassing the mainstream media and using the web to stay informed.

Neo-Objectivity, by George Neumayr.  The American Spectator.  Dec. 27, 2002.

In The Eye Of The Beholder, Gene Edward Veith. World. April 19, 2003. In this article Veith points out how a story can be manipulated by camera angle.

Media Madness. By John Leo.  New York Daily News. Jan. 11, 2003. He notes some interesting statistical analysis and he quotes E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post admitting that the liberal media of the northeast is out of touch with the values of the average American.

Rosen: Filtering the News.  By Mike Rosen. 
Rocky Mountain News.  April 18, 2003. He shows how various news outlets reported the war reflecting their bias.

Some Negative and Positive Developments

One of the most liberal-leftist publications in the U.S. is Nation. It circulation, though not large, is very influential in the world of the intelligentsia. It is often quoted in other publications, and frequently cited by the news media. Besides being PM, it is politically Marxist and socialist. What else is remarkable about this publication is that almost all of its writers and commentators are heads of journalism departments of major universities! These are the professors teaching a new generation the fine art of journalism. That's the bad news.  Now for the good news: there is a large and growing number of young journalists, many who are of Jewish background who call themselves "neocons" or neo conservatives.  Many of these young writers and journalists come from parents who were hard-core leftists. Some are even orthodox in their beliefs. You can find many of their weekly columns at Jewish World Review or at Frontpage. I would estimate that there are at least 30-40 up and coming writers of Jewish heritage that are conservative politically, see the constitution as a static document, are friendly to conservative Evangelical Christians, support traditional values, and support the Defense of Israel. A more intellectual publication of this emerging group is Commentary Magazine.  If you want to be on the cutting edge, check into Commentary.  For me, this worldview change that is happening in the Jewish community is one of the most interesting and exciting developments in our time. Much more could be said; maybe at a later time.

Mourning the Loss of Two Reporters

In the recent conflict in Iraq two embedded reporters died, one from an accident, and the other from natural causes. Michael Kelley, of the Washington Post and editor-at-large of Atlantic Monthly, died when the vehicle he was riding ran off a bridge. He was a favorite of mine and will be deeply missed. If you read these pages you know the high regard we have for Atlantic Monthly. Kelley was largely responsible for making this the great magazine it has become. The other reporter, David Bloom, died of from a blood clot in the lungs. He was a correspondent for NBC News and a new follower of Jesus and was quite open about his new faith.

Two Sources that Monitor the Media:

There are two websites which monitor the media. They are: Accuracy in the Media and Media Research Center

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