WHO DO YOU TRUST?

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Years ago, preachers learned to do their work with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. If we are not connecting the sacred text to what is happening in the world, we aren’t doing our jobs. Now the internet, smartphones, and tablets substitute for physical newspapers, but the task is still the same. We need a steady stream of reliable reporting, relevant stories, and biblical worldview analysis of events to speak with any relevance.

But, as John Stonestreet recently wrote, “Information comes at us in waves, with conjecture in the place of facts and assertions in the place of arguments.” Who can we trust?

Last week’s blog, READING THE TIMES, explains how to sort the wheat from the chaff in our media. Today, I thought it would be helpful to recommend a few of the sources I count on each week to inform my sermons and this blog.

THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT is the daily news podcast from World News Group whose mission is biblically objective reporting. Often referred to as NPR from a Christian Worldview: Each weekday morning, enjoy daily radio news, interviews, commentary, and original features reported from the field. Today’s Washington Wednesday interview, Beijing Unmasked, with foreign policy analyst Will Inboden is a great example. Nine minutes with no commercial interruptions. You won’t get that in-depth on any evening news broadcast. Inboden served in the State Department and the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. He’s now executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and have confidence in the integrity of their reporting. Find their main website at https://world.wng.org/ .

Breakpoint, the five-minute daily podcast from John Stonestreet and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is not a news service because it does not provide original reporting. But it does offer daily biblical worldview analysis on all kinds of things in our world. Producing the consistent quality of analysis and biblical commentary they provide is not easy, but they do it daily. Their April 17 article, The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation, is a great example. I highly recommend it.

Christianity Today, the magazine and media organization founded by Billy Graham, is also a reliable resource for reporting on things of concern to believers around the world. It sometimes lacks the stringent objectivity that Editor In Chief Marvin Olasky imposes on World. Still, they have a broader scope than World publish authors from a larger cross-section of the Church than World.

Other news and analysis sources I follow online include NPR, National Review, Foxnews.com, The Wall Street Journal, CBSNews.com, WDBJ7.com, and news.google.com, which aggregates news from several sources. These require much more scrutiny for fact-checking and editorial point of view but can be useful in gathering multiple perspectives.

“He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame…The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:13 & 15.

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

If you enjoy Fixer-Upper as we do, you know that there is a formula for the popular TV show. A family-friendly couple is looking for an all-American home in Waco, Texas. They view three houses Chip & Jo have selected for them. Joanna wants to open the floor plan and remodel the kitchen, add crown molding, and of course, shiplap. Chip cuts up for Joanna’s entertainment. Demo Day! Half-way there and, oh no, there’s a problem! Last day and Joanna has to work late. Chip drops by with the kids. The big reveal!

It is enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, but it is not real. It’s scripted. It follows a specific narrative arc or storyline every time. Viewers know what is going to happen; we just enjoy watching it unfold. Entertainment is the mission.

Entertainment is not, or should not be, the mission of a news organization. Still less propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.[1] Reliable reporting follows the facts wherever they lead. Propaganda follows a predetermined narrative.

Discerning the difference between infotainment (entertainment masquerading as news), propaganda, and reliable reporting is a critical skill for every citizen, but especially Christians. God is the God of truth. His children are responsible for discerning it as well as spreading it, for making decisions based on it in the marketplace, on social media, and especially in the voting booth.

Here’s a brief how-to.

Watch for predictable storylines. All reporters begin with a theme, a unifying idea that guides their questions and structures their stories. But when facts fail to support it, the theme must change. Truth-telling reporters will do that. But dishonest reporters force the facts to fit the theme, magnifying those that do and minimizing or else ignoring those that do not.

Example: When every weather story somehow supports man-made Climate Change theory, you may be seeing propaganda. When every review of a press conference makes your favorite politician out to be a genius, you may be hearing propaganda. When every story you see about unwanted pregnancy centers on women’s health, ignoring the rights of the child, you are watching a narrative as predictable as Fixer Upper, but with reliably deadly consequences.

Watch for generalities, the glossing over of inconvenient facts. Reliable reporting uses concrete detail, specific examples, and defining quotations from qualified experts willing to go on the record. When you read, “some experts say,” or “studies show,” you are reading generalities. If the topic interests you, dig deeper before you share it online.

Watch for something for sale. Most magazine reporting, especially in special interest mags and online sites, is just long-form advertising. Much Christian magazine reporting does the same thing, except that instead of selling a product, it is selling a ministry. Ministry Watch Magazine and World Magazine are exceptions. Search their archives on a ministry before you buy-in.

Watch for alternate worldviews. Journalists striving for objectivity should cite several different sources to support a theme. But if those experts share the same worldview, they are only “balancing subjectivities.”[2] Reliable reporting seeks out several perspectives.

Watch for commentary masquerading as journalism. Conservative commentator Cal Thomas got it right in his January 24, 2019 analysis of media coverage of women newly elected to Congress:

“Especially in the Trump era, media have displayed increasingly naked ideological cheerleading. Any fair examination of major newspapers—from the front page, to the editorial and op-ed pages—proves the point.

If there’s any hope of getting out of the political mess we’re in, journalism must return to a focus on facts, not fanfare.”

And Christians must learn how to discern the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] Marvin Olasky’s term.

 

 

FAKE NEWS, SPIN, & HONEST JOURNALISM

FAKE NEWS, SPIN, & HONEST JOURNALISM

The Headlines Scream:

“JOY BEHAR FIRED FROM THE VIEW,” but she wasn’t.

“MICHELLE BACHMAN SAYS JESUS CREATED ASSAULT RIFLES,” but she didn’t.

And my all-time favorite: ANGRY COW KNOCKS HELICOPTER FROM SKY: Udder Destruction! Which never happened but is still hilarious.

The BBC defines fake news as:

  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform.
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive – or old photographs shared as new.
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people.[1]

Fake news used to be limited to the grocery store checkout line, but the web gave it legs and Twitter gave it wings. Now it’s everywhere all the time.

Fake news is easy to spot, spin not so much. Spin isn’t completely false information manipulated to deceive. It is editorial selection of facts based on undeclared presuppositions along with the imposition of a particular point of view designed to bring about specific conclusions by the viewer or reader. The same reader or viewer might arrive at different conclusions were all the facts delivered—or spun—in a different way. In other words, spin is not fair or balanced.

To spot spin we need to know some things about message crafting in general and journalism in particular.

Every reporter, indeed every message maker from the shortest Twitterer to the longest documentary film-maker makes editorial choices. The choices are limited by time and space and are guided by the story’s theme, as chosen by the writer, and the production’s priorities, specified by the editor or producer. That’s where spin begins, and all communication has some.

Every writer has a purpose which guides the selection of material including, for example the Apostle John who, as an evangelist, chose the stories most likely to convince any reader that Jesus is the Christ.

“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples,” he wrote, “which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [2]

But John and the rest of the Bible’s writers knew that God would hold them accountable to tell the truth.[3] Many publishers, producers, and editors today forget that, or never believed it in the first place. “Too much of the media acts like a special interest group,” said Michael Goodwin, chief political columnist for the New York Post. “It exists to promote its own interest and the political party with which it is aligned.”

Goodwin began his career as a clerk at the New York Times under legendary editor Abe Rosenthal whose commitment to fairness made the Times the flagship of American journalism. No more, says Goodwin. “Standards are like laws in the sense that they are designed to guide your behavior in good times and in bad. Consistent adherence to them was the source of the Times’ credibility. And eliminating them has made the paper less than ordinary. It’s only standards now are double standards.”[4]

Savvy news consumers winnow the facts from the spin and discern which facts have been deselected. Watch for concrete detail, specific examples, and definitive quotes. Ignore generalities and nonspecific adjectives or adverbs.[5]

True, total objectivity is impossible for fallen creatures. All of us are prejudiced. Ethical journalists reporting from a secular worldview usually attempt fairness by quoting person “A” on the left and person “B” on the right. But “conventional objectivity,” as Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World News Group writes, “balances subjective views that may be ungodly.”

Biblical worldview journalism takes “the God’s-eye view”.  Its editorial priorities and conclusions are guided by Scripture. Of course, Scripture doesn’t address everything, so Olasky and company devised a six-tiered system—called rapids, after whitewater rafting’s classification system—by which they set their priorities and draw their conclusions. The lower the number the more certainty about God’s take on an issue. The higher the number—the more difficult rapid—the less likely World is to take a hard and fast stand. Either way, World reports all the facts, or at least all that they can access prior to press time, under the standard of biblical objectivity.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says Olasky, “but the streets declare the sinfulness of man. Biblical journalism emphasizes God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.”[6]

When it comes to journalism, that’s the real thing.

[1]http://www.bbc.com/news/world-42487425

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Jn 20:30–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] See: Acts 24:13; Romans 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 1:3 etc.

[4] Michael Goodwin, The 2016 Election and the Demise of Journalistic Standards, Imprimis, May / June 2017.

[5] Marvin Olasky, Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism, p. 33. Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1996.

[6] World Journalism Institute’s World Policy Book & Writer’s Guide p. 7

THE SEARCH FOR RELIABLE REPORTING

25 years ago, I asked a friend in the Christian radio business if he knew of anything like National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, but from a biblical worldview.

“No,” he said, “But there is this guy named Rush Limbaugh who is singlehandedly rescuing AM radio from oblivion with his talk show. If you can get past his schtick, he has some important things to say.”

I never did get past his schtick. But I have, along with many other conservative Christians, listened to Rush off and on ever since and been alternatively incensed, offended, aggravated, humored, surprised, and informed. Limbaugh, along with his many imitators, has coarsened public discourse and contributed to the polarization of our politics. He has also drawn back the curtains on the cynical manipulation of the public by those in power, particularly the Clintons, and was amazingly prescient about the success of the Trump campaign. While I agree with many of the conservative principles he espouses, Limbaugh’s crudity, bombast, and inflammatory rhetoric — audience building tools all — are at odds with biblical principles of civic conversation.

Then again, so were Martin Luther’s. But that’s a blog for another day.

Then there’s National Public Radio. NPR does many things very well. From Morning Edition to All Things Considered, NPR succeeds with its breadth of topics, in depth reporting, and literate reporting staff. But more than anything else I appreciate its tone. Unlike its commercial, conservative competitors, it isn’t crude, repetitive, personality-driven or sensationalist, but rational, reasonable, and understated.

The problem, and it is a deep one, is NPR’s Darwinian, post-modern, politically correct point of view. As Juan Williams said in 2010, when he was unceremoniously fired from NPR for mentioning his reasonable fear of Muslims on airplanes, “To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.” Williams, no knee-jerk conservative himself, was dead right.

Enter WORLD RADIO and its daily podcast, The World and Everything In It, a thirty-minute radio news program that drops every morning at 5:30 AM. The World and Everything In It, along with the weekend program Listening In, takes the best of NPR, its tone, its breadth, and its intelligence, and presents its news and commentary with biblical objectivity. They call it biblical worldview journalism. WORLD is refreshingly honest about this, unlike NPR, which pretends impartiality as it promotes the PC party line. WORLD’S contributors and regular guests include Cal Thomas, Warren Cole Smith, and John Stonestreet.  Weekly features include legal analysis of cases before the Supreme Court every Monday, Whitehouse Wednesday, and Culture Friday, along with interviews with thinkers and policy makers from all walks of life.

WORLD RADIO is also committed to journalistic integrity. They do the hard work of chasing down the facts, verifying them, and reporting them with balance and without gloss. Like the magazine from which it grew, WORLD RADIO doesn’t shy away from difficult stories. It will report corruption and failure within the evangelical church as well as without, yet without the rancor and insensitivity found in some other publications.

WORLD RADIO is part of World News Group, which also produces the monthly WORLD MAGAZINE and GOD’S BIG WORLD for kids. They also sponsor the Hope Awards for effective charity. Like NPR, WORLD is a non-profit, which works in its favor. It does not let advertisers shape its content. Yet unlike NPR, which is partially funded by tax-payer dollars, WORLD depends on listeners and like-minded organizations for support.

If you are ready for some world-class journalism from a biblical point of view, or looking for a great Christmas gift for information-hungry friends and relatives, I urge you to try WORLD RADIO and WORLD MAGAZINE. Get a risk-free, three month trial at www.getworldnow.com, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WorldandEverything/, and find them on the web at www.world.wng.org.

DISCERNMENT IN THE D.C. GLADIATORIAL GAMES

Politics is blood-sport where power is the prize and those who play it will stop at nothing to win.

I learned that ugly truth in a beautiful room in the house of one of the power players in Washington D. C. The owner, whose issue is tax reform, was not present, but had made his home available to another special interest group for a meet-and-greet. I was attending their conference as a guest who could offer an evangelical perspective on their issue.

As I sipped my drink and circled the room I came upon an older, white-haired gentleman, erect, clear-eyed and almost elegantly dressed compared to the rest of us. This old gent looks nice enough, I thought; I bet he can give me a real feel for their movement. So I introduced myself and asked something innocuous like, “I’m new to this. Can you tell me what drew you to this movement and what how I might help?”

With little more than his name and state as preamble he said, “Young man, this is about power plain and simple and I am willing to break your legs in order to get that power and defend my rights and achieve my purpose. If you are not willing to do the same you don’t belong here.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. If that’s what this is about, I thought, count me out. But that happened about ten years ago, and the more I watch the D. C. gladiatorial games, the more I believe he was right. While there are a few “Mr. Smiths who have gone to Washington,” honest people seeking to serve, we are witnessing a ruthless battle for power into which all have been swept. Those who have it want to pursue the agenda for which they were elected. Those who do not have it want to stop those who do and will fight dirty to win.

The question for us is: who is telling the truth? Answering that requires the biblical quality of discernment. It is what Solomon asked of God when he became king of Israel, “Give me a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”[1]

Discernment is the ability to see the character beneath the costume. It perceives the chill in the kidnapper’s eye as clearly as the fear in the real mother’s when threatening to split the disputed baby in half, as Solomon did in his most famous case.[2]

Like Gamaliel, who reminded the Sanhedrin of the fate of earlier messianic movements when he stood to speak on behalf of Peter and the apostles, discernment sees the whole context, remembers the rest of the story, not just the parts on momentary display.[3] It reads between the lines of testimony and sees that what is not being said is as important as what is.

Sound judgment also distinguishes a partisan player from an honest broker, a manipulative speech from a straightforward question, and a witch hunt from an authentic investigation. As Megan Basham, who attended the Comey hearings, reported on World Radio this morning, “Everything sounded so scripted that all the drama was taken out of it. The only thing that raised journalists’ eyebrows was Mr. Comey’s admission that he had leaked information to the press via a Columbia Law professor.”

No one person has access to all of the facts, so discernment in the D.C. gladiatorial games depends on reliable reporting based on biblical objectivity, or the “God’s-eye” view. It is impartial, fact-filled, and thorough and recognizes that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” including the biases of the reporter. [4] 

For that I can only recommend WORLD Magazine and World Radio’s The World and Everything In It podcast. You can get a risk-free three-month trial membership by going to www.getWORLDnow.com.

[1] 1 Kings 3:9 NIV

[2] 1 Kings 3:24 NIV

[3] Acts 5:34-39

[4] Heb 4:13

WORLD RADIO: NPR FOR CONSERVATIVES

OK, I admit it, I enjoy National Public Radio (NPR) and I’ve listened to it for decades. I’ve listened to it for so long that I know who Bob Simon is and what happened to him. I’ll just stand here for a minute so my conservative friends can lob their rotten tomatoes …

Feel better? Good, now let me tell you why NPR scratches my information-junkie-itch and what I’ve found to replace it.

NPR does a lot of things very well. From Morning Edition to All Things Considered, Car Talk to The People’s Pharmacy and This American Life, among others, NPR succeeds with its breadth of topics, in depth reporting, and its literate reporting staff. But more than anything else I appreciate its tone. Unlike its commercial, conservative competitors, it isn’t bombastic, crude, repetitive, personality-driven or sensationalism, but rational, reasonable, and somewhat understated. The problem, and it is a deep one, is that you can’t listen to NPR without noticing its Darwinian, post-modern, secular-humanist point of view. (Did I leave any out?). I am increasingly sickened by its total commitment to the politically correct party line and pretty much anything contrary to the biblical world view. It’s reporting on the Planned Parenthood videos sounds like public relations work by the priestesses of this modern Molech. As Juan Williams said in 2010, when he was unceremoniously fired from NPR for mentioning his reasonable fear of Muslims on airplanes, “To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.”

Enter WORLD RADIO and its daily program, The World and Everything In It, a thirty-minute daily broadcast available to download on your smartphone or listen online. The World and Everything In It takes the best of NPR, its tone, its breadth, and its intelligence, and presents its news and commentary from a biblical world view. It is refreshingly honest about this, unlike NPR, which pretends objectivity as it promotes the PC party line. Its contributors and regular guests include Cal Thomas and John Stonestreet, along with weekly interviews with thinkers and policy makers from all walks of life. WORLD RADIO is also committed to journalistic integrity. They do the hard work of chasing down the facts, verifying them, and reporting them without gloss. Like the magazine from which it grew, WORLD RADIO doesn’t shy away from difficult stories. It will report corruption and failure within Christianity as well as without, yet without the rancor and insensitivity found in some other publications.

WORLD RADIO is part of World News Group, which also produces the monthly World Magazine and GOD’S BIG WORLD for kids. They also sponsor the Hope Awards for effective charity. Like NPR, it is a non-profit, which works in its favor. It doesn’t let its advertisers shape its content. Yet unlike NPR, which slurps at the tax-payer-money-trough to fund its budget, WORLD doesn’t whine. They do offer an opportunity for forward thinking Christians to contribute to the further development of world class journalism from a biblical point of view. I urge you to check them out, and become a regular reader and supporter.