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.

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.