The Media Has Never Been More Dangerous
And How You Can Find More Trustworthy News, Especially About the Election
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Stream contributor Lael Arrington’s blog and is reprinted with her kind permission.
In his sermon “Learning in Wartime,” C.S. Lewis went on record snorting at “the cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone” of his own age. And yet, if a Christian felt called to journalism and broadcasting, I think he would say, as he said of philosophy, “Good [journalism] must exist [because] bad [journalism] needs to be answered.”
And bad journalism is multiplying exponentially, er, algorithmically, out there. The election of 2016 changed journalism. The line between reporting and advocacy has all but disappeared.
The New York Times vs the Truth
Not long after the 2016 election, The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” And, “Truth is what we do better,” and “Read news that values the truth.”
How do you respond to that pitch?
I respond in two ways: I read my New York Times digest almost every day because they, like many secular news organizations, work hard to report the facts. It is the newspaper of record in the U.S. and sets the agenda for mainstream news.
They gain respect by, as New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says, “Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. ‘I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.’”
But something has snapped at the Times and most other main stream media outlets. A Harvard study documented that the tone of the coverage in Trump’s first 100 days was 87% negative.
Even the coverage of the 2017 White House Easter Egg Roll went negative, comparing the hunt to a “legally dubious travel ban and a collapsed health care bill,” and, of course, throwing in Russian collusion for good measure.
The Egg Roll facts may have been technically correct, but the meaning — the snide comments, allusions (one more failure) — was totally distorted. By contrast, USA Today’s headline verdict was far more objective: “Soggy but Solid.” “No signs of disarray.”
It used to be that the Times drew a firm line between reporting and advocacy journalism. But Jim Rutenberg, its reporter at large, who at the time of Trump’s election was their media reporter, insisted that, in the age of Trump, their overwhelmingly negative coverage was “justified.” “It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.”
This is the staggering presumption upon which the New York Times new ethics is founded. It used to be a commitment to accurately report the facts. Then it became to report the controversy — give the facts and supporting comments from both sides of a controversy — let the reader decide.
Now it is to report the facts in a way that is loyal to their very liberal readers and will stand up to the progressive values they are certain will prevail and will be deemed morally virtuous as the years and centuries pass.
Think about The Times’ Egg Roll story — true to its liberal readers who want to read about another fail by Donald Trump. True to the facts — a heavily edited selection of facts that supports their bias and ignores other facts. But believing it will stand up to history’s judgment is again brazenly biased toward progressive values and a progressive worldview.
The Way the New York Times and the Media Used to Be
It used to be — writes Michael Goodwin, a former reporter for the Times — that former Times editor Abe Rosenthal drew a hard line against reporting news when you had a conflict of interest. He quoted him as telling a reporter, “I don’t care if you f*** an elephant on your personal time, but then you can’t cover the circus for the paper.” “Case closed,” wrote Goodwin. “The conflict-of-interest policy was clear, absolute, and unforgettable.” If you were too emotionally or philosophically committed to your own subjective view of issues, then you didn’t write about it at all.
Furthermore, you kept your opinions out of your reporting. Period. Rosenthal wanted the words, “He kept the paper straight,” inscribed on his tombstone. And it was. (By the way, Goodwin’s article is an excellent summary of how The Times and media have changed since the 60s and 70s.)
And wow, have they changed, just in my lifetime. Stacking progressive sources most heavily. Labeling sources as ultra-conservative, but never ultra-liberal.
Framing issues to favor pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ vs. anti-women, anti-choice, homophobic. And in 2016, abandoning any pretext of objectivity and writing furiously about Trump and forgivingly about Clinton — and now Biden.
What Drives Today’s Media Bias Drove the Watergate Cover-Up
Reading Rutenberg’s justification to abandon the journalistic standards taught in every school in the country, I couldn’t help but think of what Watergate convicted felon and Nixon aide Chuck Colson told the students at the Harvard Business School after he served his sentence.
Reflecting on his own motives to deceive he said,
You get caught up in a situation where you are absolutely convinced that the fate of the republic rests on the reelection of, in my case, Richard Nixon. … There’s an enormous amount of peer pressure, and you don’t take time to stop and think, “Wait a minute. Is this right by some absolute standard or does this seem right in the circumstances?” … In my self-righteousness, I was never more dangerous.
When people believe that the absolute best decision for everyone would be to defend or attack the president (depending upon their political sympathies), then anything is permissible as long as the fate of the nation is in the “right” hands. Any degree of bias. Any distortion of facts. Any “suppression of the truth in unrighteousness.”
This is immoral. This is bad journalism.
This is the spirit of Watergate among us. This is propaganda. Pravda. Orwellian 1984. And, in their heart of hearts, everyone knows it.
The mainstream media has never been more dangerous.
The Even More Dangerous Election of 2020
What was done in 2016 pales in comparison with what is happening in 2020. Particularly the unapologetic suppression of any news detrimental to Biden’s election.
Before the election, why was there zero interest on the part of mainstream journalists to investigate any meetings between Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma executives? Or whether Biden knew about or was involved in his son’s business proposals in Ukraine or China?
Or the texts and documents turned over to the FBI by Tony Bobulinsky, the former marine recruited by the Bidens to help them with international business deals, and his accusation that Joe Biden flat out lied when he denied any involvement?
How could they be so disinterested in Joe Biden’s alleged conflict of interest when they were so manically interested in Trump’s collusion with Russia?
Why were Twitter and Facebook suspending accounts that published information about the Bidens and Bobulinsky?
Why has the mainstream and social media been set against helping the American people understand the allegations of election fraud? As the editors of The Stream have said, why are they telling us “that claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election are ‘baseless’ and ‘unsubstantiated?’ Twitter flags every article alleging voter fraud, and even stories about allegations of voter fraud. Hostile news stories may even put ‘voter fraud’ in scare quotes.”
Why have they suppressed the eye-witness testimonies of hundreds of people saying they saw irregularities or fraud? Hundreds! Isn’t this important information at least bearing on the future of election laws that our elected representatives may address — and, perhaps still, the outcome of the election? If the courts should rule in favor of these allegations, don’t the American people need to be “brought along” so they will be prepared to thoughtfully consider the courts’ rulings? Or does the mainstream media want riots in the streets? Why suppress eye-witness testimony? (Of which there was none for Democrats to relentlessly pursue Trump’s collusion with Russia, or his impeachment hearings.)
In the Georgia video of the rolling cases of ballots that were pulled out from under a table to be scanned soon after the Republican observers left, why did Lead Stories aka Facebook, Twitter and ByteDance/TikTok release a video that claims to “debunk” the original video? The Federalist’s review of the “debunking video” exposes its deception. If you are skeptical about voter fraud, I highly encourage you to read it. Who do you believe? Two Georgia officials covering their butts? Or the many Republicans who swore they were told to leave and ABC and NBC who were also told counting was halted for the night and left?
Even as I write this, YouTube is informing us that today and going forward it will no longer upload “content that alleges that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.”
News We Can Trust
If your job is truth telling and you keep deceiving and suppressing the facts, it becomes impossible to regain people’s trust. The mainstream and social media giants have broken faith with over half the country. A Gallup poll tells us only 27% trust the newspapers any more.
So how do we find sources of news and information we can trust? Especially about this election. They are hard to find. We can watch and read news from progressive mainstream sources like ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC and balance it by getting news from conservative sources like Fox News, Newsmax, One America News and conservative talk radio. Some friends I know prefer the BBC, although it does not report from a declared conservative or Christian worldview.
My favorite source for in-depth reporting from a Christian worldview is World magazine. Marvin Olasky, a former communist who became a believer, is the editor in chief who steers the ship straight — acknowledging a Christian worldview, but committed to pursuing the facts wherever they lead. Wherever you find sources you can trust, subscribe or contribute so they can keep going.
I also appreciate the work of the editors at The Stream, also written from a biblical worldview. Some contributors write in a more sensational style than I’m comfortable with, but the editors have written a very helpful summary piece on “Everything You Need to Know about 2020 Election Fraud but the Media Won’t Let you ask.” Facebook is suppressing it big time, but this direct link will take you to the article and its links to primary sources (videos of the legislative hearings themselves), testimony and affidavits as well as other good short summary articles. I can’t promote it strongly enough.
Finally, I am making changes to my social media and web and broadcast news. If you checked the results of your search engine per The Stream’s article linked above, you will have noticed that sometimes you have to scroll through pages of results before you find any more balanced, or conservative, or even primary sourced articles on political or cultural stories. So I’m checking out these options and have already made some of these changes. After the first of the year I will be more engaged on my new MeWe account. I encourage you to consider them too.
The Ultimate ‘Right Side of History’
If those who promote the new ethics in journalism claim legitimacy based on their certainty that history will show their values and worldview to be superior, isn’t it ironic that most ignore or deny the knowledge found in our source of the best information about how history ends — the Bible.
History ends with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords on the throne, defeating a corrupt world system of government and religion, and every knee bowing to him and his rule. May we join him on the real “right side of history,” and may we always seek the truth with the Bible in one hand and the news in another.
May we seek truth as God sees it, even if it challenges our assumptions. May the news we read prompt us to pray for the welfare of our country. And that what is hidden will be revealed. Even if it can’t be shown on YouTube.
Lael Arrington is a national speaker and author of four books — most recently, Faith and Culture: The Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith.