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Lies, Mistakes and Half-Truths

The media is biased. Too many Christians base their political, cultural and economic opinions on the news they read without knowing this, says the author.


"People like you don't deserve fair treatment!"

This wasn't the sort of statement I expected from our local station's 11 o'clock news anchor; on camera he seemed like such a nice man. But now that I had him on the phone he was intent on using an obscenity every second word (the quote above was cleaned up). I had phoned him to correct a notable but seemingly accidental mistake in the station's political coverage. It turned out though, that no correction would be made because, as this news anchor explained it to me, he had a gay sister, and he didn't like my political party's stance against homosexuality.

So he trashed us—intentionally, cleverly and with relish.

Blatant/Intentional

So he trashed us—intentionally, cleverly and with relish.

Fortunately though, this type of deliberate media bias is the rarest kind. Yes, there are Michael Moore types in the media (watch Farenhype 9/11 for a great Moore exposé) but most reporters do care about the facts. And those that don't are eventually exposed and discredited.

Inadvertent

But while deliberate "Michael Moorish" type of bias is rare, all reporters are biased. As that great conservative news icon Ted Byfield once noted, it is impossible to cover all sides of a news event because there simply isn't enough ink in the world. Reporters by necessity must pick and choose the facts they report and they often won't have access to some critical facts that may put an entirely different slant on a story.

To give you an extraordinary example of how access to only some of the facts can affect a story take a look at the two mock news articles that follow.

Reverse Discrimination Alleged

Allegations of reverse discrimination are being levelled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Smith and Jones Company store in Fort Keg River. Chris Hamson, a mine worker, claims that Brooner grants almost every native a store credit card but refuses more than half the whites who apply.

"I got refused about a month ago," Hamson told the Gazette, "and then I found out a couple of my buddies at the mine were refused too. Then we started asking around and it turned out that while all the native guys had one, only a few of the white guys at the site had gotten a card. There's only one explanation, that Brooner guy is racist."

Racism Alleged

Allegations of racism are being levelled against Jim Brooner, the credit manager at the Smith and Jones Company store in Fort Keg River. A lawyer for the Entartee Band says Brooner regularly grants much higher credit limits to whites who apply for a store credit card than Natives applying for the same card.

"Some of the band members complained to the chief about this a few months back," said band lawyer Joe Windwalker, "so he asked me to look into it. I've been asking around and it's true. This guy starts us at $100 or maybe $200 credit limits, but every white guy who gets a card starts with at least a $1000 limit. Brooner is clearly racist."

In both articles the facts seem to show that Jim Brooner is a racist, but in the first article he comes off as an anti-white racist and in the second he comes off as an anti-native racist.

If all the facts had been available to these two reporters they would have found that Jim Brooner wasn't racist at all, one way or the other. The store he worked at was located next to a northern native reserve. The whites in this part of the world were all imported from further south where most already had a credit established. So when these whites applied for credit, if they had a good credit history, they were started off at a high limit, but those with bad credit didn't get a card at all. The natives for the most part didn't have any credit history yet, so almost all of them got a card, but with a lower limit, as you would expect for someone just building up their credit.

There was clear bias in these two stories, though both contained only the facts … just not all the facts.

Systemic

The final type of bias is Systemic—it is unavoidable bias that is part of the news business by its very nature. It is this type of bias that most often attacks the Christian worldview.

This "attribution" technique allows reporters to always tell the truth, even when they are passing on misleading or even deceptive information.

News by its very nature has to be something unusual. So, for example, "Dog bites man" is hardly newsworthy, while "Man bites dog" might make the front page. That's why the degradation of Christianity makes the news ("Anglicans ordain gay bishop") but the faithful work of your local pastor isn't likely to make the headlines. This systemic bias in the media also works to normalize perversion—journalists can't report on normal ordinary things (who would want to read about stuff like that?) so instead they cover the strange and bizarre. But by covering it they start to make it less strange, and less unusual. Just think of homosexuality—20 years ago it was shocking; today, after years of continual exposure, it is a lifestyle that many praise and laud.

The daily deadline pressure of the news business leads to another type of systemic bias. Reporters are often expected to write up to five stories a day on a range of topics they may know little or nothing about, so they have neither the time to dig for all the facts, nor the expertise to know what to look for. What they do instead is "attribution." So, for example, when some scientists make a claim that global warming could be lethal the reporter doesn't have to find out if these scientists are correct, he merely has to attribute the claim to them. If the claim turns out to be untrue the scientists will be wrong, but the journalist will still have reported only the facts—that some scientists had made a particular claim. This "attribution" technique allows reporters to always tell the truth, even when they are passing on misleading or even deceptive information.

Conclusion

Too many Christians base their political, cultural and economic opinions on the news they read forgetting what the Bible tells about how deceptive the Evil One can be. Yes, it's true that reporters rarely engage in "Michael Moorish" types of deception, but many of these same reporters deny the truth of the Bible. Why should we expect the truth and nothing but the truth from reporters who can't recognize the reality, accuracy and validity of the Bible? They may try their best to be fair, but even fairness only has meaning when it is rooted in God's standards. They may claim to unbiased, but God tells us again and again that there is no impartiality—you are either for Him or against Him.

So be skeptical, be discerning and be aware that bias is a part of every article you read.

Jon Dykstra is the editor of the Reformed Perspective.

Originally published in Reformed Perspective, May 2005.
www.reformedperspective.ca

 

 
 
 
 

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