Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Knocked off a stolen high horse

It’s not nice to gloat, but it’s hard not to derive at least some measure of satisfaction from the journalistic squirming going on in the UK’s long-running phone hacking trial—reporters breaking into other people’s private accounts to retrieve personal voice mails—now drawing to a close.

Disclosures of an affair, questionable financial goings-on, secret porn stashes, and alleged criminal acts—all involving the scribes usually gleefully exposing such activities by others. How does it feel now it’s your dirty laundry out on display?

If this evidence of a one-rule-for-you morality smacks of something of a double standard—riding a stolen high horse, as it were—then that’s because it is. Sadly there’s a long history of questionable ethics in parts of the news media, as illustrated by a forthcoming documentary expose in which a former tabloid hack “hilariously exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of modern journalism.”

Back in my “just the facts, ma’am” days of mainstream hard news, there wasn’t a lot of room for creative writing—other than for the weekly expense reports. This was where you jacked up your income by claiming the mileage to go and interview someone when you actually just called them on the phone. Then you would go back to working on your latest story—maybe a court case involving someone charged with theft, or an inquiry into financial wrongdoing in business or government.

The bogus expenses practice was so accepted that when you went for an interview for a new job, it wasn’t uncommon to be told that while the salary was only x—typically somewhat modest, back when journalism was still more of a trade or a craft than a potentially high-paying career track—the typical “exes” were y.

All this bemoaning the sad state of some of the news media is not to advocate that we dismiss the important role of journalism, any more than some corrupt officers should make us want to scrap the entire police force. We don’t need to stop journalists from doing their jobs; we need journalists to strive to do their jobs better.

Far from being just a shallow trading in other people’s misery and misfortune, as some might be tempted to dismiss the modern news machinery, journalism at its best is a hallowed calling, serving God and man. But truth-tellers first need to be truth-hearers.

If I am going to demand honesty from others, I first need to exhibit it myself. Psalm 51:6, penned in the midst of the David-Bathsheba scandal that would certainly have sold a few newspapers, says that God desires “truth in the inward parts.” This uncomfortable realization prompted me to face my own dishonesty.

Before I can mount up to go and charge others, I have to kneel and surrender.

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