FAKE NEWS AND “alternative facts” have produced some overdue hang-wringing and soul-searching in the media, prompting one observer to suggest that suddenly “journalists are the most religious people in America.” That’s about as unlikely a statement as you have heard in a long time.
Yet I’ve always maintained that while Christians and mainstream journalists usually view each other with suspicion, they actually share profound similarities: they believe in some kind of truth, and they have a sense of calling and mission.
While journalists take pause to consider their role, it’s equally important that those they aim to serve acknowledge that the changes in culture and technology that have been reshaping if not redefining the media also require some response from them.
We can no longer be passive consumers; we have to actively engage with what we are being told. To that end, we could do worse than take some advice from what might seem an unusual source.
The book of Deuteronomy contains the instructions the Israelites were given before entering the Promised Land—everything from worship to what to eat. And then in Deuteronomy 13:14 (NIV) we read:
“If you hear it said…”
The text goes on to say what the people should do if they get word that others have gone astray, worshiping other gods. What’s that? Well, not reflexively retweet it or share it on other social media.
Rather, “…then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly.”
In other words, verify. Though many mainstream journalists would not consider themselves to be religious—despite the view of the commentator I referenced earlier—they actually paraphrase the Old Testament passage in a long-time jokey newsroom mantra about the need for detached skepticism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
There was a reason the people of Israel were instructed to be thorough about evaluating what they heard: the consequences were significant. If it transpired that a town had turned its back on the truth they knew, it was to be flattened, “to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt” (verse 16).
Similarly, how we respond to what we hear matters. Do we dismiss it or embrace it just because it fits with what we want or don’t want to hear? Either way, we may be part of promoting lies or silencing truth.
You can’t complain about how the fast food industry is damaging America’s health and then hit the drive-through for a triple-decker-baconator and large shake. You have to match your opposition and your appetite.
We should be concerned about fake news and alternative facts. But we should remember that they, and the truth, only find an audience if we help them to.
Photo credit: Eknath Gomphotherium via Foter.com/CC BY-NC