Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The ‘fake news’ fallacy

LET’S START THIS with a disclaimer: what follows is a politically neutral commentary that offers no opinions on President Donald Trump’s policies. While his approval rating may not be very high, I have to acknowledge one area in which he has done an effective job. As commander-in-chief, he has shown that he knows the importance of controlling the channels of communication.

However, as a journalist, I’m disturbed by how many people have swallowed his “fake news” dismissal of anything that he considers to be negative—hook, line, and sinker. Yes, there is clear political bias in some reporting. It’s also true that no president has ever come under as much examination, or been the subject of as much speculation (for which there are good and bad reasons; a discussion for another day) as he has.

But for President Trump to dismiss each and every criticism as a lie, while also making statements that are demonstrably untrue, is simply nonsense. The media is not the enemy, and to suggest otherwise harms our democracy, with its roots in a healthy free press. In addition, it endangers the men and women who are seeking to perform the public service of journalism.

Conservatives acknowledge that there are some bad cops out there, but they don’t maintain that law enforcement as an institution is fundamentally corrupt and racist. How then can some of them dismiss the entire “mainstream media” out of hand as dishonest and devious? To me, that seems like a bit of a double standard.

Nor is that the only one. Some Christians who admit to a measure of dissonance in their support for a president whose manner, at least, is at times inconsistent with good biblical character, defend their stance with the Cyrus parallel. Like He did with this Old Testament king, they argue, God can use broken vessels for His purposes.

Well, if that’s so, the same principle should apply to mainstream journalists. We should be prepared to hear things from them that make us uncomfortable. We can’t just write them off as “the opposition.”

Limiting our input to people we agree with doesn’t make the truth clearer, it distorts it. Remember the warning of 2 Timothy 4:3-4, about the danger of people with “itching ears” who “will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” We won’t learn the truth by turning a deaf ear to those we disagree with, but by turning a discerning ear.

Let’s start by dismissing once and for all the notion that a journalist who writes something negative about the president—or your pastor, for that matter—is necessarily an “enemy of the people.” Their painful truth may actually make them a real friend, because bad news is an essential part of the ultimate Good News.

Most mainstream journalists would not claim any kind of Christian faith, certainly. But that does not mean they may not be fulfilling a godly function, even if incompletely. As I have observed before, journalists serve as society’s gatekeepers, much like the watchers on the walls of Israel’s cities did in times past. They control the flow of the information we receive.

In 1 Chronicles 9:22, we read that the gatekeepers were commissioned to their roles by King David and Samuel the prophet, who “established them in their office of trust.” As such, Christians should be praying for them rather than pillorying them. And the president should be more judicious in his comments.

Photo by trendingtopics on Foter.com/CC BY

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6 Responses to “The ‘fake news’ fallacy”

  1. Eric Grimm

    When journalism becomes advocacy it is no longer journalism – it’s marketing. It once did include an other side in coverage, even nominally. Now you pick your news sources based on your personal idealogy, not intelligent discovery. Journalism as I see it today is dead. You can’t trust it.

    Reply
    • Andy Butcher

      It’s certainly ailing. But by the same measure, is the flawed justice system dead and not to be trusted? The police? The government? The arts? Medicine? There is corruption and brokenness in all, but writing them—and by implication everyone in them—completely off?

      Reply

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