The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

"I know it's true because I saw it on TV"

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Many people believe that facts are neutral, that they speak for themselves.[2] These same people are under the impression that newscasters and journalists simply “report the news” devoid of biases, preconceived assumptions, or political agendas. This is hardly the case as James Davison Hunter points out in his book Culture Wars:

In the very act of selecting the stories to cover, the books to publish and review, the film and music to air, and the art to exhibit, these institutions effectively define what topics are important and which issues are relevant—worthy of public consideration. Moreover, in the substance of the stories covered, books published and reviewed, art exhibited, and so on, the mass media act as a filter through which our perceptions of the world around us take shape. Thus, by virtue of the decisions made by those who control the mass media—seemingly innocuous decisions made day to day and year to year—those who work within these institutions cumulatively wield enormous power.[3]

The fact that a story even gets on a thirty-minute news slot should make all of us question the notion of neutrality in reporting or in anything else. There is no such thing as pure, unfiltered, pristine “just the facts” news. All news is bias, whether liberal or conservative. It’s the result of “how they see the world.”[4] Of course, the way people see the world is the right way to see the world. Anyone who sees the world in a different way is seeing it the wrong way. “Network anchor David Brinkley once admitted, ‘News is what I say it is—it’s something worth knowing by my standards!”[5] William Proctor, a veteran reporter and author who has worked for the New York Daily News, explains that the media “gospel is rooted in a kind of secular theology that purports to convey infallible social, moral, and political truth—a truth that the paper [The New York Times] fervently promotes with all the zeal of the fieriest proselytizer.”[6] Proctor describes the editorial and news-gathering policy at the Times as “Manhattan Fundamentalism,” “a well-defined but also rather rigid package of viewpoints which the paper disseminates widely to influence political, social, and personal beliefs and behaviors.”[7] Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes:

A lot of gay activists think that any point of view different from theirs is not only wrong, but so illegitimate and beneath contempt that it doesn’t even deserve to be considered.[8]

Similarly, words used in reporting expose preference for one worldview over another. “Right-wing conservatives” versus “progressives” is just one example. Those who are anti-homosexual are described as “homophobic,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” and “unloving.” Those who are opposed to abortion are “anti-choice,” never “pro-life.” Franky Schaeffer, the son of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984), described the bias this way when he was involved in social activism:

Think of the use of labels to categorize political activity. Some labels are used to neutralize the actions of certain groups; others denote being “one of us,” acceptable. The words “right wing,” “fundamentalist,” “pro-life,” “absolutist,” and “deeply religious,” are put-downs more than categories. Conversely, think of the unspoken pat on the back and blessing that the following words convey: “moderate,” “pluralistic,” “liberal,” “civil libertarian,” “pragmatic,” and “enlightened.”[9]

Robert Bazell of NBC, interviewed in 1986, said flatly, “Objectivity is a fallacy. . . . There are different opinions, but you don’t have to give them equal weight.” Linda Ellerbee wrote that “There is no such thing as objectivity. Any reporter who tells you he’s objective is lying to you.”[10]

If a person holds a particular view because of religious convictions, there is no possible way that he or she could ever be “objective.” Colleen Cook, a television industry insider, observed that “There was an unwritten rule that if a reporter was ‘religious’ he shouldn’t let it interfere with the job of being ‘objective.” This led Cook to ask, “Since when does agnosticism qualify one as neutral on an issue?”[11] The so-called neutral reporter, Walter Cronkite concluded, is “someone not bound by doctrine or committed to a point of view in advance.”[12] Cronkite might believe this, but he never practiced it. No one does. It’s impossible not to be committed to some value system, some moral way of looking at the world.

Endnotes:

[1] John Fogerty, “I Saw It On T.V.,” from the Centerfield album (1985).
[2] Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 26-27.
[3] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 225.
[4] Bernard Goldberg, Bias: CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2002), 5.
[5] David Brinkley, quoted by Edith Efron, “Why Speech on Television Is Not Rally Free,” TV Guide (April 11, 1964), 7. Quoted in Colleen Cook, All That Glitters: A News-Person Explores the World of Television (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 32.
[6] William Proctor, The Gospel According to the New York Times: How the World’s Most Powerful News Organization Shapes Your Mind and Values (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 11–12
[7] Proctor, The Gospel According to the New York Times, 31.
[8] William McGowan, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), 29.
[9] Franky Schaeffer, A Time for Anger: The Myth of Neutrality (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 15.
[10] Dinesh D’Souza, “Mr. Donaldson Goes to Washington,” Policy Review (Summer 1986), 24-31. Quoted in Marvin Olasky, Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 59.
[11] Cook, All That Glitters, 33.
[12] Walter Cronkite, quoted in “Cronkite Spears Agnew,” Variety (November 4, 1970), 28. Quoted in Cook, All That Glitters, 34.

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