Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey recently warned evangelicals about “dangerous” consequences of their rhetoric against mainstream media outlets and increasing reliance on opinion sites that do not have the built-in safeguards traditional news organizations have in place.
In a December 8th opinion piece appearing in The Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” section, Bailey referenced the increasing concern about “fake news” sites and pointed to one recent incident that could have had disastrous results. A man from Salisbury, NC, who had read a false story about Hillary Clinton operating a child sex ring out of a Washington, DC pizzeria, walked into the establishment with an AR-15 to investigate. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it is not difficult to imagine how things could have taken a deadly turn.
Bailey, a Christian who was raised in an evangelical home, understands the frustrations evangelical Christians have with mainstream news outlets. She acknowledges the “lack of ideological diversity in some media outlets” and the tendency for opinion and advocacy to seep into what should be fact-based reporting.
She argues that quality journalism is a friend to religion and that our implicit distrust of traditional journalistic organizations will work to undermine our own faith. “As a reporter who also happens to be a Christian, I believe that truth exists and can be ascertained, even if imperfectly and the fact that we understand it imperfectly heightens our duty to pursue it diligently. And I believe journalism is the one of the best practical pursuits of truth in earthly life, one that allows us to reveal and explain the truth to others. Many religions seek a truth that is beyond the scope of journalism, yet if people of faith no longer accept the veracity of factual truth, then they threaten to undermine their own pursuit of ultimate questions," she writes.
Bailey recognizes the same problems plaguing mainstream media outlets that many evangelicals do, but she proposes a solution that does not involve abandoning mainstream news sources for opinion-based echo chambers. “Abandoning mainstream media sites for opinion sites you already agree with is not the answer," she writes. "The ‘mainstream media’ is collectively valuable because it presents a range of information and viewpoints, while the Breitbarts of the world present a singular voice to a targeted group of people.”
R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, agreed in part with Bailey’s arguments this morning on his podcast, The Briefing. At the same time, he believes the mainstream media created the environment in which its reporting would be rejected in favor of slanted opinions. He noted his respect for the traditional journalistic outlets and noted their accountability to journalistic standard, but then continued “I would have to blame many of those very same mainstream media outlets for being part of a culture that has subverted the very idea of truth and the idea of authority, and has simultaneous to holding themselves to these journalistic standards failed to make the distinction that is necessary between opinion and news.”
He concludes with a word of exhortation that would help all Christians to better investigate the news for themselves: “And in order to know the truth in a journalistic context this means we need to be certain that we are reading several different sources, that we are not immersing ourselves within any kind of echo chamber and, furthermore, we have to train ourselves to understand what really does represent credibility and professionalism in journalism. And we have to understand where there is a news source that is credible and accountable and where there is one that is not.”
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Publication date: December 9, 2016