Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
Most people realize that the news media do not just report. They frame and package the news. Stories reflect the mind-set and values of the newsroom.”²
Evidence that this assessment of John Leo as expressed in his editorial in U.S. News & World Report is correct abounds. A few examples, as expressed by those in positions of power in the news media, will suffice: Richard Salant, former president of CBS believes, “Our job is to give people not what they want, but what we decide they ought to have.”³ Benjamin Crowninshield, former executive editor ofThe Washington Post said, “I’m no longer interested in news. I’m interested in causes. We don’t print the truth. We don’t pretend to print the truth….”4 But none is more telling than a speech of CNN founder Ted Turner to the Radio and Television Directors Association. In that speech Turner expounded: “You bet your bibby we take a position…. News is what you News directors interpret it as. News is what we at CNN interpret it as. The people of this country see the news we think they ought to see.”5
We must be careful here, however. Certainly there issome news that does not need interpretation, news that we can receive without much concern. Take for example news reports like the robbing of a Fifth Third Bank, or an accident at the corner of Wilson and Riverbend, or the rape of a student on the GVSU campus, or a tornado that touches down in Caledonia. It is true that with news stories like these we need not have much concern for news media bias, unless … the man killed in the accident was a homosexual; unless… the bank teller was black and the robber was white;unless … the raped student became pregnant; unless… the car that rolled over spilled some gas into the ditch, which ran to the river, which ran to the ocean, which in turn polluted the whole earth; unless … the bank customer who thwarted the robbery used a handgun; unless … the e-unit medic that appeared on the scene was an illegal immigrant; unless … the bank robber was on welfare; unless … the tornado destroyed a Mosque; unless … the bank robber was a Republican; unless … the rapist was a soldier on leave from Iraq.
In other words watch out when the incident being reported or the documentary being presented involves what could be numbered among “the PC (Politically Correct) Twelve,” viz., race, gender, the poor, homosexuality, politics, religion, immigration, abortion, education, the environment, gun ownership, and the war in Iraq.
Understanding the times as we do, we are aware of the work of false prophets, including the sometimes blatant news media deception all around us. Our Lord warned us of this in Matthew 24, and the apostle Peter warns us concerning our “adversary the devil … seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). We know that! We know there’s a world of ideas being promoted under the instigation of Satan seeking to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. That presents present-day Issachar with the urgency to be on guard, and especially to lead the covenant children God has placed in his care to an understanding of news media deception. We and our children need the tools, and the skills to apply them to news media reports, that will help us discern the truth and the lie. The rest of this article and two to follow will be an attempt to provide some of those tools.
That there is deception in the news media is nothing new. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of this country, is reported to have said: “The man who never looked into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, insomuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with half truths and errors.” Considering that, one might consider a monastic approach to the news (seclusion from the news) for fear of being deceived. However, that approach would hardly fulfill our responsibility to watch for the return of our Lord and seek to observe the signs of His return. So expose ourselves to the news media we must, but in the process we must exercise great caution and develop a healthy skepticism of what is reported.
Often the key to detecting deception in news media reports is the ability to identify media bias. The application of eight questions to news media reports may be helpful in identifying bias in news media reports. In the process of discussing these eight questions we will use examples from current news media reports, and in connection with each question we will examine current reporting on the so-called “global warming” issue. (Incidentally, the position of the undersigned with respect to global warming is that the impact of human activity on the current climactic warming cycle is miniscule, if existent at all. As you read through the article, you will see why.)
Who Is Reporting?
A key problem in the news reporting industry involves those who claim to be, and even view themselves to be, unbiased in their reporting. We and our children need to know that everyone has a bias. A person’s world and life view (worldview) will affect how he interprets what is happening in the world. That’s true for all of us!
A recent article from the Grand Rapids Pressillustrates that very nicely. The article was titled: “10 Things contribute to obesity, experts say.” One of the ten, according to the article, is that, “Darwinian natural selection contributes because fat people out survive skinny people.” If a person has a worldview that includes evolution, he necessarily must interpret changes that occur within the species (increased incidence of obesity in this case) in light of his view concerning the survival of the fittest. On the other hand, a person with a worldview based on Scripture will likely suggest one possible cause of obesity is the sin of gluttony. Thus quite different conclusions are reached based on one’s worldview: the one viewing it as a good thing and the other a bad thing.
If the one doing the reporting does not express his bias at the outset (which would be the honest thing to do), the viewer or reader of the report has the task of identifying it. One bit of information that will help is to know something about the publication in which the report is made. There are helpful studies available that attempt to identify media bias. One example is a chart published in the AFA Journal, which compares the major U.S. newspapers, news magazines, and television news programs to the average U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator. According to this survey all of the above (with one exception) had a decidedly more liberal bias than our congressional representatives. The one exception was Fox News Special Report, with Brit Hume.6
Having a general knowledge about the various sources is helpful. With respect to reporting on specific issues such as global warming, affirmative action, and homosexual marriage, knowing something of the bias of the publication in which the issue is discussed is of utmost importance. One ought not expect a fair treatment of origins theories in National Geographicfor example. For National Geographic, evolution is a dogma. Interestingly, the cover and pages 2 and 3 of its November 2004 issue asked this question: “Was Darwin Wrong?” The answer found on page 4: “NO. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming.”
Sometimes it is also helpful to know something about the specific author of a news report. If one is seeking objective information on the global warming issue for example, he might be wise to avoid the writer of the following: “(We need) a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period.”7 The writer of that, Mr. Albert Gore, has demonstrated a significant bias on this issue. Read what he has to say to help understand his side of the issue, but certainly not for an objective view concerning global warming.
Are All Sides Fairly Represented?
This leads directly into a discussion of the importance of determining whether or not a news report fairly presents both sides of an issue. Especially in connection with the reporting of political issues, both sides rarely are presented fairly. Quite often the opposing view will be presented very simplistically and/or inaccurately. This is the old “straw man” tactic. For example, if the issue is taxes, the one who is for tax breaks, or lower taxes, is made out to be against the poor. And the one who is for raising taxes is obviously against the middle class. It doesn’t seem to matter that there could be numerous other reasons for tax cuts or tax increases.
In the example cited above concerning National Geographic magazine, never is the creation option to origins presented. It is dismissed out of hand, mostly by simply ignoring the existence of the opposing position. National Geographic appears not to concern itself with the fact that many scientists are having difficulty reconciling the theory of evolution with science. Nor does it seem to matter how many books are written by the likes of Philip Johnson that demonstrate the unreasonableness of the theory of evolution, even in terms of science itself. (See Philip Johnson’s book Reason in the Balance.)
With respect to the global warming issue, seldom are both sides fairly presented, as demonstrated by the following:
On Feb. 19, 2006, CBS News’s “60 Minutes” produced a segment on the North Pole. The segment was a completely one-sided report, alleging rapid and unprecedented melting at the polar cap. It even featured correspondent Scott Pelley’s claiming that the ice in Greenland was melting so fast that he barely got off an iceberg before it collapsed into the water. “60 Minutes” failed to inform its viewers of a 2005 study by a scientist named Ola Johannessen and his colleagues showing that the interior of Greenland is gaining ice and mass and that, according to scientists, the Arctic was warmer in the 1930s than today.8
Another example of the lack of objectivity involves the March 19, 2006 program on “60 Minutes” that trumpeted the seriousness of an impending global warming disaster, with nary a word from the opposing view. When questioned concerning the lack of objectivity in the program, CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley “justified excluding scientists skeptical of global warming alarmism from his segments because he considers skeptics to be the equivalent of ‘Holocaust deniers.'”9 End of story! No need then to listen to the other side.
Who Are the Sources?
When considering the sources of news media reports, our concern is that quite often sources will be used that “have an ax to grind” with respect to the issue. For example, caution should be exercised if a media report concerning abortion relies on a member of NOW (National Organization of Women) as an objective source, or if a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is the only or the primary source for a report on animal rights. In other words, if the source is someone like wildlife ecologist and associate professor of Northern Arizona University Dr. Paul Beier, who has said, “But now we know that if we’re going to have mountain lions around, maybe they’re going to eat us every now and then. I’m comfortable with that….”10 It would be nice to know that, before we put too much stock in his opinions.
Another concern is with reports that leave the sources anonymous. So the report begins something like this: “Scientists say …” or, “Sources close to the president say …” or, “A general who for security reasons desires to remain anonymous says ….” To give news reports of this nature much credibility would be foolish.
Take for example the Time article titled “6 Reasons Why So Many Allies Want Bush to Slow Down.”11 The article assumes what needs to be proven, i.e., that many allies want Bush to slow down. So throughout the article you read over and over again, “Many Europeans want…”; “Most Europeans…”; “European governments want …”; “Europeans worry…”; “Europeans are offended…”; etc. We might want to ask, “Who specifically are these Europeans?” And, “How was the author able to discern what most of them think concerning President Bush’s actions toward Iraq?”
In this connection consider once again the example of the global warming issue as presented on “60 Minutes.” In seeking to determine the reliability of the main source, James Hansen, it might be helpful to know that he had partisan ties to former vice-president Al Gore, and that he was funded by a grant of a quarter million dollars from the left-wing Heinz Foundation run by Theresa Heinz Kerry.12
Also, if the source used is Stanford University Professor Stephen Schnieder, it would be important to know that he wrote: “(We) have to offer up scary scenarios [about global warming and destruction of the environment], make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts one might have…. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”13 By the way, Schnieder is the man who in 1989 wrote the book Global Warming. Let’s see…he wrote that book just 13 years after he endorsed Lowell Ponte’s book “The Cooling.” Hmm!
… to be continued.
1. See the March 1, 2002 Standard Bearer for the original article on this subject.
2. John Leo, “Making Media Accountable,” U.S. News & World Report February 28, 2005:71.
3. Fred Gielow, You Don’t Say, Boca Raton, Florida: Freedom Books, 1999) 113.
4. Gielow 117.
5. Marvin Olasky, “Ted’s the Man,” World December 15, 1997:30.
6. AFA Journal, April, 2005:7.
7. Albert Gore, Earth in the Balance (New York, Penguin Books 1992) 325.
8. James Inhofe, “A Challenge to Journalists Who Cover Global Warming,” Human Events October 23, 2006: 16.
9. http://epw.senate.gov/speechitem.cfm?party=rep&id=263759 (a speech by Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma on the floor of the Senate).
10. Gielow 177.
11. Johanna McGery, “6 Reasons Why so Many Allies want Bush to Slow Down,” Time February 3, 2003: 34.
13. Gielow 165.