“What are the facts?” This is a question that I have often wanted to ask when reading a newspaper or watching a news program on TV. Facts just are; but every time someone reports the facts, thy do it through the prism of their own stance on life, their prejudices, their culture, and their history. Given the multiplicity of persons, one can assume that eventually one can make a judgment on the truth of the facts based on the different subjective viewpoints through which the facts present themselves to us.
But the fear I have when reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV is that there is a consensus, willed or unwilled, through which the news reaches me, and that consensus alters the truth of the facts based on the subjected biases of the writers and producers of media content. This, of course, is to be expected. Everyone gives his or her personal spin on a story; but my problem with the news media is that they represent subjectively only one possible viewpoint, and it is decidedly unfriendly to religion generally and Christianity in particular.
This ‘tone deafness’ to the truths of Christian faith begins with a wholesale ignorance of the basics of Christianity. So many times in reporting a story dealing with religion in general, the media gets facts completely wrong and do not have a clue as to the falsity of their statements. In reporting a new document from the Vatican, there is no serious reflection on the overall meaning of it, but a cursory search for whatever is ‘newsworthy’ (i.e. controversial), and them creating headlines that emphasize that part of the document. The classic example is the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae” by Pope Paul VI. If anyone in the media had actually read it, they would have found a beautifully nuanced understanding of human love and its fruitfulness. However, the only thing anyone seems to know about it is its prohibition of artificial methods of birth control. This pandering to the crowd’s interests distorts and makes of a beautiful statement a cause of dissension.
But more than the inaccuracies of the media and the slant of their editorial biases is the very make-up of the media in its personnel. To my knowledge, there has never been a survey of the people who are in the media (newspapers, television, internet etc.) to find out what religion they were brought up in; what religion, if any, they now espouse; what political party they belong to; what percentage are pro-choice or pro-life; etc. I think the results would be very informative and also predictive of the selection of stories for publication or broadcast and the slant in their point of view. It is just an accepted fact, for instance, that surveys can be so written as to elicit the predetermined point of view of the framers. How much more partial is the approach of the media when a large percentage are non-religious and perhaps even anti-religious!
One can see that any Catholic must approach their newspaper or favorite news program with great caution, even with a kind of suspicion. Is one getting the objective facts or is there embedded in the reports the point of view of the authors? One may respond to this that all reporting will, by necessity, show the traces of their authors. My answer would be: yes, but when one only gets one side of the possible prejudices involved, one can lamentably say that much reporting by the media, especially in heated political conflicts, are propaganda for a certain viewpoint disguised as objectivity. The concern for the Catholic is that this omnipresent viewpoint of the media is hostile to religion and as such must be confronted or at least avoided.
What I am suggesting as vital for a Christian is that he or she handle with care what comes from our newspapers and TV sets and computers. To be critical in a very positive sense is essential to our Christian future. I think St. Augustine approached his pagan contemporaries in that way. We should all ask: Does what I read accord with my basic premises in my life, or does the piece that I am commenting on reflect a consistent bias against my faith? If that is true, then I must be cautious and be willing to call into question what I am being given. I must not be like a child. I must be a discriminating adult Christian with the right and even the obligation to subject all thought to Christ and His Truth, as expressed in Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church.