If you are like me, you are more confused than edified by the reporting of news to the public. In the days of Walter Cronkite, it was assumed that what we were being told on the news each night and read in the newspapers each morning was the unadulterated truth. This may not actually have been the case, however. I remember my cousin’s words to me when I told him that we were given the assignment to read the ‘Week in Review’ section of the Sunday New York Times each week by one of my priest professors in the high school seminary: “I’m surprised that they want you to read the Times. It’s so liberal!”
Zoom forward to the present and we see how precarious the possibility of getting the truth from the news media has become! This is the era of ‘fake news’. As one listens or reads reportage, one begins to ask: Where is this coming from? What are the prejudicial presuppositions that condition this attempt at informing me? As I listen to CNN and then turn to Fox News, where should I put my credence?
It is almost axiomatic today that if you are a Democratic Liberal (am I guilty of a redundancy in calling it this?) or a Republican Conservative (likewise?), you will listen to the sources that accord with your viewpoint. (Are there any Democratic Conservatives or Liberal Republicans left?) This would be supportable if it were only the problem of CNN and Fox News. But biases permeate the media. For example: Little Johnny walked down the street. One newspaper, in reporting this, asks the question, “Where is little Janie in the situation?” Another will emphasize the powerful way Johnny seems to control the street. Many of us simply want to know that Johnny walked down the street and not all the editorializing that unfortunately go with this simple fact.
People generally are not aware of their part in dealing with any issue. They often do not begin at a neutral spot. Their opinion and understanding of things colors where they begin on any given issue even though they think that they are being objective about it. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to correct this lack of objectivity and then a real detachment that says that I might be wrong in my opinion and that I should just present the facts. Underneath this all must be a level of humility that admits that I have been wrong before and that I must tread lightly here lest I lead others astray.
This complexus of virtues: self-awareness, detachment and humility are often lacking from those who report, edit and present the news to us each morning. When we place this in the almost conspiratorial atmosphere of shared prejudices in the newsroom, we can readily see how difficult it must be to get ‘just what happened’.
Many in the modern world will counter that there is no objective truth and that everything is by nature subjective. This clearly goes against our view in Christian theology of the Truth and that the Truth will make us free. It also feeds the erroneous idea that we can construct our own version of the Truth. That is: something is not fixed in stone by reality but can be changed to suit my needs. While this is true in some instances, to remove God as Creator and to see creation as not having purposes set by God is clearly a path to an atheistic concept of reality.
If, therefore, one can ‘create’ the news by injecting one’s own opinion into events that happen, then one can abandon objective reporting and print what people should understand by the events that are narrated. That word ‘should’ is small and troublesome, since it opens the field to something other than true journalism.
As a Faith, we have a philosophical foundation that believes in Truth as given by God and therefore as reality having an objective content that can be reported faithfully and dispassionately, thereby leaving to the reader or viewer the joyful task to make one’s own choices as to how to interpret that reality for the present moment.
It is important that we who believe in the fact that there is such a thing as Truth, and that it is discoverable, develop a healthy and philosophically critical way of looking at what is presented to us as news. We need to continue to trust that there are good and honest people who are trying to be objective in reporting the news, but that at the same time we have to question what we hear and subject it to examination. This scrutiny must not be based on our own prejudices; in fact, we have to admit that we also have our own biases, and that we often have to challenge these inherent prejudices with new viewpoints and perspectives. Our stance must be humble (I don’t know everything and there is a lot for me to learn) and prayerful (I ask God to enlighten me and lead me to the Truth). It is only then that we can discover the healing and liberating Truth.