Acquire truth and do not sell it– wisdom, and discipline, and understanding. (Proverbs 23:23 NET)
Remember the good old days of broadcast news? When Walter Cronkite signed off each weeknight with the words, “and that’s the way it is,” we had no reason to doubt him. Polls showed he was the most trusted man in America.
Cronkite signed off a long time ago. What used to be a news hour has turned into a news cycle. Instead of one person reading news stories into a camera, we are now treated to 24 hours of over-caffeinated news personalities seasoning opinions with occasional facts. News stories are morsels of fresh meat thrown into a cage of opinionated experts - tossed back and forth but never fully digested.
One of the cardinal rules of classic journalism is to accurately communicate current events with fairness and accountability. What we view on the big news networks is not classic journalism. Corporate sponsors don’t pay for classic journalism. Viewers don’t tune in for accuracy and fairness anymore. Sad to say, we watch the news to affirm our personal perspective. If we don’t like the angle, we turn the channel. There’s always another voice speaking our language somewhere.
I yearn for a news source that broadcasts the truth. I want “that’s the way it is” without “and here’s what you should think about it.” I’m embarrassed when good Christian friends link to stories on social media that simply are not true. I wince when satirical stories are passed off by well-meaning dupes as news. Just as cringe-worthy is when real news is dismissed as fake news because it’s uncomfortable. How can we respond properly to what’s happening around us when the truth eludes us?
As is often the case, the Bible has something to say about this. We shouldn’t be surprised by the cryptic nature of truth in our day, or the rush to self-affirming conclusions. Paul advised his acolyte, Timothy,
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV)
Paul, of course, is talking about the twisting of the gospel. His concern is with the doctrines of the Christian faith, not the news. While this is true, consider the parallel. If we are quick to embrace news stories that uphold our political perception, only to discover the premise is false, aren’t we falling into the same trap? Whatever the subject matter, sacred or secular, Christians should be people who desire truth; not people who repeat the buzz because it sounds “truthy.” If I choose to listen to a particular news source because it confirms my feelings, am I seeking the truth or scratching an itch?
Sometimes it takes work to uncover the truth, like panning for gold. The lazy accept what seems true, fools gold. In their book, un•Spun, Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson demonstrate this point, “Psychological experiments have shown, for one thing, that humans tend to seek out even weak evidence to support their existing beliefs, and to ignore evidence that undercuts those beliefs. In the process, we apply stringent tests to evidence we don’t want to hear, while letting slide uncritically into our minds any information that suits our needs. Psychology also tells us we rarely work through reasons and evidence in a systematic way, weighing information carefully and suspending the impulse to draw conclusions. Instead, much of the time we use mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that save us mental effort.”
Since Christians are people of the truth following a Savior who taught that truth sets free, shouldn’t we do the extra work it takes to champion truth? I want to encourage you to practice the dying art of journalism. When a story pops up on your news feed, and your brain tells you, “This is just too good not to share,” that’s the signal for your inner journalist to get to work. It takes just a few extra minutes to track down sources, to weigh the evidence, to research the claims, and to decide if it’s really worth sharing. Ask the question, “Would I risk my reputation on this, or am I just spreading gossip?”
Be thankful our omniscient God decrees the facts behind every headline and fills each story with purpose. One day we will see as he sees, the way it is. Until then, let’s do the Lord’s work. Let’s embrace the truth.