The notion that a free press is essential for a free society was one of the basic beliefs of our founding fathers. Truth and accuracy in the reporting of facts was a long-standing tradition of journalists in our country for many years. Has that tradition changed? Are we still being provided with truthful, timely, and unbiased reporting, or have we fallen victim to an unreliable media: a media that is driven by profit, not the truth?
A Historical Perspective
During most of the 17th and 18th centuries, newspapers served as public relations vehicles for government with the goal of creating positive feelings towards state authorities. The political theology of English kings demanded such logic. Common people were supposed to sit still before government officials, minding their manners.
Our founding fathers, in developing their own theories and practical models of individual rights, believed that a free press was essential for a free society. Their strong emphasis on the freedom of speech provided a framework within which the press could operate freely, without government interference. In response to the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights, thousands of local, independent newspapers were formed throughout our country. They operated under a self-imposed dictate to report news items factually. Outstanding investigative reporting was the hallmark of early journalists.
Until the mid-19th century, American journalism was predominantly Christian in its perspective. Journalists were held in high esteem. This attitude was not to last.
The Current Dilemma
Today, the propaganda instinct has become more powerful, and often more profitable, than any passion for the objective truth. Wen Smith, a reporter, puts it succinctly: Today's journalists prefer to form public opinion rather than inform it. Although our Bill of Rights attempted to guarantee a free press, it did not demand that it be truthful.
A turning point can be seen in 1952, when the International Commission on the Press (a branch of the League of Nations) ruled that the American government was conducting so many operations it holds secret from its people that it can no longer be said to have a free press. This statement shocked many Americans. (The sobering fact today is that the public is no longer shocked.)
The ownership base of the printed media has changed radically. Today it has become very narrow and concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few. Currently, only about four newswire services and about five newspaper chains control over 95% of America's newspapers.
Gone are the days of superb investigative reporting; sensationalism now reigns. News is packaged as entertainment. People are now used to being titillated, with an insatiable appetite for the bizarre. Even the selection of news articles has become overly influenced by marketing strategies directed at new customers and ratings points.
The lack of accurate and truthful reporting is evident in media releases provided by our own government. The mainstream media appears to be controlled. It is unreliable and even guilty of news media blackouts. Patriotic Americans question government reports of the incidents at Waco and Ruby Ridge. The real extent of the White House's involvement in the now infamous Whitewater case is yet to be exposed.
The disturbing fact is that government misinformation appears to be the routine order of business in recent and current administrations. A bipartisan committee tasked with the responsibility of ferreting out the truth in the Waco case was formed only after intense public pressure.
Consider also the Randy Weaver case. Although this incident occurred almost two years ago, a report from the Office of the Attorney General still has not been released. There are indications that the report may not be made available for public review. We should expect and demand more from our elected representatives.
It is not our intention to take sides in these cases, but we find the lack of timely and truthful reporting by both private and public media frightening. Our prayer is that those charged with the responsibility of media reporting "...walk uprightly, and work righteousness, and speak the truth..." (Psalm 15:2).
A Personal Solution
Here are some practical suggestions to help you stay informed and protect yourself from media abuses.
- Subscribe to the foreign press. We personally find more accurate reporting of news happening here in the U. S. by reviewing a variety of foreign publications. Many are free from American media oversight or manipulation. (I am constantly told by visiting foreigners how uninformed Americans seem to be about issues which affect their daily lives.)
- Understand the media establishment that presents the story. Is it a part of a larger organization? What credibility have they generated in the past? Who are the owners and are there potential conflicts of interest?
- Get online on the Internet. This medium seems to be one of the few that cannot be controlled by its very design! Many of the foreign press and specialty newsletters can be accessed. And recently, government cover-ups have been exposed by leaks on the Net.
- Perhaps most important of all, we have often stated that it is impossible to understand the daily news around us if you don't know your Bible! Commit yourself today to a more in-depth study of God's Word.
Make a concerted effort to keep yourself informed on the issues that interest you; in short, educate yourself. Remember that the news media does distort the news, whether by honest error or by intention. Always insist on the facts and seek alternative sources.
- Whitehead, John W., Religious Apartheid, Hardy Press, 1994.
- Olasky, M., Prodigal Press, Crossway Books, 1988.
- Feder, Don., Pagan America, Huntington House, 1993.
- Prager, D., Word Abuse-A Lexicon, from Ultimate Issues, 1994.
- Kane, D., Freedom of the Press, Monetary and Economic Review, July 1992.
- Smith, Wen., What's Good For The Propaganda, Countdown, May 1995.
- McAlvany, D., How The Media Has Pushed America to the Left, McAlvany Intelligence Advisor, Oct 1994.
- Media Bypass (Call 1-800-BYPASS for subscription information.)
- Abrahams, Larry, The Insider Report, PO Box 84903, Phoenix, AZ, 85071. ($199/yr.)
- Davidson, James, and Rees-Mogg, Lord, Strategic Investment, Agora Inc., 824 E. Baltimore St. Baltimore, MD 21202-4799. ($109/yr.)
- De Courcy, Joe Intelligence Digest, Intelligence Int Ltd., 17 Rodney Rd, Cheltenham, Glos, GL50 1HX, UK. ($197/yr.)
- IntelWeb (Intelligence Web Report): http://www.awpi.com/intelweb
- London Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk
- Washington Weekly: http://dolphin.gulf.net
- Newspaper Index: http://www.yahoo.com/business_and_economy