April 13, 2017

Fake News, Media Bias, and the Church

This week I joined Pastor Matthew Hagee’s television show Hagee Hotline to examine how fake news and media bias is affecting culture. While the topic of fake news and liberal media narratives are a bit outside the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s (IRD) scope, the consideration for how Christians should respond is not. So I happily agreed to join.

It’s always appreciated when producers send over a list of possible questions a host might ask a guest. Especially in situations where a topic of discussion changes unexpectedly. I prepared for a list of questions, most revolving around the preliminary “What is fake news?” and “What is media bias?” sorts. However, one question inquired, “How can Christians be a part of the solution to fake news and media bias?”

This is a great question that deserves a bit of analysis. Unfortunately, our interview ran short on time and I was not able to offer my thoughts on the show. Still the question orbited my mind throughout yesterday and this morning. So here on Juicy Ecumenism I’d like to flesh out my ideas and offer up this topic for broader discussion in the comments section.

Briefly I’ll note that fake news is inaccurate reporting of the facts from false news outlets. It involves coercing a reader’s emotions for personal gain. We’ve seen a rise in fake news lately because of the proliferation of social media. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and so on there is very little cost for false news outlets to produce and distribute spin. And thanks to the anonymity afforded by the World Wide Web, there’s little risk of consequences.

The difficult balance to strike is recognizing, yes, media bias and fake news exists but to be aware that some might make false claims that a report is “fake news” as an attempt to censor the truth.

Media bias is when we see journalists and producers working for well-known news outlets and networks intentionally blur the lines between fact and their own opinion or misrepresent or ignore opposing sides of a debate in order to sway readers’ conclusions.

So what of Christians in the midst of fake news furor and media bias outbursts?

Well, it seems liberal media bias has caused citizens—secular and the faithful—to grow increasingly suspicious and distrusting of mainstream news outlets, and in many cases rightly so. But in some ways, the distrust of the mainstream media has led to a citizens’ carefree dependence on obscure “news outlets” distributing inaccurate reporting via social media.

As Christians, we understand the importance of absolute truth, authority, sincerity, and integrity. Though we are all fallen and incapable of perfection, we are still aware that our reputation as public witnesses for Christ calls us to high ethical standards. Nonbelievers are watching Christians’ every move to see what difference our faith makes in our lives. Even something as seemingly insignificant as sharing a fake news post on social media might tarnish our witness in the eyes of the people around us.

With respect, Christians must be cautious of baring our own moral hypocrisy when handling fake news or media bias. What I mean by that is Christians have a responsibility to do our due diligence before sharing catchy headlines we see on social media without knowing where a report came from or, in some cases, without reading what a piece says.

Discernment is key.

Also, Christians must be willing to challenge inaccurate claims that hurt the witness of the Church. IRD President Mark Tooley recently demonstrated this by contesting a questionable report which claimed a United Methodist congregation in Waco, Texas is part of a plan to Islamicize Methodist churches.

Of the false news claims, Tooley wrote:

As someone who for many years has tried to report accurately about United Methodism, and often very critically from a conservative/orthodox perspective regarding our denomination’s controversies, I am troubled that false news is no longer so abstract but has now afflicted my own church, which has enough real problems without fabricated ones.

Christians on social media are especially vulnerable to false news inroads. I hope more will try to be more skeptical and discerning.

Another temptation to avoid is to dismiss accurate reports whose facts and conclusions we dislike as either alt-right fake news or liberal media bias. I’m sure I’ve fallen guilty of this myself a time or two.

Even as the Church, we can all use the reminder that our integrity is put to the test every day. Whether we work as a Washington Post journalist or a middle school teacher, people all around us are watching to see what our lives produce and the ideas we distribute, even on social media.

Let it be truth.

What do you think? How can Christians be a part of the solution in combating fake news or media bias?

One Response to Fake News, Media Bias, and the Church

  1. SouperGrover says:

    I think Christians evaluating what we see in the news and on social media is the same as being required to measure the words of church teachers and leaders against what it written in the Bible. The epistles in the NT are full of statements telling us to know Scripture and not just show up to listen lest we be led astray. News is the same thing. We have to do our own due diligence and learn about the topics instead of being told what to think.

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