September 24, 2018
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Fake News vs. Faith News: How Biblical Principles Can Expose the Truth through Investigative Journalism

John 8:32. Bible quotes about the truth and freedom.

Commentary from Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

We face a unique period of history in western culture in regards to the “news media.” Western values extol the virtues of independent voices exposing corruption among the rich and powerful, particularly in the political realm.

The founders of the United States Constitution encoded this value in the First Amendment, seeking to protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press of the American people.

However, for much of our history, the airwaves and the “media” have been controlled by a select few in the corporate world, where the “news” was tightly controlled by the main power-brokers in our culture who sought to control the opinions of the masses.

To learn more about this, see:

Mainstream News Media: Freedom of the Press or Controlled Propaganda?

Today, the tide has turned, and it is not so easy to control the thinking of the masses, mainly because the “medium” that feeds information to the masses has changed from the airwaves (TV and radio broadcasts) to the Internet, where the playing field, at least for now, has been leveled.

This is easily evidenced from the 2016 elections, where the “mainstream” corporate-sponsored media tried to convince the masses that Hillary Clinton was way ahead in the polls, and that Donald Trump had no chance of winning the election.

(Please note I am making observations about the media and politics here without taking a political view or endorsing any particular political party.)

But for the first time in modern history, the corporate-sponsored mainstream media was not able to influence the opinions of the masses and elect the person they had obviously chosen. The reason for this is because a majority of Americans found their information and “news” via other sources on the Internet, and not the airwaves that are still tightly controlled today.

The result has been predictable: the corporate-sponsored media, funded mainly by Big Pharma, is trying to define “fake news” from “real news,” and silence the independent media where much of the truth about our culture runs contradictory to what the “mainstream” media would like us to believe, especially on matters of health.

Here in 2018, much of the broadcasting of the alternative media is done via huge social media networks, such as Facebook, Google/Youtube, Twitter, and others.

These technology giants are trying to stifle the public’s access to this new, alternative media, with their biggest target being Alex Jones and his Infowars.com website.

Regardless of your views of Alex Jones as a person, he is an American, and has a right to freedom of speech and freedom to publish the same as every other American.

I disagree with some of my peers who see his censorship on the social media technology giants as a First Amendment issue per se, because private corporations also have the freedom to pick and choose the content they want to publish.

The bigger legal issue in these censorships is probably discrimination, if their policies do not publicly state which content is acceptable on their networks and which are not.

Where this could venture into legal First Amendment issues is if the government gets involved in the censorship, via the FCC or other government regulatory bodies.

But in the case of Alex Jones, for example, statistics seem to show that his own website and platforms have only become more popular since these bans on social media networks. So as long as he continues to have the right to broadcast his news, it is up to the public to decide where they want to get their news, and that is the right that is protected under the First Amendment.

Marshall Allen of ProPublica has written an excellent commentary on how truth in journalism can be best communicated by following biblical standards of truth, a principle that we also follow here at Health Impact News.

Contrary to what modern post-Darwinian culture would have us believe, truth is absolute, not a matter of one’s opinion or how many “likes” one receives from others, and these eternal truths are best explained in the ancient scriptures that have existed for thousands of years.

I don’t know Marshall Allen personally, and I may not agree with everything he writes (I would not choose the name of a religion, like “Christian”, to define myself as a truth teller, for example – see: What Does it Mean to be a “Christian”?), but his commentary is a breath of fresh air in the moral abyss we call the “media” today.

From Ministry to Muckraking: The Biblical Basis for Investigative Reporting

Some people say journalists are “godless.” But I spent five years in full-time Christian ministry, and my faith has made me a better reporter.

by Marshall Allen
ProPublica

More than a dozen years ago I was a finalist for a reporting job at a small newspaper. All I needed to do was survive an interview with the top editor. The other editors warned me, saying their boss took perverse pleasure from smashing the hopes of naive reporters. I braced myself as he studied my resume. His lips curled into a sneer.

To be fair, my job history was a tad unusual. I had spent five years in full-time ministry, including three as an evangelical Christian missionary in Kenya. Then there was my master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. There didn’t seem to be a lot of churchgoing, Bible-believing, born-again Christians like me working at daily papers.

The editor scowled and said, “So what makes you think that a Christian can be a good journalist?”

He emphasized “Christian” as if it were some kind of slur.

I liked that he spoke his mind, but I was taken aback. I explained what I saw as a natural progression from the ministry to muckraking, pointing out that both are valid ways of serving a higher cause. The Bible endorses telling the truth, without bias. So does journalism. The Bible commands honesty and integrity. In journalism, your reputation is your main calling card with sources and readers.

Obviously, many people have succeeded as reporters without strong religious beliefs. But I told him my faith had made me a better, more determined journalist. He replied with a noncommittal grunt. But I got the job.

My response to that editor is more relevant than ever today. It has become popular for some conservative leaders to argue that people like me don’t exist in America’s newsrooms or that journalism is immoral. Just the other day, a Washington State lawmaker called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people,” according to The Seattle Times. President Donald Trump seems to take delight in taunting reporters and has referred to members of the media as “lying, disgusting people.”

It’s estimated that about a third of Americans attend a regular church service. From my experience, most newsrooms don’t come close to that. But in 17 years, I’ve never had a colleague suggest that my religious beliefs kept me from hard-nosed reporting. In fact, my convictions give me a foundation to be demanding.

After a few years, I moved on to the Las Vegas Sun. Yes, it occurred to me that God must have a sense of humor, if not irony, if his plan for me involved Sin City. I became a health care reporter and began gathering statistics that showed the local hospitals were not as safe as advertised. The articles we published led to new state laws that favored patients and jolted powerful institutions in Las Vegas.

Journalists, particularly those who do investigative reporting, tend to annoy people in powerful positions. Some people might think that Christians are supposed to be soft and acquiescent rather than muckrakers who hold the powerful to account. But what I do as an investigative reporter is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

The mission statement of ProPublica, my employer, says we want to use the “moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform.” If you go through my work, you may sense a bit of “moral force.”

The Bible teaches that people are made in the image of God and that each human life holds incredible value. So when I learned that medical mistakes are one of the leading causes of death in America, I called attention to the problem.

The Apostle Paul points out that God comforts us so that we can be a comfort to others. So since 2012 I’ve moderated the ProPublica Patient Safety Facebook group, so people who have been harmed by medical care have a place to turn.

The Bible rebukes deception and unfair practices. I’ve shown how our nation’s health care system is rife with schemes that are unfair to patients.

Proverbs talks about how hearing only one side of a story can be misleading: “The first to speak in court sounds right — until the cross-examination begins.” At ProPublica and many other journalism outlets, reporters go to great lengths to get all sides of every story.

Another basic tenet of fairness is refusing to accept any gifts, of any amount. Our readers need to trust that our work is untainted by any reward. “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent,” Deuteronomy says.

Most journalists admit their mistakes and run corrections. This is consistent with biblical teaching about humility.

God didn’t direct the writers of the Bible to avoid controversy. I love how Luke describes his mission in the first few verses of his Gospel: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” he wrote, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Luke’s goal was to tell the truth about Jesus, which upset many people. Luke didn’t airbrush the early Christians. He named names. Luke told the story of Judas betraying Jesus. He exposed Peter denying Jesus three times. He verified the facts and then told the truth. If it was good enough for Luke, it’s good enough for me.

The biblical mandate is to tell the truth. But some conservative Christians don’t seem to understand that. I started out in the Christian media and had run-ins with editors because of my interest in reporting about Christian leaders, even if it made them look bad. Administrators recently censored student journalists at Liberty University, a conservative Christian institution, for, in their view, making the school look bad. But God calls us to publish the truth, not propaganda.

The biblical prophets were the moral conscience of God’s people. Today, in a nonreligious sense, journalists are the moral conscience of the wider culture. We live in a fallen world, so there’s no shortage of material.

It takes some sinners a while to repent, and some never do. That means the influential people we expose might criticize us or call us names. They might even think we’re godless. But journalists are called to keep digging until we find the truth — and then proclaim it.

Read the full article at ProPublica.org.