When officers have taken an oath to teach and defend the doctrines and the moral principles of Christianity, and then deny that Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, doubt his resurrection from the dead, and insist that the Bible cannot provide guidance for contemporary moral and social questions, their behavior is worse than scandalous.
But just as distressing is the attitude that the church does not deserve our faithful support just because many within it are unfaithful.
I‚m moved to these thoughts by a column appearing in the Kerrville (Texas) Daily Times by Joseph Benham, a former Associated Press correspondent. Benham points to examples of incompetence or outright fraud in the reporting of news, when such respected media as the New York Times have been so anxious to get a “scoop” that they printed stories without careful establishment of the facts. Careers have been destroyed and news agencies have suffered blows to their reputation when stories were either concocted out of the whole cloth, or reporters got away with writing hearsay from unreliable and even unidentifiable sources.
Benham mentions the recent problems at CBS, where anchorman Dan Rather aired accusations that President Bush failed to perform his required service for the National Guard, based on “new” documents that turned out to be recent forgeries instead of records from the 1970’s. Even if CBS was not guilty of intentional deception, its producers were certainly willing to go with the story without following accepted standards of checking the authenticity and the truth of its content. It seems likely that Rather and his producer were so eager to air material that would be harmful to the President’s reelection campaign that they didn’t‚t look too deeply into the facts.
But Benham’s larger concern is that such shenanigans have cost the news media deeply in terms of the people‚s trust. As a former news writer myself, I share his sadness at the low esteem in which the press is held. After decades in which CBS and other televised media attempted to prove that they could deliver the news as accurately and as dependably as the newspapers, they have now sunk in public estimation to a level approaching that of the supermarket tabloids. Even worse, for this son of a newspaper family, is the fact that the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other leading outlets have been guilty of similar lapses in editorial integrity. And even worse is the fact that because of these failures, fewer and fewer people even read newspapers any more or trust them to be telling the truth.
The media, I‚m afraid, have it coming to them. Coverage of the first Presidential “debate” is a case in point. Kerry made several gaffes in fact, such as referring to the Korean War cease-fire as having occurred in Truman‚s time in 1952, when it actually took place in 1953 under President Eisenhower. If Bush had made such a mistake, it would have been repeated endlessly; but I challenge any reader to point out a single news outlet that even mentioned it. Kerry‚s “plan” to hold a summit meeting of leaders of a few hand-picked countries, undoubtedly including France, Germany, and Canada, and letting them decide on a policy for Iraq, has not been thoughtfully examined or even reported, while all the attention has been given to matters of style, where Kerry clearly excelled. The public has caught on to the “liberal bias” that dictates what gets covered and what gets ignored. Unfortunately, it means that many put their trust in wildly unreliable Internet sources or other “non-traditional” media instead of the established press. Old-time reporters like Benham (and I) weep at the deplorable state of the press in this “National Newspaper Week”
The church suffers in the same way. Scandals surrounding homosexual priests in the Catholic Church, endless haranguing over masculine pronouns in the Bible and in worship, church executives‚ political lobbying for issues that contradict both the tradition of their denominations and the beliefs of their members, and the same “liberal bias” that plagues the media, have cost the churches dearly in membership and public esteem. At the same time, a horde of shallow “new age” forms of spirituality, revived ancient heresies, oriental mysteries, pagan prayers, witches, ghosts, and charlatans have gained a huge following.
I‚m sad for both the church and the press, which have been my two lifetime occupations. Both need to clean house, and get back to disciplined exercise of their craft. Both, after all, are in the business of disseminating news. And both need to take a fresh look at just what constitutes the truth they are supposed to be reporting.
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