Breaking News: Who Do You Trust?

From what news sources do you find out what’s happening in the world, what it means, and what it leads you to believe about the direction things are going?  On what basis do you consider them to be reliable, trustworthy?  

I have mine but with a complaint.  Much news reporting has drifted from reporting on what has happened, or what is happening, to speculation about what might happen and what it might mean if if does happen.  I blame it on the influence of cable news that has to fill 24 hours with something, so it’s turned to panels of pundits to read tea leaves, gaze at crystal balls, and consult Ouija boards.   The practice of speculative reporting has infected main stream print media as well , I suppose as a way to compete with cable news, or maybe just because it seems trendy.  My own complaint aside, it’s escaped no one’s attention that news sources are instruments of polarization that have devolved into a civil war of words and ideas.  Who can make sense of it?

Government and private surveys try to measure public sentiment about whether  the nation is going in the right direction, whatever that means, and how confident they are about the near term future.  Curiously, the public generally thinks things are going OK for themselves, but not for the nation as a whole.  It appears, and I blame it on speculative reporting, that easily verifiable facts have only modest influence on how the public thinks things are going.  Why bother with facts when you’ve got gut level opinions to rely on, verified by your news source of choice that shares the same. 

Weird contradictions erupt from all of this.  The economy is booming but a sizable portion of the public believe it’s in the tank.  We’re told the supply chain of goods is stopped at ports while products are being shipped at a record pace.  Very few have to die from COVID, in its many forms, but around 1,000 do every day because they didn’t believe it was real.  Likeminded others refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks for reasons that defy reason. The list goes on to include climate change, prevalence of street crime, immigration, refugee settlement, education and more.

Cognitive dissonance exists between verifiable facts, beliefs, attitudes, and  opinions substantiated by rumors and conspiracies.  It causes many to seek refuge –  make the noisy cacophony go away.  Why not?  We hunger for a place of harmony that seems securely stable apart from the seas of change that threaten cherished ways of life.   One acquaintance has renounced all sources of news – it’s all too distressing.  If something important happens, someone will tell him about it.  More commonly, people latch onto one type of news source that appeals to their prejudices and rely on the echo chamber loop of affirmation to convince them of the certainty of what is said to be going on in the world. 

Are there core values of certain truth from which all other “news” can be evaluated, at least provisionally?  I think there are. In this season of Advent, as we prepare for the annual celebration of Christ’s birth, we might be reminded of the Breaking News Bulletin declared over two thousand years ago: An angel appeared to some shepherds and said, “Do not be afraid, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord…Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Amidst all the conflicting noise, turn first to this place and draw everything else from it.  Toward the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when things were looking even more dire and dangerous, the disciple Peter confessed, “Lord to whom can we turn, you have the words of eternal life.”  From this center stand firm in the light of Christ, proclaim God’s redeeming love for every human and all of creation, resist any voice that demeans the dignity of every human being, call out oppression and subjugation, work for godly justice, and all out of love, even for enemies.

It isn’t romantic idealism. It’s the power of God to break the yoke of those who bear news that deceives, conspires, and encourages forces of evil, always lurking along the way.

1 thought on “Breaking News: Who Do You Trust?”

  1. I started college as a journalism major in 1977. By my sophomore year, we were being taught “interpretive reporting,” the future of journalism. The concept dealt with the generally accepted principle that the public didn’t understand complicated issues and it’s the journalist’s responsibility to explain it to them. I came from a family whose multi-generation dinner table included lively debates about current news, and I was opposed to this future of journalism. I frequently complained that, while media outlets naturally show bias by the stories they choose to cover, people not only have the capacity to form their own opinions and “interpret” events, but also the right to be “wrong.” Two professors encouraged me to change my major. In the 2000s, I see the culmination of that teaching. It’s sad to me, and infuriating. As always, I enjoy your column.

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