A Lie (1)
On 17 January of this year, BuzzFeedNews reported that President Trump had directed his attorney Michael Cohen to lie to congress about the Moscow Tower project. This was what according to BuzzFeedNews was reported to the special counsel Robert Mueller who was investigating allegations of Mr. Donald Trump colluding with Russia in order to win the elections in 2016. Most of the media jumped on this news, hoping it would be true, because then they would have found the ‘smiking gun’ which would lead to the impeachment of president Trump.
However, half a day after this story broke and had done a lot of damage, the special counsel released a rare public statement in which it stated that “BuzzFeed’s descriptions of specific statements made to the Special Counsel’s office, and the characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.” Or, in the language of us, common people: BuzzFeed’s story is a lie. All the media who jumped on this story were left with egg on their face and President Trump celebrated his victory on his beloved Twitter.
A Lie (2)
Three days later, a short video is posted online which goes viral. In this video a junior at Covington Catholic High School wearing a MAGA hat, is shown standing face to face with a native American protestor. It is only a very short video, just over a minute, but it was posted with the purpose to make this young man look bad. Much was edited out and only a few clips were shown. Again, most of the media in the US jumped on this and accused this student together with his fellow students of Covington Catholic School of blatant disrespect for a Native elder. Many celebrities joined them in condemning this young man and his school, and called for the publication of names, addresses, so that these students could be harassed and their names tainted for the rest of their lives.
One day later, more than two hours of video recording is posted on the internet by others about all that was happening at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC that led up to the infamous event that was shown in the short clip posted the day before. Some of the media and celebrities withdrew their comments, some even apologized, others didn’t. At the moment a group of lawyers supporting the Sandmann family is preparing a series of lawsuits against some of the media and celebrities, to sue them for libel and other crimes. The first lawsuit is filed against the Washington Post, claiming $ 250,000 (US).
While the media are still wiping the egg off their faces of these two blunders, a third one is all over the news now. Jussie Smollett, who is openly gay and black, reported that on Jan. 29, he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Subway restaurant. He claimed that the men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at him, poured a substance on him, threw a rope around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA country!”
Again, many in the media, in politics and among celebrities jumped on this and started pointing fingers at the Trump followers, especially the white among them, calling them racists.
However, while many were still wiping the egg off their faces, deposited there by the fallout of the previous two cases, a new load of egg was dumped there instead. When police started to investigate, the whole story fell apart. No evidence could be found, and even after studying hours of surveillance video from the area where Smollett claimed the attack took place, they couldn’t find any proof. They did find some clues which indicated that the whole event was set up by Smollett himself. Today it is reported that Smollett has changed from victim to suspect and that felony criminal charges against him have been approved. The police is seeking his arrest.
One can wonder why someone like him would do something like this. However, knowing the political climate in the USA and the enormous acrimony between followers of Trump (often wearing the MAGA hat) and his ‘enemies’, you could easily come to the conclusion that the intention is to give the Trump camp again a negative press. (Update: on 21 February local time it was reported that he orchestrated a “phony attack” in order to take “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.” He wanted to get a pay raise from his employer.)
Investigative Journalism Dead?
A free press has always been seen as essential in a democracy. Journalists should have the freedom and ability to investigate whatever governments and other with power come up with, in order to inform the population about the truth. However, in recent years, with the increase of enmity between the two sides of the political spectrum in the US, it seems as if the media have not been able to resist the temptation to take sides. It already started in the Obama era, or maybe even before that, but it became extremely clear after Mr. Trump was elected president of the USA. The image you have of the situation in America in general and more specifically of the American political situation, depends on what media outlet you use to inform yourself. For a while now, I have been following Fox News, but also CNN.com, the Washington Post, the New York Times and others. Often it seems as if the latter three live in a different reality than the first one. It takes a lot of skill to compile what probably is the truth from the biased information and opinions you are bombarded with by all these news media. Instead of doing a lot of investigating and trying to discover the truth, it seems as if today it is the only task of the media to serve as propaganda outlet for the parties, movements, politicians, they affiliate with. Instead of being independent investigating journalists, it seems as if many journalists have become mere writers of opinion articles. Whatever confirms your opinion is being reported, whatever could possibly disprove your position is often ignored or distorted. More and more the question is being asked what happened to investigative journalism.
This all happened in America. What about Australia? Thankfully we can note that this biased journalism is not as blatant here as it is in North America. However, when you compare the reporting of the Australian with that of the West Australian, you will be able to discover quite some differences there as well, in the way things are being reported. And it is a known fact that organisations like ‘Getup’ with its millions of foreign support, are trying hard to buy the media or bully the voters into supporting extreme left politicians. Especially Christians will experience that more and more they are either marginalized or depicted as ‘outside of the mainstream’ or bigoted or ridiculously old fashioned, or occasionally they may even find themselves at the receiving end of outright hate campaigns.
Defence of the Truth
How do we as Christians respond to all this? Should we fight evil with evil and participate in name-calling? Certainly not. As Christians we are called to be the salt of the world, the light in the darkness. We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. We are called to stand up for the Truth and to resist the works of the devil, who is called the Father of Lies in John 8.
We can and must learn from situations as described above. It shows us the wisdom of the words of our Saviour in Matthew 7:1 : “Judge not, that you be not judged.” If we are not called to render judgment, let us then first of all suspend our judgment. If we read something or hear something that makes us upset and we are inclined to respond judgmental, let us remind ourselves of the words written in Proverbs 18:17 : ” The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.” There are always to sides to an issue. We should not believe the media as a faithful witness. We should wait and see if there is more to a case than we initially read or hear. And that is not only the case with what is reported in the news media, but also in our personal life. God in His divine wisdom gave us the ninth commandment. The catechism in its explanation of this commandment in Lord’s Day 43 says that we shall not condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Let us be gracious toward our neighbor and always believe what is good and not evil, until an overwhelming amount of evidence forces us to change our mind. Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love believes all things, hopes all things. (1 Corinthians 13). Let the church be an example to the world of how beautiful life can be if we all follow these rules given to us by God in the ninth commandment as well as in 1 Corinthians 13 and other parts of the Bible. Especially when people notice the hatred with which the media is so often filled and with which politicians and celebrities fight each other, as we have seen so clearly over the last couple of years in the USA but which we see happening in our own country from time to time as well, then the church and individual Christians can give a huge testimony about the goodness and love of God by showing in their lives that things can be so different, if we are filled with the Spirit and with the love of God.