Have you followed online news stories about the recent election in the United States? Consider the following headings of articles from a news feed based on the search term “US Election” and obtained approximately 4 weeks after the election:
- Trump lays out election-fraud case in online video: ‘Bad things happened’
- Democrats seek disciplinary investigation for Trump lawyer who called for violence against former election cybersecurity official
- Trump posts 46-minute rant on Facebook complaining about losing election
- Republican and Democrat judges have turned on Donald Trump – and not just on the election
- Trump’s bizarre 46-minute video claiming the election was stolen sends Twitter into frenzy|
- Donald Trump posts speech on Facebook repeating US election misinformation
- Donald Trump is planning a ‘victory’ rally in Georgia this weekend, despite the state being certified for Joe Biden
Okay, now what would you conclude? Which one of the following most closely matches your thinking?
- Trump is being outrageous and making false claims about election results, knowing that he has lost.
- Trump is not a very gracious loser and is grasping at all straws to gain votes.
- There appears to be evidence of some election rigging and misinformation and Trump is trying to uncover as much as possible.
- I really am not able to judge Trump’s response to the US Election.
This does raise the question about how we judge or in fact don’t judge a particular issue when we read the media. How does the media get its information and how does it portray a matter or issue? (See the article ‘Coping in a Post-fact Age’ on this website) Let us look at some aspects that we should consider before making a judgment.
We could ask ourselves why we need to judge the issue in the first place? Is the topic relevant to us? The US election happens on the other side of the globe; we are in Australia with our own elections coming up? Or is it that US politics has a worldwide political and economic influence that we also will feel the effects of in Australia?
Maybe it’s a topic that we have a keen interest in and like to follow. Watching an election unfold can be quite exciting. Maybe we are keen on understanding the election process, such as the electoral college system, votes in the US electoral system, and how each state contributes to that based on their population votes. This is a laudable desire, but then we better know where our information comes from.
Where did the news article come from? Who wrote it and what is their worldview? Knowing the author and source of a news article can reveal much about the article written, even before you read it.
In the example above, the 7 headings came from a news feed that mainly accesses the mainstream news services internationally. These include CNN, Newsweek, Fox News, Reuters, Bloomberg, ABC News, etc. These generally tend to support politically leftist agendas, policies, and people.
Take for example our own ABC network; it has a very left-wing worldview and you hear and read much anti-Trump propaganda where it is, in essence, assumed that Trump is incompetent and the sooner he is gone, the better. So when the topic of Trump comes up on the ABC, you already have some idea of the sentiments towards him even before anything is said. This bias certainly isn’t going to promote a balanced view that promotes the truth and upholds the person and position of the US President.
Knowing the worldview of the source will already give some indication as to the direction of a news article and help to discern the contents knowing that it may be biased towards or based on that worldview.
You will, however, need to broaden your reading base to include information sources that are not biased towards leftist or narrow worldviews. In fact, when you understand that all news falls in the context of the antithesis, the battle between God and Satan, then you must include information sources from a Christian worldview, which at the very least, must include the Bible.
Browsing multiple news posts
Rather than making a judgment based on reading one news article or using the same source, if you read many posts and browse through plenty of related links, can you make an informed judgment? Different news posts will often contain a wider range of information and provide different perspectives on the same topic. Following the links can be helpful to reach additional related news sources. Keep in mind that there are many such news sources and even more links and pathways that a reader can take so that no two readers take the same path and read the same articles to glean the same information.
However, there is a danger in simply relying on multiple posts to become informed. The posts could be similarly biased or pick up on the same news source. How would you know if you are missing news posts that have crucial and different information and perspectives?
For example, consider the headings of the 7 articles listed above. These were the first 7 articles that came up from the rather generic search term “US Election”. Why is it that all 7 mentioned Trump and only one mentioned Biden? Not only do they mostly refer to Trump, but they also paint him in a degrading light, using negative words like “called for violence”, “rant”, “complaining”, “judges turned on…”, “claiming…stolen:”, etc. to describe him. Upon further reading, even the titles that may appear neutral lead to articles that denigrate President Trump.
Now consider, for example, the following 7 titles of news posts obtained by accessing a news web site based on a Christian worldview:
- Putin Not Done Trying to Influence US Elections, Report Claims
- Many Non-Citizens Vote Illegally in US Elections
- Global Bureaucrats Invited by Obama to Inspect US Elections
- Can We Trust the Election Results? It’s Not Just About Trump…It’s About Truth
- Why It’s Logical, Christian, and Charitable to Suspect the Election Was Stolen
- What Three Contentious Presidential Elections from U.S. History Tell Us about How 2020 May End
- Christians Must Demand Justice in Election Crisis
On the basis of these news items, how now would you answer the question above, and which of the 4 choices now best explains your conclusions? Did your conclusion change?
Note how these titles portray a very different, even opposite picture of President Trump and give the case for evidence of voter fraud and election rigging. These titles were obtained via links from articles on The Stream, a Christian-based news and analysis source that has a Christian worldview as its foundation. The difference in worldview gives a very different perspective on this group of articles compared to the group of 7 articles listed above.
Now, what do you believe? Can you simply believe the news that is based on a Christian worldview? In fact, you are not able to make a judgment since you have yet to determine where the authors have obtained their information and what evidence they use to support their claims.
What is the evidence that supports statements made in a news article? Even more, is the evidence balanced, and is the article written in a balanced way? Even if the evidence is based on so-called “facts”, the selective use of this information and the way they are interpreted can be very biased or alter or conceal the truth (see the article ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ on this website).
Let us use an example from one of the articles above entitled “Many Non-Citizens Vote Illegally in US Elections”. It identifies some facts around voter fraud in the 2016 (previous) election and the Democrats’ push for recounts in several states won by Donald Trump. It cites evidence from a 2014 published journal that revealed that the number of non-citizens that voted illegally in the 2008 election (in which Barack Obama became President) ranged from over 38,000 to nearly 2.8 million, whereas the number of citizens that actually voted was estimated at 1.2 million. These numbers show how influential illegal votes can be, yet in the mainstream news outlets, there appears to be no mention of such evidence. Instead of evidence, there is quite some hype about how fair the election is and how evil Trump is to even suggest election fraud. By the way, note also how both of these election years were won by a Democrat.
To judge or not to judge
For a Christian viewing life from a Biblical worldview, the Bible is the foundation from which truth is evidenced. The truth of what God has revealed in Scripture can be used to discern truth in the media. Obviously, fraudulent voting is wrong as Scripture does not condone illegal activity. With the evidence that fraudulent activity is taking place, we can use that to make positive judgments on articles that call for justice, or negative judgments on articles that report that the election was perfectly fair, etc. So we need God’s wisdom to be discerning of truth and error. The apostle John says that we must be right in our judgment “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (Jn 7:24).
It may be that you have sufficient, reliable, and balanced information, and you know the sources of that information and the evidence that supports it. You may then be able to make a reliable and informed judgment on the matter and come to some conclusions and thoughts. Rather than making a quick and instant decision, you have put some time and thought into a well-considered judgment of the issue. This is certainly a very valid way to go when reading the media.
In fact, there are times when you are called to make a judgment where sitting on the fence is not an appropriate option. As Christians, we do have a most reliable and perfect source of knowledge and wisdom, the Bible, which we must use to make judgments when and where appropriate. In matters which affect or involve us, we may even be called to make a judgment. As the apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Cor 6:2).
However, there are also times when we are not called to judge and nor should we do so. This is especially so in matters that do not directly concern you. In the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:4).
Using the example of the US Election, do you really need to judge whether or not President Trump is correct in challenging election results across many of the states that he lost? Although we can read opposing perspectives on what these fraud allegations are, and what fraud actually does occur, yet are we sufficiently confident that we have ALL the information needed to make a judgment? If not, then any conclusive judgment made may be “unrighteous”.
Now that you have read this far, would you change your mind in answering the question we started with? Which of the 4 options is now your answer? Do you have a richer understanding of when to judge or not to judge news in the media?