Media Bias

In 2005, when CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather delivered his final broadcast, just 21% of respondents to a Gallup poll said that they believed his reporting all or even most of the time. Rather’s ignominious exit from the anchor desk after 24 years followed CBS’s acknowledgment that the network used unverifiable documents in a report that attempted to discredit President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service.

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Even before CBS was exposed for its careless reporting, the network seemingly was scooped by one of its own. Emmy Award-winning correspondent Bernard Goldberg released his first of two books about the national media’s liberal bias in 2002 titled: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How The Media Distort The News, followed two years later by Arrogance: Rescuing America From The Media Elite.

“What media bias is mainly about are the fundamental assumptions and beliefs and values that are the stuff of everyday life,” the 28-year CBS News correspondent wrote in his second book, published in 2004. “The reason why so many Americans who are pro-life or anti-affirmative action or who support gun rights detest the mainstream media is that day after day they fail to see in the media any respect for their views. What they see is a mainstream media seeming to legitimize one side (the one media elites agree with) as valid and moral, while seeking to cast the other side as narrow, small-minded and bigoted.”

Fast forward to 2023, and Goldberg’s exposé reads like old news but rings truer than ever.

Factor in the mainstream media’s championing abortion and LGBTQ propaganda, and it’s easy to see why Christians—now more than ever—feel marginalized and misrepresented. For example, last year when Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts accused crisis pregnancy centers of “torturing” pregnant women seeking abortion information, the media parroted her baseless claims.

Americans’ eroding trust in the national news media continues unabated as coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, allegations of a presidential nominee colluding with Russia, accusations of presidential election interference and U.S. Supreme Court leaks dominate the headlines. Meanwhile, the network news media’s deafening silence about the spike in vandalism against churches and other pro-life organizations screams of journalistic negligence, if not blatant censorship.

So how can Christians discern truth from propaganda as reported by the television and radio news networks and published through print and digital platforms?  

Several years ago, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, published a two-part article, “Christian Citizens and the News Media,” in which he detailed on his website a Biblical response for navigating the culture’s around-the-clock news cycle.

Mohler, who shares his weekday cultural commentary from a Biblical worldview on his podcast, “The Briefing,” readily acknowledges that a fallen world leaves no room for absolute objectivity.

“As Christians, we recognize that bias is not merely a matter of political interest or ideological conviction; it is evidence of sin,” Mohler writes. “In a sinful world, bias creeps into every discussion, every judgment and every news report.”

Mohler also warns news media consumers to consider the editing “filters” that information passes through before it is broadcast or published. “All along the process, reporters, editors, producers, executives and others are making judgments about what stories are important, how stories should be reported, what sources should be used and what perspectives should be included,” Mohler writes.

Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas has been writing opinion pieces about government, politics and the cultural issues of the day since 1984—his Christian commitment no secret to readers. Over the years, his articles have been published regularly in hundreds of newspapers across the country. 

A former television journalist with NBC and Fox News and a prolific author, Thomas’ latest book, A Watchman in the Night—What I’ve Seen Over 50 Years Reporting on America, chronicles the headlines of American history from Ronald Reagan’s second presidential term through Joe Biden’s election as the 46th president and the war in Ukraine.

“I never thought I would see some of the things that God refers to as an abomination paraded in our nation as normal, and the things in which I believe and the Scriptures teach, are now considered bigoted and racist and judgmental,” Thomas told Decision. “Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.”

For 10 1/2 years, Thomas co-wrote a column in USA Today with the late liberal Democratic strategist Bob Beckel titled Common Ground. The column, which ended in 2015, showcased the virtues of civil discourse and how to debate respectfully and fairly with competing ideas and opinions.

“Fairness has gone out the window as well,” Thomas says. “Now the greatest power the media has is the power to ignore stories they don’t want to report on, [which is] as influential in shaping public opinion as those they do report on.”

Brit Hume, who was ABC News’ chief White House correspondent for nearly a decade before joining Fox News in 1996, told Decision that network news reporting has largely become “viewpoint journalism” or advocacy journalism aimed at appeasing niche audiences and loyal advertisers.

“Well, ‘both sideism’ used to be the way we functioned,” Hume says. “It used to be the way we kept ourselves from letting our biases dominate our coverage. If you had to report and explain both sides, that tended to get around to the fairness that might otherwise be absent.”

Hume says “viewpoint journalism” failed Americans when it came to reporting about COVID-19.  

“The so-called misinformation quote turned out time and again to be correct, and the accepted version turned out to be wrong,” he contends. “It was wrong about the spread of the disease. It was wrong about masks. It was wrong about the lockdowns.”

Another glaring example of journalistic malfeasance, Hume asserts, is the congressionally investigated and unequivocally discredited reporting that Donald Trump conspired with Russia to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“The Trump-Russia collusion fiasco is the greatest journalistic fiasco of my lifetime,” Hume says. “Even The New York Times said their news product had been built on this story, but it didn’t pan out. It didn’t pan out because it was driven by bias. They thought it was true because in their view of Donald Trump, it must be true.”

Mohler and Thomas agree that the national news media is inherently biased by what they describe as an echo chamber of media elites.

“These elites, moreover, are interconnected,” Mohler writes. “They tend to attend the same prestigious universities and prep schools; they share club memberships and the most important social circles, and more importantly, they generally share the same worldview.”

But Thomas doesn’t believe the media elites are a lost cause. His friendship with Beckel eventually afforded him the opportunity to lead the liberal political strategist and columnist to profess faith in Christ.

And for 30 years, he built relational bridges between liberal and conservatives in the media by hosting an annual dinner for his colleagues in Washington, D.C., on the evening before the National Prayer Breakfast. At his event, Thomas invited Christians in the media to share their testimonies.

“Our problem in America now is that we’re all parts of tribes,” Thomas says. “We’re not the United States of America anymore. We’re the divided states of America. We are known by labels: black, white, Hispanic, religious, secular, gay, straight, whatever.”

Paul Glader, who spent a decade as a staff writer with The Wall Street Journal and now leads the journalism program at The King’s College in New York City, says that, like Thomas, he also recognizes God’s call on his life as a journalist.

“I realized that this work in some sense parallels the message and life of Jesus and His disciples—operating with humility in an environment of powerful institutions—and yet, with moral force and factual clarity, exposing injustice for the powerless and caring about our neighbors,” Glader told Decision. “Again, to me, there was no higher calling. So, I urge any religious community and people to view news media and journalism as a noble space, a worthy calling and an important lifeblood for people.” 

Glader—who reported on his website Religion in 2019 of whistleblower testimony within the Church of Latter Day Saints—exposed a secretive $100 billion hedge fund largely disguised within the Mormon Church’s financial records. After Glader broke the news of the Mormon Church’s financial deception, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and CBS’s 60 Minutes began reporting the story.

 Glader is also pioneering technology to help newsrooms facilitate feedback from readers more responsively and correct mistakes and clarify context in reporting when necessary.

“My team and I have focused on helping students learn essential skills and also core values such as impartiality, credibility, rigorous context, correcting mistakes and labeling opinion,” Glader says. “Those kinds of values and practices should not be controversial, but, remarkably, they are for some folks in journalism today.” 

Despite national journalists’ credibility crisis, Mohler says Christians are derelict of duty if they refuse to responsibly and thoughtfully engage the news media beyond soundbites and click bait.

“Christian citizens should develop the discipline of wide reading and selective viewing, checking reports against each other for accuracy and bias,” he writes. “Do not trust just one network, one cable news program, one newspaper or one commentator.” 

Thomas agrees. “There are an awful lot of people who can espouse lots of information, but there are far fewer who can communicate wisdom,” he says. “So, I think you begin with Scripture. You begin with that standard. And then you can examine what comes down the pike as news and use the Biblical standard as a way of discerning what is true and what isn’t.”

Chris Freund, director of media relations with First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization that advocates for religious liberty, concurs.

“Unfortunately, after years of misinformation and distortion, trust in national media is approaching historic lows,” he says. “But a fair and objective media is essential to our republic. Americans have to be more diligent than ever before to seek out news sources that provide factual information and unbiased analysis rather than echo-chamber hyperbole.” ©2023 BGEA