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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Faithful reporting

We admit bias, but not, we hope, until we've thought things through

IF YOU WERE A SUBSCRIBER TO CONSUMER REPORTS, but found that venerable magazine (and website) to be nothing more than a perpetual cheerleader for particular brands of cars, digital cameras, or garden tractors, you'd probably cancel your subscription. And you should.

After all, your very reason for subscribing to such a magazine is that you want it to tell you both the good and the bad about consumer products. Their branding slogan -- "independent and expert" -- offers you a smidgen of confidence that you're listening to a lab report, not a commercial.

In all candor, we receive cancellations from subscribers to WORLD for similar reasons. "I don't need a house organ of the Republican Party," a reader from Missouri wrote me last week, asking for a refund for her subscription. I suppose we get two or three dozen such notes every year with that specific complaint, statistically suggesting that at least two or three hundred of our readers agree with the woman in Missouri that WORLD is too partisan. And I'm sure a number of those folks quietly ignore their subscription renewal notices at the end of the year.

Much noisier than that group in recent weeks, however, has been that cadre of Republican loyalists among our subscribers who think I'm a first cousin to Benedict Arnold when I dare to question something the Bush administration does. Two February columns in this space ("Doubts about 'W'" and "Passion deficit") generated a response containing fewer doubts and more passion than I had thought existed in the whole Republican Party.

"You're going to plant doubts where none existed," said one critic. "At this crucial time in our nation's history, how can you possibly give anyone even the slightest justification for voting against George Bush?"

But such a response gives way too much credit to WORLD and way too little credit to our readers. It suggests that WORLD has the power to shape readers' thinking almost at will. And it suggests that WORLD's readers are sitting out there passively waiting to have their minds molded by someone who knows everything better than they do. Both suggestions are far from the mark.

The power we do have at WORLD -- and it is a pretty finite capability -- is twofold. First, we try to assemble week-by-week a representative sample of snapshots of what is really going on in the world on several dozen different fronts. Second, in the way we assemble that package of snapshots and in the way we present it, we try to help our readers view that information from the perspective of God's Word.

Many journalists, from a great variety of perspectives, try the first assignment. A much smaller number of commentators and analysts try the second. But only a few folks have tried to do both at the same time -- reporting the news and trying to make sense of it from a biblical perspective -- in the same weekly package. It's a daunting assignment.

Are we giving an accurate picture of George W. Bush? A faithful portrait of John Kerry? Or is WORLD given to weekly Bush-pushing and Kerry-bashing? Or is it Bush-bashing and Kerry-dismissing? We've been accused of all this and more.

When you judge our performance, keep our goals in mind. Our goal is neither to be perfectly evenhanded toward the candidates (which would be impossible in any sense), nor gushingly to portray one candidate or another as anointed by God for the task. We want instead to record accurately for you: This is what we saw and heard these men do and say last week, and here's what it means from a biblical perspective.

We make no bones about it. As we've done that for the last 18 years, Republican goals and performance more often seem consistent with biblical principles than do Democratic goals and performance. On big moral issues of the day, like defending the unborn and traditional marriage, you don't have to take our word for it. Just read the party platforms and look at the record.

On economic issues, referencing the spending of money we don't have, we've been pretty tough on Mr. Bush and his party. The fact remains though that Mr. Kerry, by his own promises, wants to spend even bigger sums that we don't have. With reference to the nation's judiciary, the record is clear about who would appoint judges committed to the rule of law. On defense, which we believe to be the ultimate task of a federal government, we believe Mr. Bush's ideas and his record are more consistent, more honest, and ultimately safer for the United States and the whole world than are Mr. Kerry's.

In other words, we don't think it's a close call in this year's monumentally important election. But in arriving at that conclusion, it's hardly helpful to be blindly loyal. We hope our opinion, like that of Consumer Reports, means even more when we can demonstrate that we've really thought things through. And it might mean most when we offer blunt criticism even of the candidates we favor.