Where is Jesus buried? And other media missteps

by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Monday, September 29, 2014, at 5:39 pm

The New York Times is known as a solemn production that does not print comics, so we have to rely on its missteps to create some groaning-out-loud moments. One from earlier this month described “the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried.”

The Times later changed its online version to “was,” and we can mark its error as that of an ignorant reporter rather than a biased one. But many studies from the Media Research Center and others have spotlighted media bias, and few journalists do what Charlo Greene of Anchorage, Alaska’s KTVA-TV recently did on-air.

While reporting positively about a pro-marijuana group’s legalization initiative, she suddenly blurted out that she’s the president and CEO of the group, the Alaska Cannabis Club. Then she attracted national attention by saying, “As for this job, well, not that I have a choice but, [expletive] it, I quit.”

When the Alaska Dispatch News asked Greene why she resigned so dramatically, she replied, “Because I wanted to draw attention to this issue.” She did, and I wish more reporters who say they’re unbiased as they spew propaganda would also resign. But I do wonder about her “not that I have a choice” statement.

Yes, many news outlets will not let journalists report on organizations they themselves head, and some will forbid employees from heading controversial groups, but all journalists have beliefs of some kinds, and many news organizations allow and even encourage their employees to espouse them as long as 1) the news heads agree with those beliefs, and 2) the journalists do so with a tad of subtlety. (See a book of mine, Prodigal Press, originally published 26 years ago and recently updated by my WORLD colleague Warren Cole Smith.)

Some journalists still advocate “neutrality,” but domestically as well an internationally that position is becoming rare. Ruslan Kukharchuk, president of the Novomedia Association, an organization of largely Christian journalists in Ukraine, is one of many who have given up on the notion that journalists are “neutral.” He says such a concept is “rooted in the past … no longer exalted to the rank of the absolute.” He points out that “journalistic neutrality … started to gradually disappear a long time ago, in overall tacit agreement.”

Kukharchuk notes that the press in the former Soviet Union belies any notions that it is even-handed: “The media is always ready to transmit and replicate the work of psychics, but at the same time to scoff at the Christian practice of praying for the sick.” And he doubts that neutrality is good even in theory: “[T]he neutrality of media workers in the moral and ethical issues—is rather a strange and illogical phenomenon, although it is increasingly imposed. How can you be neutral when it comes to eternal values?”

I don’t know whether Charlo Greene had a choice, but other journalists usually do. They can pretend to even-handedness and be subtle in their bias, playing journalistic ventriloquism by interviewing sources who say exactly what the reporters want them to say. Or they can be honest.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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