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DEPARTMENT: Featured Blip

The Daily Bias Report

A Review of Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media by Marvin Olasky and Warren Cole Smith

by Terrell Clemmons

In the early nineteenth century, much of American journalism was overtly Christian, covering everything from neighborhood disputes to foreign affairs "in a way showing the consequences of sin and the need for Christ," write Marvin Olasky and Warren Cole Smith, veteran journalists with WORLD magazine and WORLD News Group, in the updated, 25th anniversary edition of Prodigal Press. For example, Nathaniel Willis, cofounder in 1816 of the Boston Recorder, said that news reporting provided "occasion to record many signal triumphs of divine grace over the obduracy of the human heart, and over the prejudices of the unenlightened mind." As late as 1870, the New York Times editorialized concerning abortion, "The evil that is tolerated is aggressive," and concluded therefore that "the good . . . must be aggressive too." With this conviction, the newspaper accordingly reported that "thousands of human beings are murdered before they have seen the light of this world" under the headline, "The Evil of the Age."

By the turn of the twentieth century, though, as American society gave in to the seduction of anti-Christian thought à la Darwin, Kant, Rousseau, et al., non-Christian presuppositions, the dissolute effect of a generalized philosophical materialism and related humanism, began to supplant biblically grounded principles. By 1925, although an honest reporter covering the Scopes "monkey" trial described the creationists as "intelligent people, including a fair proportion of college graduates," the simplistic picture established early on by H. L. Mencken, that "on the one side was bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition. . . . On the other side was sense," went largely unchallenged.

Mainline journalism operates similarly today. It's not so much that editors ban God from the page, but that, by and large, they have redefined "reality" to exclude the spiritual, resulting in a press effectively blind to the non-material aspects of reality, including not only the existence of God but also an understanding of sin.

But just because journalists don't see or acknowledge the non-material doesn't mean that the non-material isn't real, and the consequences of this en masse omission can be a matter of life and death for the public they ostensibly serve. For example, when the AIDS crisis first surfaced in the late 1970s, the relationship between AIDS and promiscuous homosexual sex was clear and obvious. But the homosexual community suppressed this fact, and the media didn't report it. As a result, two things were—in some cases, knowingly—withheld from the public: warnings of behaviors to avoid, and opportunities to soberly reflect and, where applicable, repent. As we know, the AIDS epidemic went on to explode with deadly aggression.

To their great credit, the authors of Prodigal Press don't engage in indiscriminate media bashing. Instead, they teach us to be shrewd consumers of the media products currently available, and to discern what is not being covered and then fill in the gaps with supplemental input. Even better, they also offer ways we can help bring the prodigal home with "compassion, not condemnation." Suggestions include supporting promising Christians in journalism as one might support a foreign missionary, and joining the lean but vitally important ranks of truth-tellers in media, whether full-time as a vocation or part-time as a blogger/sideline commentator.

Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed in 1978 that the press in America was "more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary." Olasky and Smith show that, with digital publishing possible from virtually any desktop or personal device, the power of the press can, like never before, be put once again to aggressive use for the good and to bring many prodigals home. •

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