Truth-Telling and the News Media

from Feb 13, 2015 Category: Articles

NBC announced Tuesday that it suspended its lead news anchor Brian Williams for six months without pay. Network brass concluded that Williams embellished his experiences covering stories over the years; most notably that he was in a U.S. Army helicopter that was hit by enemy fire during the Iraq War in 2003.

I’ve taken more than a passing interest in the story since I share a couple of things in common with Mr. Williams. First, before coming to Ligonier Ministries, I spent nineteen years in a position similar to his, as the lead news anchor for the Christian Broadcasting Network. Second, during an earlier stint as a news anchor for a local station in Jacksonville, Florida, I was suspended without pay. Station management didn’t take kindly to me telling a group of politically active Christians that I believed the news media had a bias against them. So, I can relate to Brian when he admits, “I am presently too much a part of the news.” Some observations regarding the current controversy:

Telling the whole truth

As much as I applaud NBC News for its desire to get to the bottom of this controversy and protect its reputation, I would argue the news media’s problem goes far beyond a news anchor’s embellishment of his wartime experiences. If we’re going to hold one man accountable, let’s also hold every news organization in this country accountable for their failure to tell us the truth about a number of stories, particularly abortion.

It’s my opinion that the bias of many network news organizations exists, not just in the stories they cover, but ones they refuse to cover. It is shameful that none of the networks have told us the truth about the physical and emotional pain caused by the slaughter of millions of unborn babies in this country.

Information vs. Wisdom

Let me encourage you to try an experiment. Watch any newscast on any network tonight and take an inventory of the stories covered. Then ask yourself this question: “How many of these stories have a real bearing on my life?” I suspect your answer will be, “Very few.”

It should be a reminder that there’s an important difference between information and wisdom. The Proverbs tell us, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold” (Proverbs 3:13-14).

Former history professor, Dr. C. John Sommerville, has written a compelling book on the subject of news called, How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society.

Sommerville concludes we would be far better served turning off the news, putting down our newspapers, and reading a good piece of literature. I agree, but add we should begin with God’s Word, the source of all wisdom. That’s why I am grateful for the new calling God has given me to assist Dr. R.C. Sproul and others in proclaiming truth each day on Renewing Your Mind.

One more thing in common with Brian Williams

Finally, I mentioned that I had a couple of things in common with Brian Williams. Actually, there’s one more. I am an embellisher too! If I were to take stock of the truth I’ve “stretched,” the facts I’ve “misremembered,” indeed, the outright lies I’ve told in my lifetime, I can only conclude that, like Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips.

Controversies like the one surrounding Williams remind me never to sneer or laugh at the sins of others, but to take stock of my own wickedness, and to rejoice that the One in whom no deceit was found (1 Pet. 2:22) was willing to take my punishment and share with me His reward. That is news worth reporting. Good news.

I was just thinking and praying how wonderful it would be for the Holy Spirit to give Brian Williams the desire to proclaim that news. Then we could have even more in common.

Lee Webb is vice president of broadcasting and host of Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul.