For the most part, the death of Osama bin Laden has been a shining moment for the mainstream press in the United States.
Some media critics have said journalists working for American outlets haven’t hunkered down on a story like this since the days after Sept. 11. I, for one, agree. The coverage of bin Laden’s death has probed far deeper and asked tougher questions than any other event I can remember in the last 10 years.
But much of the mainstream media has been lacking in one question that Christian media have taken head-on: How should we (both Christians and the American public at large) react to bin Laden’s death? Approaching two weeks after bin Laden’s death, a couple mainstream media reports have surfaced posing this question, but journalists with a Christian worldview have mostly been the ones to raise it.
The issue itself is far from black and white, and my point here isn’t to wade into the nuanced waters thereof. Rather, I think the fact that so little reporting on the question has come from the mainstream media outlets — both print and broadcast — is telling.
As a journalist myself I can tell you it is impossible to eliminate all bias regarding a story. As a person, the journalist has opinions, and the idea of maintaining 100 percent objectivity is a farce; the trick to good journalism is to admit that to yourself (some models, like WORLD Magazine’s, is for journalists to admit that to their audience) and work through it. But one key way that bias comes out is in the questions a journalist asks.
Regarding bin Laden’s death, plenty have been asked about the mission itself. Was it a kill mission? Was it a capture mission? Did the Pakistanis know bin Laden was there? How could they not have? Who helped him? Was he armed? Was he taking a human shield when he was shot?
But few have been asked about what the American public’s reaction should be. As I sat with my family that Sunday night and listened to President Obama’s remarks, then heard the crowds’ patriotic fervor pick up, I felt tension. I wanted to sing alongside the throng standing outside the White House. I wanted to raise my fist in jubilation that a man responsible for so much bloodshed would never again menace anyone. But somehow I couldn’t rejoice in what happened.
In any case, I had deep questions: How should I feel about this? What should my reaction be? According to Scripture, what is appropriate here? That question springs from my worldview. That question, I hope, is a result of the Holy Spirit cautioning me to slow down and consider Scripture rather than lose myself in the heat of a moment.
I would hope that if I were one of the journalists working for a mainstream outlet, I would have the same questions. And I would hope I could talk my editors into letting me investigate that question while sniffing out the details of bin Laden’s death.
As a journalist, my blood gets up when I hear people (Christians and non-Christians alike) accuse the media of tainting facts or altogether fabricating them to purport their own views. Rarely does that happen, and any smart journalist who wanted to do so knows better than to try. Very few go the Dan Rather route.
The most telling tidbits about the media, their biases and their worldview in many cases aren’t the facts they report; it’s the questions they ask.