Templates and Truth

Did you hear about the big pro-Ashcroft rally in Washington? At least a thousand people, including hundreds of black and Hispanic women, came to cheer John Ashcroft during his confirmation hearings last week. They represented more than sixty different groups, from homeschoolers to law enforcement officers. For three straight days, they waved brooms in the air and hoisted signs that read "Clean Up the Justice Department! Join the Ashcroft Cleaning Crew!" One of my colleagues who attended the rally remarked, "The press couldn't believe it. You could tell they were thinking, 'Who are all these people?'" Apparently, they never figured it out -- or maybe they just didn't want to. Coverage of the three-day rally was almost nonexistent. But it's just another example of how deeply the worldview of today's journalists influences the work they do. It happens all the time. For instance, last summer, government researchers in Finland announced that a woman's risk of dying within one year after an abortion was four times higher than the risk of dying following childbirth or miscarriage. The study flies in the face of claims made by abortion advocates, who insist that abortion is much safer than childbirth. But unless you subscribe to a pro-life newspaper, or scan conservative websites, you probably did not even hear about this study. I'm reminded of what happened when Mother Teresa spoke at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast. She gave an impassioned defense of the sanctity of human life. The crowd interrupted several times with prolonged applause while then-President and Mrs. Clinton sat in embarrassed silence. But most Americans never heard about that -- the press spiked it. A couple of columnists recently explained why this happens. Michael Kelly, in the Washington Post, said, "Most journalists learn to see the world through a set of standard templates into which they plug each day's events." In other words, adds John Leo of U.S. News & World Report, "There is a conventional story line in the newsroom culture that provides a backbone and a ready-made narrative structure for otherwise confusing news." There's a "disconnect between journalists and their readers" which explains, Leo says, why the "'standard templates' of the newsroom seem alien to many readers." "Alien" is the right word. Peter Brown, an editor at the Orlando Sentinel, conducted a poll comparing the views of journalists with average Americans. The poll revealed that journalists are less likely to attend church and perform volunteer work, and far more likely than other Americans to approve of abortion. These differences are crucial, because journalistic values "determine which stories are selected and omitted, which facts will be highlighted, and how important the stories will feel to readers," Leo says. You and I have to be aware of these journalistic templates as we read the news. The fact that they exist is one good reason Christian media is so important, and it's also why we ought to encourage young believers to consider pursuing careers in journalism. The "template" that Christian journalists use is a biblical one -- a worldview that respects truth and recognizes that the fear of God really is the beginning of wisdom.


Chuck Colson



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