A free speech demonstration staged by conservatives in San Francisco on Saturday was attacked by several hundred counterprotesters. An Associated Press photographer witnessed a Trump supporter being taken away in an ambulance.
When demonstrators threw glass bottles and plastic water bottles over police barricades at the group, the event was canceled. The event’s organizer posted photos of his bloody mouth with a front tooth missing and another hanging loosely. The San Francisco Police Department said three officers were assaulted with pepper spray and caustic chemicals; one was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
In other news, Twitter and Facebook blocked users last week from sharing a New York Post article making damaging claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said his company had been wrong to block the links, but Twitter still refuses to unlock the Post‘s account unless it deletes posts about its reporting on this issue.
Freedom of speech and trust in the media are more threatened today than any time in my lifetime. Three issues are at work here, each of which is enormously significant for all Americans.
One: Media bias
An exhaustive new survey by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found “deepening pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information.” They note that 86 percent of Americans see political bias in news coverage. According to 73 percent of us, this lack of objectivity is a “major problem” in our society.
Here is where the survey is especially illuminating: 71 percent of Republicans have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of the news media, but only 22 percent of Democrats share this view. Seventy percent of Democrats say attacks on the media are not justified, while 61 percent of Republicans say they are.
Clearly, the more conservative we are, the more we see bias in the media. This seems especially true for conservative Christians, as evidenced by media coverage of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger spotlights articles unfavorably covering her Catholic faith, her engagement with the Christian group People of Praise, and her faith-based values. He then states, “How sad if modern liberalism cannot abide the hopeful center of Amy Coney Barrett’s life.”
Two: Fake news
Sinan Aral is the head of MIT’s Social Analytics Lab and author of the new book, The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health—and How We Must Adapt. He writes: “When the news is false, it can wreak havoc on financial systems, health systems, and democratic institutions, creating real consequences from virtual falsity.”
The fake gas shortage in Texas after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 is an example. Aral blames “false news spread through social media, then picked up and reported through broadcast media.” The resulting run on gas created a real shortage. Aral warns: “The weaponization of misinformation is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Information Age.”
Fake or false reporting is unfortunately not confined to social media. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens sparked an uproar last week when he criticized his own paper for sponsoring the 1619 Project without sufficient concern for warnings regarding its numerous, critical historical flaws and falsehoods.
For example, the Project pointed to 1619, the year African slaves were first introduced to the American continent, as our country’s “true founding.” After numerous historians protested, these words disappeared from the digital display copy without explanation. Stephens cites this and numerous other issues as a “gift” to critics of the Times.
Three: Echo chambers
Broadcast, digital, and social media have made it easier than ever for us to curate our news feeds, consuming only those sources whose opinions agree with ours. As the partisan divides in our country continue to widen, these echo chambers are only reinforcing our positions and our rejection of those who disagree with us.
Sadly, more than three in four Americans have little to no friends of opposing political viewpoints. This despite the fact, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes in Morality, “I learn to be moral when I develop the capacity to put myself into your place, and that is a skill I only learn by engaging with you, face to face or side by side.”
Three biblical responses
One: Listen to those with whom you disagree. Scripture notes, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When Nathan rebuked David for his sin with Bathsheba, the king repented (2 Samuel 12:1–13).
Are you consuming media with which you disagree? Are you accountable to someone who can “sharpen” you?
Two: Measure all truth claims by biblical truth. God says of his word, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Read the media through the lens of Scripture, not the other way around.
Are you measuring “truth” by the truth?
Three: Share truth with grace. I often quote the mantra, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), because this calling has never been more urgent. Our culture needs nothing more than it needs biblical truth shared with biblical grace.
Will you ask the Lord to help you do both today?