When my granddaughter was old enough for me to teach her important lessons, I would tell her… “Make sure you chew your food before you swallow.” The Scriptures exhort us that “As the mouth tastes food the ear tastes words.” One of the Hebrew words for understanding carries with it the notion of ‘separating mentally…’
When considering media coverage of an event, I often exhorted my congregation to take the time to ask a few questions.
- Who is reporting it? Is the Network a known ally of the administration?
- Have they displayed a bias before?
- Who stands to benefit from what has been shared …and how it was shared?
It is almost like the old litmus paper test in school. Stick the litmus paper into the solution and see if it is an acid or a base.
For over twenty years, I pastored a church 50 miles from Roseburg, Oregon… a relatively quiet place which has earned a place in infamy as the place where a mass shooting took place this week.
I could have written out the script of how the media would cover it. They did it by the numbers. This may sound obvious, but allow me to remind you that the news is produced.
They used to scroll through the credits after the news…the director…the producer…the technicians etc. down to the fashion designers whose attire the anchor was swearing. What happened on television after the Roseburg shooting was predictable…and despicable.
I was involved with conducting Critical Incident Stress Debriefings for teachers and staff at Thurston High School after the shooting there in May of 1998.
My daughter’s then boyfriend and his sister were students (as well as many pastor colleagues’ kids) and we didn’t know until that evening if they were among the dead or wounded students. In an unbelievably sad incident I just a week ago attended the memorial service for a young man who was at Thurston that day. He survived the killing spree of Kip Kinkle and died in a small plane crash a few weeks ago.
As it happened in Roseburg, the press descended on Thurston. One cameraman from the Eugene Register Guard earned a Pulitzer Prize for his on-scene video footage as the nightmare unfolded. It was back page news when that same man committed suicide on the anniversary of that tragedy. His colleagues said He never got over what he saw and reported that day.
The Media coverage of the Umpqua College shooting was almost cookie-cutter to the coverage of the Thurston High School shooting. Sadly, it was equally predictable that the President seized the opportunity to use this crisis. Remember…”Never let a crisis go to waste…” (Ram Emmanuel former Obama Chief of Staff and presently Mayor of the murder capital of the United States)
Megan Kelly grilled an eyewitness on her show. “Did the woman fall forward? Did she collapse? Was there blood?” The body count was ‘certified by sources’ at least three times that I counted and all three were wrong. The original count reported was 15 dead and over 20 wounded.
For the audience, a cognitive disconnect that takes place when the media is careless. Less than 24 hours after the incident, Fox News’ coverage of the Roseburg Shooting was followed by the ‘coverage of the naked painted ladies at Times Square!’ The day following the shooting, President Obama mixes his ‘serious’ remarks about the Roseburg shooting with banter about his basketball games.
To prepare yourself for the coming election (and the inevitable deluge of advertising) may I offer you the same advice I offered to my 5 year old granddaughter? “Chew on it a while before you swallow it.”
May I augment it with the advice I gave my congregation? Ask yourself,
Who is the reporter?
Has he/she demonstrated a bias before?
Who stands to benefit from what was shared and how it was shared?
In my book Fatal Drift—Has the Church Lost its Anchor? I have a chapter titled Two Clicks Away….The Lost Art of Vetting. I wrote
“The notion of vetting carries with it the idea of scrutinizing and investigating.
‘To vet’ was originally a horse-racing term, referring to the requirement that a horse be checked for health and soundness by a veterinarian before being allowed to race. Thus, it has taken the general meaning to check.’”
Fatal Drift—Is the Church Losing its Anchor? Deep River Books, Sisters Oregon
The phrase Two Clicks Away is a reference to the number of mouse clicks I needed before I got valuable information on an author… a reporter… or yes even a President. With the gravity of the coming election in view, is it too much to ask that each of us take responsibility to do some work to ‘vet’ the people who are vying for our attention? Rats are incapable of vomiting. Did you know that? Once they swallow the poison their fate is sealed. Something to think about…