Trust Me—It’s Getting Dangerous

Photo Via @ReutersPolitics

You may choose to question the veracity of this column because I am “disgusting” and “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” At least that’s how President Donald Trump refers to me and my fellow journalists.

People are often surprised when I tell them that I have been both a newspaper reporter and a pastor. Most seem to think the two professions are incompatible. But I always explain that both share similarities at their core—both are about telling truth, lifting up the dignity of people in telling their stories, and overcoming darkness with light.

When I was in grade school I knew I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I learned to read, in part, by keeping up with the local sports coverage in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Globe-Democrat. As I grew older and attended journalism school at the University of Missouri, I viewed being a reporter and editor as a way of making society better—by holding government accountable for its actions and sharing what is good in people. I would not have used the word at the time, but journalism has always been a calling.

That’s why it was so hard to make the transition when I first began to sense a call to pastoral ministry. It was almost as if I were betraying a first love. Now as a reporter and editor for the Covenant Church, I get to combine my experience in the pastorate as well as in newspapers, and for that I am deeply grateful.

As a Christian and a journalist, I found it chilling to read President Trump’s tweets last Friday in which he described the mainstream media as the “enemy of the American People.”

 

He already had declared the media “the opposition party” and called coverage he disagrees with “FAKE news.” While standing in front of a wall honoring dead CIA agents at CIA headquarters, he declared, “I have a running war with the media.” At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last year, he told the crowd, “I hate some of these people, I hate ’em.”

His words Friday worsen an already dangerous atmosphere. As Senator John McCain said, delegitimizing the press is what autocrats do.

Reporters covering Trump have been reduced to reporting from holding pens at the back of the room. During the campaign, some were subjected to more than 10,000 people yelling, “CNN sucks,” egged on by then-candidate Trump.

In Minneapolis, a man wore a t-shirt with words that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” Apparently it was meant to be funny. The shirt sold well online until it was pulled after the photo went viral.

At the University of Missouri School of Journalism a plaque is displayed with the Journalist’s Creed, written by the institution’s first dean, Walter Williams, in 1914. It concludes with these words:

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best—and best deserves success—fears God and honors [humans]; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every [person] a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

It is a call to which nearly every journalist I have ever known aspires. Most journalists would tell you that their work is indeed a calling. It’s true that many of us often fall short of the ideal—just as it’s true that every Christian falls short of living up to ideal that Jesus sets for us.

When journalists do fail, we should be held accountable. But the journalists I went to school with—some of whom are part of the mainstream press that the president maligns—take seriously their call and responsibility. Every president from the founding of our country has had issues with the press. Indeed, on occasion the Obama administration froze out Fox News just as the Trump administration is doing with CNN. But even then, as Fox anchors Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace have said, Obama never denounced the media as “the enemy.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a Wheaton College graduate who is the religion writer for the Washington Post and a former online editor for Christianity Today, wrote last December that, “The act of doing journalism is a way to live out my faith, a way to search for and then reveal truth in the world around me.” In that article, she admonished fellow evangelicals to stop viewing the mainstream press as evil and purveyors of fake news.

The framers of the Constitution recognized that without the press, democracy could not exist. The role of the press always has been somewhat adversarial—how else can journalists report accurately in the face of gatekeepers who are determined to either hide information or manipulate its dissemination? Pursuing truth can get messy. But that does not make the press the enemy.

What Christians should support is the pursuit of truth, especially in this “post-truth” age of “alternative facts.” We are, after all, people for whom truth matters. We are people who believe that the truth will set you free.  But when Christians are OK with calling me and my fellow journalists “the enemy of the American people,” not only is our democracy threatened, but even worse, so is our witness.

The Journalists Creed

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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25 Comments

  1. One of the clearest and finest statements I’ve read on this matter. Thank you. I am sending it around for others to read.

  2. Thank you for your analysis. I realize more and more how polarized our society is–particularly the Christians. We surely live in dangerous times. Blessings on you and others who strive to shed light in darkness

  3. Thank you for your insights Stan. At first I didn’t understand the “Rope. Tree. Journalist.” T-shirt. That is absolutely appalling. Trump and anyone who expresses hate-filled rhetoric and incites a crowd to verbally or physically violate others needs to be called out.

    Light overcomes darkness. Keep seeking the truth and reporting your findings. It is so important that the public and the church hear truth from committed journalists whether they are Christian or not. I appreciate your great reporting on our world, and thank you for your honesty.

  4. Stan

    Thanks – I have very significant respect for you as a journalist and as a brother in Christ. Part of the struggle I believe we are in is partially summarized in the statement that you posted: “I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.” My sense is that we are in a day when the truth of my heart may actually be different than actual verifiable “Truth.”

    I am not positive, but my sense is that some journalists have truths in their heart, that are really preferences of their heart. And they write according to these preferences and do so as though they are actual truths.

    Just my two cents “from my heart.” Have a great day. I appreciated the article.

    1. Thank you, Paul, for your kind words. The people I’ve known have published what they hold in their heart after pursuing verifiable truth. I also believe that most in the media do the same. I’m not denying they get it wrong, should have been researched differently, or that some stories are covered – or not covered – due in part on what is called “bias.” I also think that “bias” often is too strong a word because people use it as if there is intent. It may not be a perfect analogy but think about biblical studies and the commentaries you read. On most passages, there will be commentators who, after doing serious study, will have differences of opinion on what they think that passage means. I would suggest that part of the reason for that is because they come to the text with a certain “bias.” When we determine which is the most accurate, we do so in part by our “bias.” That doesn’t make us sinister or not interested in pursuing truth. Would you call someone who disagrees with you on biblical issues -Fake pastors or fake scholars or enemies of the church? Would you publicly and repeatedly encourage people in your congregation to hate the people who disagree with you? I know you wouldn’t. I also believe you would see the multiple dangers to the church by someone who behaved that way – Church history has shown what can happen. That wouldn’t mean that you are biased.

  5. Your article was wonderful to read, Stan. You raise up the concerns of many of us who feel apprehension at what we’ve observed coming from the White House this past month.

    I don’t understand the above comment about the “left-leaning” of the ECC. The convictions and priorities of our denomination are the same as they were at our founding in 1885! I for one am thankful that our ECC leadership is exercising our right as citizens to speak out against what we perceive to be injustices in light of our commitment to Christ, which always comes first.

    1. I seriously disagree with you about the same as 1885, IMHO it seems to be that there is far less preaching of the gospel and much more pushing of an agenda that I believe is counter to scriptures. I can’t recall any critiques of President Obama in eight years but in the last few weeks there have been numerous attacks on President Trump. I don’t believe people come to church seeking political answers, they come because of a void that only Christ can fill. Maybe that is where we should be focused!

  6. Stan
    You have may gratitude for calling out truth to power. We have a responsibility to call our authority, however respectful, to the truth of the gospel. The truth does not have political parties. Jesus is the truth, just in case we had forgotten it.

  7. Stan,

    It would never occur to me to question your professionalism. But when it comes to HuffPo, WaPo or the Grey Lady (to name a few of the “usual suspects”) in the mainstream media (MSM) I have very grave doubts about their objectivity.

    A few weeks ago I woke up and was listening to NPR. Someone was being interviewed on NPR and pow, pow, pow, this question, that question. Good questions, actually. But my first thought, even as I was awakening was “Wow. Someone turned the switch back on at NPR. It’s been turned off for the past 8 years.” This is a separate issue from the qualifications of the current President.

    I am not writing to defend Mr. Trump’s words, but the MSM is not the friend of Christians either. There is a profound anti-Christian bigotry in many parts of the Left, and it seems the MSM is very much in alignment with that, and draws many of its reporters from that culture.

    I fully support the First Amendment, but it’s hard to get excited over defending corporations who are part of a culture who would enjoy seeing me in jail if I refused to acquiesce to the Orwellian notion of calling men women and permitting them in the showers with females. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it is how I feel at the moment.

  8. Thank you, Stan. It is getting dangerous out there, for the press and many other people. Thanks for your excellent work.

  9. The truth hurts. The reality is that the dishonesty of the mainline media is a proven fact. It seems to me the ECC seems to focused on critiquing this administration rather than proclaiming the gospel. Why was the ECC so silent for 8 years while the former administration attacked Christians almost on a daily basis?

    This is exactly why we left the ECC as they pursue a course that leads to a message of the “paralyzed gospel,” in which the life-changing power of the cross is buried under this left-leaning agenda! Whether you agree with him or not, he is the president, and you disrespect the office of the presidency when your contempt and disdain for him is revealed by referring to him as the “Donald.” How is that for objective reporting?

    Ironically my Facebook post response to Peter Ekstrand’s was liked immediately by a man who has been attending a Covenant Church, but who hasn’t joined and now questions joining because of the left-leaning leadership of the ECC.

    The ECC is not the same organization that I loved when Milt Englebretson was president, who I had the privilege to know and attend church with so many years ago!

    1. Mr Larson. Thank you for reading our posts and responding. The opinions expressed in this column are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any people in ECC leadership.

    2. I totally agree with Mr. Larson. Where were you the last eight years? Anyone that doesn’t see the evil left-leaning mainstream media and how most (and I say most) are determined to destroy everything moral and right. The hatred and bitterness is evident every time I turn on those news stations.

    3. Just a small point about ‘critiquing this administration rather than proclaiming the gospel:’ While on the campaign trail, candidate Trump said, “I am going to get greedy for America. We’re going to take and take and take…” In Luke 12:15, Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Fool as a warning against “all kinds of greed”, adding that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possession.”

      Now the man who would chase Ruth back to Moab, deny his own need for forgiveness and refer to the crucified body of Christ as a ‘little cracker’ wants to tell us who are enemies and aren’t. And backing him up are eight out of ten white evangelicals who are whistling the modern version of “Peace, Peace, when there is no peace.”

      The office of the presidency derives its character from whoever occupies it at the moment. When men and women like Stan point out the cracks in the office and are attacked for their trouble, we have to come to the conclusion that we have given our loyalty not to God but to someone who smirks at God.

    4. I don’t see any evidence that the dishonesty of the mainstream media is a proven fact. Opinion is not necessarily fact.

  10. Thank you for this thought-provoking article. I appreciate your service to our church through journalism.

  11. Stan. Thank you for your wise words in defense of a noble profession that is essential to the wellbeing of our democracy. Blessings, Dick Nystrom

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