Do your chosen media tell the truth?
April 18, 2019
I’ve been writing about some of the obstacles we face in our nation, specifically obstacles to unity. I would be remiss, then, if I didn’t spend some time focusing on our national media.
The media and their intermittent difficulty with the truth is something which Pope Francis has addressed from the very beginning of his pontificate.
In 2016 the Holy Father had these harsh words: “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offense intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true.”
“Coprophilia” is the love of excrement. Pope Francis does have a colorful way of getting his point across. He went on: “The means of communication have their own temptation. They can be tempted by slander, and therefore used to slander people, to smear them, this above all in the world of politics. They can be used as a means of defamation. No one has the right to do this. It is a sin and it is hurtful.”
Yet this is precisely what our media does, day in and day out. So, in September of last year, Pope Francis announced that the theme for the World Communications Day on May 13, 2018, will be “‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32): Fake news and journalism for peace.”
Our last election demonstrated how social media can be used to promote dangerous falsehoods. Its danger is in its anonymity. However, our national media is a different story. It has become dangerous because it pretends to be objective and truthful when, increasingly, it is only interested in scandal, slander, defamation and smear. And it is getting worse.
Regardless of our own politics, it is part of human nature to want to listen to those voices that confirm our own biases. I cannot help but think of that passage from St. Paul where, after exhorting St. Timothy to be a strong bishop, he writes, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
Today, however, that “itching ear” isn’t satisfied with self-confirming bias. Rather, the media exists to accumulate teachers that peddle doctrines they insist others must believe, too. Our national media is no longer as interested in telling the truth as it is in creating a narrative. This narrative may contain truths, but they are not the goal.
The goal of the narrative is to create and maintain a perception in our minds which will then become our reality. The object being that we make political, social and economic decisions out of the reality they control.
Pope Francis doesn’t tell us that we must avoid all media. But we ought to be selective in our media intake. Instead of focusing on the national media, one might turn to local media. City papers, papers that tell the local story, are more important now than perhaps ever before. Instead of just one news outlet, maybe try several.
Above all, as Pope Francis tells us, Catholics ought to allow the truth to set us free in and through Christ Jesus. So, if you find yourself anxious and annoyed all the time, distracted from peace and prayer, then perhaps take a break from the media for Lent so that you can focus on the only important news, the Good News.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.