Sleaze, Slant, and Assassination

The New York Times can’t stop reporting on “The News of the World” debacle.  They run two or more “news” articles a day and throw in an editorial — just in case the editorializing isn’t finished.  They devoted only one article to the work of American Bridge and stuck to “just the facts.”

Aaron Fielding quietly stalks his prey — Republicans — with his video camera, patiently waiting for a political moment worthy of YouTube.  At 27, he is a full-time “tracker” for American Bridge 21st Century, a new Democratic organization that aims to record every handshake, every utterance by Republican candidates in 2011 and 2012, looking for gotcha moments that could derail political ambitions or provide fodder for television advertisements by liberal groups next year.…If all works as planned, incriminating moments captured by American Bridge will quickly become part of the political bloodstream.

Together, the Murdoch group, American Bridge, and the Tendenz of reporting in the Times provide a window into the way we get our news.

If you thought (or hoped) that listening to the news would provide you a good faith effort at an objective window into the events of the day — or if you thought that the effort would provide you with a window into information that would equip you to shoulder your responsibility as a voter and citizen — forget it.  Wear a HAZMAT suit, prepare to pick through the garbage, and remember, whatever you are being told, has a slant to it — and not just the slant that comes from the inevitably subjective character of any judgment we humans make, but an unvarnished, conscious effort to tell you what to think.

Most reporting today (especially on any vaguely political subject) is reporting on non-events — a pep rally to get the faithful snarling and snapping at the opposition.  Small wonder, then, that sleaze, slant, and assassination are now the weapons of choice in political and public discourse.

It should to be named for the moral and spiritual failure that it is.

So what can we do?

  • Treat the reporting that we are offered with the suspicion it deserves.
  • Arm and inform yourself in more than one place — the truth is out there.
  • Insist on more than we are offered: Write to the editor.  Note the inaccuracies.
  • Be skeptical of your own views — just because someone agrees with you doesn’t meant that they are objective.
  • Shun sleaze, slant, and assassination.  It almost never has anything to do with the issues and journalists should not be rewarded for trading in it.

And don’t give up.  It is our spiritual and moral obligation to stay engaged, even when the most natural reaction is to shed the HAZMAT suit, take a shower, and grab a good stiff drink.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.