"I say that not to bash the mainstream media. But we are in the midst of a sort of pathological media culture. Mass media is dominant in our culture today and has a profound impact on the way we think. The media has the power to manipulate and confuse us," says Smith, whose organization's mission is to present uniquely Christian worldview reporting.
Smith appeared at the Heritage Foundation yesterday to discuss the new edition of Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media, a book he co-authored with original writer Marvin Olasky.
Initially, many American newspapers were founded under a Christian mission, Smith notes. Ironically, one of those papers was the New York Times. In the 1870's, the paper vigorously crusaded against abortion. However, today it is widely claimed by conservatives and evangelicals to be the epitome of secular, liberal reporting. But in the 19th Century, the Times was not alone. More than 100 cities had Christian-centered newspapers. In New York City, there were 50 magazines and newspapers heralding their Christian leanings.
So what changed?
"It wasn't a switch that went on and off," Smith said. "But there were changes to our culture." He cited four in particular: They were:
- the increased influence of Transcendental thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau
- The journalism produced during the Progressive Era of President Teddy Roosevelt
- The reporting of the Scopes Monkey Trial, where famed journalist H.L. Menken made it clear that a world-view of backward creationism vs. forward-thinking evolution was what really was on trial and
- the trial of Whitaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, with Communism and its worldly view placed under scrutiny
Those major events, coupled with other cultural changes, lead to today's modern media which is "creating a metavision that is biased against Christian ideas," Smith contended.
Part of the problem results from over-reporting activities by fringe Christian groups like the Florida minister who burned the Koran or the antics of the reviled Westboro Baptist Church, Smith says. "They get picked up because they are loud and they are shrill, but they are not representative of Christian thought. [Such stories] create a flawed and skewered vision," he explained. "Some groups make it easy to cover them. Signs like God Hates Fags becomes a compelling visual that they (the media) can't resist."
Another reporting issue is the fact that when it comes to Christian leanings, journalists do not reflect the worship practices of American society. Studies show that while about 40 percent of the American public say they attend church regularly, that number drops to under 10 percent when reporters are asked the same question. "I'm not saying that is good or that is bad," Smith said. "I would simply argue that it is way different."
"Journalists cover issues everyday that have moral or ethical or religious implications. But many reporters lack the theological training and tools to get to the differences. It's not always animosity, although there is animosity; it's what they want to believe and they tend to ignore reasonable evangelical voices," Smith noted.
Finally, there are the demands of the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week current news cycle. "It becomes a real tyrant," Smith said. "It's not there is not enough news, but there is not enough reporting capability so they (the media) fill it with punditry. We can't go back to a pre-24/7 news cycle, but as consumers we don't have to reward punditry (with our viewing and reading)."
Many have blamed technology for their increased dislike for the way the media portrays what it reports. But Smith is not in that group. "We (at World Group) embrace new technologies because they present real benefits, but there are costs. We use all the technologies that God, in his good providence, makes available to us, but we must be aware of the costs.".
If you would like to view Smith's complete talk, click here. Even if you disagree with his view, you will find the program engaging and thought-provoking.