An article from The Guardian today, April 11, 2022, entitled: "What happens when a group of Fox News viewers watch CNN for a month?" caught my attention. I am much more comfortable watching FOX than CNN; but recently I have been riveted on the CNN coverage of the war in Ukraine. I have really appreciated their more thorough coverage. FOX covered it pretty closely for a couple of weeks, but then their emphasis was on the political response to the war, while CNN kept their anchors shuffling in and out from LVIV, Ukraine with 24/7 coverage. I was hungry to hear all that was happening; and I found myself spell bound by the many members of the Ukrainian Parliament, and just every day survivors telling their stories. CNN has always had a much stronger international presence. So, I actually have been watching CNN more closely for 6 weeks. To be fair, I have always switched back and forth enough to hear the talking points of both, and my aim has always been to distinguish the truth from the talking points. I find that is much easier said than done. So, this article really grabbed my attention.
In this study, "David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, political scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and Yale University, respectively, paid 304 regular Fox News views $15 an hour to instead watch up to seven hours of CNN a week during the month of September 2020. The switchers were given regular news quizzes to make sure they were indeed watching CNN, whle a control group of Fox News viewers continued with their regular media diet." At the end of September they found that CNN and FOX News watchers believed differently due to the diet of political soundbites. Broockman and Kalla did not expect that anyone's opinion would actually be changed by this study; but they were pleasantly surprised that some opinions did shift with by changing their media for a month. Without getting into the weeds of the study in this blog, it is interesting to have one of my assumptions confirmed through this experiment. Kalla claims: "Fox News and liberal networks, can influence their viewers through 'agenda-setting' - covering a certain topic relentlessly- and 'framing'- by emphasizing certain aspects of an issue." The two political scientists highly emphasized another method of influencing which they identify as "partisan coverage filtering." This is the process where "partisan outlets selectively report information, leading viewers to learn a biased set of facts." The concern is this third approach leaves it's viewers with different factual understandings - whether it be the war, the role of the President, etc., Their final response to the study was though views can change depending on a person's media diet, "partisan coverage filtering" is "troubling for the functioning of a healthy democracy."
How can this study help a country of citizen's who are already polarized and divided? Unfortunately, not a lot unless viewers of news are willing to think deeply and critically about the messages they are digesting from their news of choice. Many are willing to find a comfort zone and swallow whatever their favorite media personnel promotes. I agree with Broockman and Kalla, this is dangerous for our society. But, it is really nothing new, Though the United States was once considered a Christian country, perhaps some still believe this today, truth is often considered relative to a person's situation and views, Yes, truth is often considered relative. Though some conservative theologians like to opine and lament over this sad state, relative truth has been a way of life since the beginning of time.
Over 2,000 years ago, a Pharisee media mob in Jerusalem used "partisan coverage filtering" -or perhaps we should say it a bit stronger- "out and out lying" to convict an honest man who just happened to also be a member of the divine- to a cruel, brutal death on a cross. HIs accusers, the so called media at the time, only shared bits and pieces of the truth. In questioning Jesus, Governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king? Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. What is truth? retorted PIlate" John 18:37, 38. Following this Pilate washed his hands of Jesus, turning him over to the Pharisees to be crucified.
Thank goodness, that was not the end of the story because there is truth in this world! We will celebrate it at the end of this Holy Week when we commemorate our Lord conquering death through the Resurrection. Jesus said it best: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6. I believe that as believers, followers of that truth, our hearts and minds need to be in tune to a higher calling of media, that of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. (John 16:13) I do not mean this in a trite way. I believe as Christians we need to think critically, be aware, and recognize talking points and agendas that really do not focus on ways we can bring God's Kingdom into our world. This was the Lord's prayer for us. "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth it is in Heaven." (Matthew 6:10). We must not get caught up in philosophies that have little to with the "Good News of the Gospel." Colossians 2:8 "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ" (NIV)
In the end does it matter what news channel we watch? Perhaps for those of us who are news junkies, we should keep an eye on it all. Yet, I believe as Christians we must focus on the narrative of truth found in the Gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to love God and love one another. As we do this, we will be more concerned with what is true in the news, rather than being completely absorbed by the philosophies of media outlets that are self-serving. I know this is not an easy task. All of them at some level have to be somewhat self-serving. Still as Christians we need to prioritize and "live out" the truth of Jesus Christ day by day! As we walk through this week known as Holy Week, let's be reminded about what truth really is and especially Who it is! Blessings, Sheryl
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