Sensationalistic News

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Reactive, The Series

Mass Shootings
Police Shootings
Sensationalistic News

How we initially react to things reflects what we believe and what kind of faith we have in God. Our knee-jerk reactions usually come from our hearts, not our minds. To have godly reactions, we have to build godly hearts.

Even Colorado Springs is feeling the nation-wide spate of clown threats.* A student was charged with a misdemeanor after he posted a threat on Instagram. And now there's word that 23 have been killed by clowns in Canada.

That's serious stuff. Except that the news source that first reported the murders is The Global Sun — which also says KFC and Tim Hortons can now sell marijuana in Canada, and the Canadian PM is converting to Islam. And, on the "About Us" page, is the statement: "The Global Sun is a news satire and parody publication. All articles contained within this website, however similar to real events, are fictitious."

Oh, then there's the woman who was attacked when she wore too much makeup and someone mistook her for a clown. Except that she made the story up when she was late for work.

NPR recently reported that a rescue mission has been ordered by a nearby church to stop serving food to homeless people because the parishioners are "uncomfortable." It was that reported the whole story: the food was being distributed out a window, and the homeless were littering, urinating, defecating, and stripping to their all-togethers on the grounds of the church and the local yards. And the church is a big supporter of the mission, having provided the property they use and giving generously. Plus, church members serve at the mission and are members of the board. The writer of the article? Not a church member. Not even an evangelical watchdog protecting our freedom of religion. Nope. It was The Friendly Atheist.

When asked why I wasn't going to watch the debates, I replied, "I'm not going to vote for either of them, and it would take far too long to research all the out of context soundbites and twisted-truths, anyway." That's when I realized just how much Marty Duren's message had gotten into my personal operating system. His occasional podcast, The Fourth Estate, is dedicated to digging the truth from behind the headlines. His guidance is pretty simple: find the source; figure out if the source is reputable; figure out if the whole story is presented; don't repost the story if it's not. And for pity's sake, if the article you share turns out to be false, make a retraction.

If you're dealing with a news article or you want to convince others to agree to your point of view, fact-checking is essential. If your cause is based more on a gut feeling or a preference, that doesn't usually require the same amount of diligence. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink talks about how our intuition is based on how our experiences have trained our senses to realize things without overt evidence. Often these feelings are completely justified, and I have no problem with people expressing those feelings if they're labelled as such. Of course, the more hard data you have to back up your gut feeling, the more respectable it is.

It's when news stories are reposted without proof that we need to be careful.** And an online news story is not "proof" — especially when we don't even check to see if the source is a satire site. It weakens your argument and your integrity if you constantly post things that aren't true.

I dealt with this recently. I have a friend who lives on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in NE Montana. Lately, she's been posting a lot about #NoDAPL, the movement to keep an oil pipeline from being built through North Dakota — specifically through ancient burial grounds and under the Missouri River. She's pretty caught up in the emotions. She posts about how Shailene Woodley, Willie Nelson, and Leonardo DiCaprio have signed up for the cause or how law enforcement attacks the peaceful protestors. [As I write this, news is that Shailene has been arrested for trespassing.] There are also pieces about Native Americans' relationship with water and the sacred burial grounds.

I happen to agree with the cause. It was just last year that waste water from a Colorado mine turned the Animas River the color of Tang. And last month, 250,000 gallons of oil escaped a pipeline in Shelby County, AL. Not to mention the disaster that is Deepwater Horizon.

But I'm not going to post anything about NoDAPL unless it's either a sentiment I agree with or it's fact that I've researched. Fact: the burial ground is on private property — not tribal land — that was sold or leased for the DAPL. Sentiment: this is seriously the only place to tear up in all of North Dakota? I mean, we were in Hawaii when the discovery of a burial ground stopped the construction of a Wal-Mart. In downtown Honolulu. Do you have any idea how dense the buildings are in downtown Honolulu? But they halted construction and dealt with it. Fact: it's entirely possible that the pipeline could burst and spill oil into the Missouri River, causing serious damage to the environment, the fauna, and the people who live there. Sentiment: I'm not terribly moved by the idea of sacred water; I am moved by hundreds of years of history that caused tribes to be confined to North-stinkin'-Dakota and then have their river threatened. I like rivers. Colorado Springs is one of the only places I've ever lived that isn't split by a river. And in Great Falls, that river was the Missouri. In Portland, it's the Willamette, where we were told not to swim because the toxic waste will eat your skin. I don't want anyone's river threatened.

Still, I'm careful about which articles I pass on — or even "Like." The whole situation is pretty confusing, and although I'll raise my cyber "#NoDAPL" sign on Facebook, I'm not going to share an article I haven't fact-checked.

To repost a defamatory article without determining if it's true is libel (2 Corinthians 12:20). To pass on personal information that isn't relevant to the public is gossip (Romans 1:29). To publicly declare untruths about someone is false witness: "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness" (Exodus 23:1). In Matthew 15:19, false witness and slander are on a level with evil thoughts, murder, and adultery. And they are directly counter to the identity of the One we claim to worship (John 14:6).

We're bombarded with news and issues that are worthy of spreading and fighting for. How we do that reflects our character as much as which issues we choose to champion. It's tempting to hit the "share" button when news about politicians and celebrities crosses our paths — especially if it supports our point of view — but unless it's relevant and verified, it's best left alone. It may be that there are more voters in Chicago than living bodies, but where's the proof? President Obama did not ban the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. And there are not 11 states where there are more people on welfare than employed.

But at least Joel Osteen has finally learned about the crucifixion.

* After a woman in Portland reported a menacing clown, the police spokesman replied, "In Portland, where Darth Vader rides a unicycle and has a fire-breathing set of bagpipes, clown sightings might just be an average Tuesday." He's not always Darth, though.

** I heard recently that Millennials post articles more in a "hey, this is interesting" way than a "I totally agree with everything here" way. Sometimes I do that, too, but it's good to preface it with a note that actually says, "Hey, this is interesting."

Image Credit: picjumbo; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues

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Published 10-10-16