Back in the 90’s I had a memorable moment at the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament. I was sitting with a friend just behind the greenside bunker on the fourteenth hole. On this Par 4 hole, players hit an approach shot across water to a green guarded by water, a large live oak tree, and a bunker. Tiger Woods hit his approach shot from the fairway across the lake. It carried the lake and the tree, only to land in the bunker, just a few feet from where we were sitting. Tiger crossed the stone bridge, sized up the situation and prepared for his third shot. As he settled into the sand, Tiger was only a few away from us. When he took that shot, the ball came out of the sand and dropped onto the green only a few feet from the hole. Tiger tapped it in for an easy sand save.
That was back when Tiger was young and had a hot hand. It has been quite a few years since Tiger Woods dominated the Pro Tour, but he played well last year. Not long ago, the press leaned into Tiger, asking questions about President Trump. Tiger replied politely, pointing out that he has known Donald Trump for years and has played golf with him. But the press wanted more, so they asked Tiger if he thought badly about Trump, based on the President’s immigration policies. Woods replied: “Well, he’s the President of the United States. You have to respect the office.” Soon thereafter, Jack Nicklaus affirmed the Woods comment, saying: “I couldn’t have agreed with Tiger more. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump in the office of the president, you respect the office.”It seems we live in an age where a professional golfer has to give the nation’s press corps a lesson in decorum.
While I would hesitate to hold Tiger Woods up as a role model of upright, moral, and civil behavior, this time he certainly got it right. The Apostle Peter reminds us: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) We may not agree with the person who holds an office of authority, but God has appointed civil authority for our benefit, to restrain sin and to punish those who choose to do evil. The Apostle Paul wrote “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1) Paul goes on to say that the authorities do not bear the sword for nothing, but to bring wrath on those that practice evil.
Today’s press seems intent on stirring up discontent and strife. The questions directed at Woods were designed to provoke a controversial response that could be used to discredit the president. Whether it is Stormy Daniels or Russia, Russia, Russia, the press is far too eager to leap on any rumor in order to tear down the president, or anyone in his administration. At this writing, the New York Times claims to have an anonymous source who has provided information about dissension in the White House. Our earliest civil document, The Mayflower Compact, was written to prevent this sort of contention and strife. “[The Separatists] had seen the horrible contentions and constant strife that religious factions could create where there was much liberty, but little self-government, and how easily the seeds of tyranny could sprout as one group sought to impose its will on another, which then destroyed freedom rather than promoted it.”In the Compact, the colonists mutually agree to submit to the civil body politic for the general good of the Colony, promising due submission and obedience. In other words, they agreed to practice self-restraint for the good of the civil society.
The Constitution guarantees the God-given right to a free press. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….”Thus, the republic does not have the power to restrain the press. But does this mean that the press is unfettered? By no means! Just as there is an expectation that the citizenry should exercise self-restraint and civic virtue, the same is true of the press. In a civil society, the press has a responsibility to adhere to the highest standards of objectivity and journalistic ethics.
The behavior of today’s press shows a remarkable lack of restraint. It is ironic that the greatest threat to the freedom of the press is not the Trump White House, but the press itself. If it continues showing bias and a disregard for the truth, in pursuit of its preconceived agenda, the public, poorly informed by government schools and the press itself, may resort to mob rule and impose restraints on the press. This is a dangerous situation in a republic, but again, the root cause is not the inclination of government to despotism, which is always present, but the irresponsible, uncivil behavior of the members of the press corps.
In our next post, we will continue our discussion of civic virtue, civil liberty, and the rights granted to us by our Creator. We will examine how the American press systematically sows discord and confusion, and how this irresponsible behavior is not an example of freedom of the press, but something darker.