The Failure of Self-Governance in the Press

In our last post we reviewed the principle that self-governance is essential to Liberty and to a civil society. We examined the behavior of today’s media and opined that they exhibit a lack of self-governance, that, contrary to their opinion, does not promote Freedom of the Press, but threatens it. In this post we look at two recent events that further illustrate the irresponsibility of the media today.

Before we begin, let us review the source of this right. The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….” (General Congress of the United States of America 1776) Clearly the Founders believed that the rights of individuals come from God. The Declaration goes on to state that men create governments in order to secure those rights. While the rights to free speech and the press are not explicitly mentioned in the Declaration, they are spelled out in the first amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” (Congress of the United States 1789) It is important to evaluate Amendment I, and the rest of the Bill of Rights, in the context of the Declaration. The Constitution does not grant the citizens rights. God bestowed these and other rights on the citizens. The Constitution exists to guarantee the protection of those rights as a matter of law.

The Founders sought to establish a government that would allow its citizens the maximum freedom while imposing sufficient restraint upon the sin nature of man, and specifically upon the tendency of government to seek power over its citizens. To achieve this end, they relied on the civil society. In the century prior to the American Revolution, the colonies experienced the First Great Awakening. Men and women turned back to the Bible, accepted Christ as their Savior, and sought to comport themselves diligently and peaceably under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was this civil society upon which the Founders built their constitutional republic. As the Bible teaches us:

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

The BuzzFeed Report

Cohen-Mueller
(Keneally 2018)

On January 18, 2019 BuzzFeed reported that President Trump ordered his attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. (Caplan 2019) The report went on to assert that Cohen had provided this information to Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. (Rosenfeld 2019)The mainstream media rushed to press to report this “bombshell”, offering their opinion that this was an impeachable offense. In fact, the various forms of “impeach” were used repeatedly by the media, almost as if they were reading from the same script.

 

  • From The Atlantic: “An explosive report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress provides a straightforwardly impeachable offense.” (Serwer 2019)
  • From Bloomberg: “BuzzFeed’s Trump-Cohen Story Describes Clearly Impeachable Crimes” (Feldman 2019)
  • From Newsweek: “Following the explosive allegations, multiple Democrats raised the specter of impeachment.” (Le Miere 2019)
Mueller
(Martin 2010)

Within 24 hours it became evident that the media rushed to press without confirming the truth of the story, when a spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a statement that the BuzzFeed report was “not accurate”. (CBS News 2019) “In a rare public statement, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday disputed a blockbuster report from BuzzFeed News that alleged President Donald Trump directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie in his testimony before Congress.” (Hayes and Johnson 2019) Some media corrected their error. Others parsed the Special Counsel’s statement to continue to raise the specter of impeachment. But at this writing, the BuzzFeed report itself and all its derivatives were Fake News.

 

The Covington Boys

Sandmann-Phillips
(Gowder 2019)

Recently a group of boys, some of whom were wearing red “MAGA” hats, were captured on a short video clip surrounding and staring at “Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam veteran and Native American elder of the Omaha tribe….” These boys were identified as being from Covington Catholic School. The Covington Catholic School boys were in Washington, DC, to attend the March for Life. When the boys became upset at the speeches of the Black Hebrew Israelites. Mr. Phillips and his friend then stepped between the 2 groups to defuse the situation. At this point the boys surrounded the Native Americans and stared at Phillips. The boys’ school rushed to condemn their actions and told the press that the students could be expelled. Change.com issued a petition demanding that the school stop any association with the March for Life. (Brookbank and Londberg 2019) This resulted in outrage across social media as Phillips alleged that the students mocked him and chanted “Build that wall.” (Gorman 2019)

“The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)

But as Gorman also reports, Nick Sandmann, the student at the center of the controversy (depicted above in a red cap), immediately denied the initial report of the encounter. In his version, the students were waiting for their bus, when four African American protesters began shouting racial insults at them. The boys responded by using school spirit chants to drown out the protestors. At this point, Phillips came through the crowd and walked up to Sandmann and began beating his drum in his face. Sandmann, remained motionless and did not interact with Phillips. His motive, he said, was to defuse the situation. Phillips reinforced this version of the story by admitting that he approached the students “in a bid to ease racial tensions.” (Gorman 2019)

Then the complete video was released. The longer video supported the boys’ version of the story. It showed that the boys did not start the confrontation but were indeed targeted by the black protesters. Subjected to verbal abuse and threatened with physical violence, the boys were unsure how to respond. Phillips then entered the scene. Contrary to his allegations, the boys do not appear to mock him, but actually join in with his chants. The boys behave in a confused and unsure manner – like boys being violently bullied by grown men. Ben Cohen sums up his report: “I should have known better before leaping to judgment, and many in the media, including myself, owe these boys an apology.” (Cohen 2019) A few celebrities and media personalities, notably Jamie Lee Curtis and S. E. Cupp followed Cohen and admitted their mistake, but others just deleted their tweets. (O’Brien 2019) The media moved on to the next story, leaving the boys and their families to deal with the opprobrium, death threats and doxing.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)

Clearly the American media failed in these two recent cases, that are emblematic of how they approach stories that reinforce their worldview and preconceived biases. They rushed to press in each case without sufficient confirmation, and without determining all of the facts. This is a serious breach of journalistic ethics. As we have stated before, the Founders understood that Liberty requires self-governance. A media that cannot govern itself and irresponsibly publishes inaccurate and incomplete reports actually threatens the citizens’ right to a free press by inviting government intervention.

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” (1 Peter 2:16)

In our next post, we will continue this look at the Press by looking more at fake news. We will see that the voices of the Right are not immune from this error.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

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