February 19, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, February 19, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Wisdom of Solomon needed in clash between Apple and FBI over privacy and public safety
While much of the media, including the mainstream media, yesterday seemed to be consumed with a very odd exchange between Pope Francis and Donald Trump, the reality is there was bigger news afoot, and that included the front pages of almost every major newspaper yesterday. And that is a looming conflict between Apple, the world’s most valuable corporation, and the federal government, as represented by the FBI and a federal judge. As reporters Eric Tucker and Tami Abdollah reported for the Associated Press,
“An extraordinary legal fight is brewing with major privacy implications for millions of cellphone users after a federal magistrate ordered Apple Inc. to help the FBI hack into an iPhone used by the gunman in the San Bernardino mass shootings.”Show Full Transcript
As they say,
“The clash brings to a head a long-simmering debate between technology companies insistent on protecting digital privacy and law enforcement agencies concerned about losing their ability to recover evidence or eavesdrop on the communications of terrorists or criminals.”
Politically speaking, the big issue here is the face-off between the FBI and Apple, and what makes that particularly interesting is that just about everyone knew that this was in one sense inevitable. And almost no one saw that it would be over the issue of a mass shooting in San Bernardino. As the Associated Press said this is,
“A long-simmering debate between technology companies insistent on protecting digital privacy and law enforcement agencies.”
And of course this goes back to the WikiLeaks scandal and many other developments in the past. The reality is that we live in a digital world and that so much data now exists in digital form and it is also true that law enforcement agencies, including the agencies of the federal government tasked with preventing crime and terrorist attacks, are in the position of now being increasingly unable, rather than able, to get their hands on information that appears to be crucial both to preventing and to solving major crimes. And when we talk about major crimes, it is hard to come up with anything more major than the mass shooting that took place just weeks ago in San Bernardino, California.
Just about every informed observer knew that this long-simmering debate was going to break open and was going to head to the courts, and now it appears to be likely headed to the nation’s highest court, and the stakes are incredibly high. From a Christian worldview perspective, this presents us with a very interesting dilemma, a genuine dilemma that Christians must understand is not easily resolvable. In so many issues, it’s clear there is a right and there is a wrong. But the particular interest in this situation is that there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate. On the one hand, there is the argument for the security of the information of the 900 million people who own iPhones, not to mention the rest who are involved in the digital world. Within hours of the judge handing down her order on Tuesday, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple responded with a letter to the American public in which he said,
“Once the information is known”
—that is the information of how to break the encryption code on an iPhone—
“Once the information is known or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”
Now whether or not Tim Cook’s argument is the superior argument, and there are reasons to believe it is not, there is a very important biblical truth that is revealed here. Furthermore, it’s a truth that is understood even in ancient wisdom, such as the ancient Greek parable of Pandora’s Box. The point Tim Cook was making, whether he actually recognizes it or not, is this: Once something is known, it cannot be successfully unknown. As the ancient parable foretold, once you open the lid on Pandora’s Box, you can’t get that lid closed again. That is especially true when it comes to knowledge or, in its contemporary form, data. Committed to what he said was the ultimate moral issue at stake here, and that is personal privacy, Tim Cook said that creating a backdoor—as it’s called—to the San Bernardino gunman’s work-issued iPhone 5C would be,
“…too dangerous to create.”
But on the other hand, the federal government is pressing the case that the ultimate moral issue is the protection of the American people. That was reflected in a statement made by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton who said,
“Apple chose to protect a dead terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people.”
The concern over this moral argument was made very clear in an article on the front page of the New York Times yesterday by Eric Lichtblau and Katie Benner as they cited Reynaldo Tariche, an FBI agent on Long Island, who is President of the FBI Agents Association. As they write, with the FBI’s inability,
“…to get into the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was killed by the police along with his wife after they attacked Mr. Farook’s co-workers at a holiday gathering.”
Mr. Tariche said,
“The worst-case scenario has come true.”
He went on and said,
“As more of these devices come to market, this touches all aspects of the cases that we’re working on.”
So here you have the classic clash of absolutes. Those who are arguing that the absolute is personal privacy are arguing that that must trump all other concerns. On the other hand, those who are arguing that the ultimate good in the situation, the ultimate moral issue, is the protection of the American people, they’re arguing that what’s being denied is what is essential to justice and to the prevention of terrorism. Apple is making the public argument that if this judge’s order stands, it could mean the end of personal privacy. But the FBI and other federal agencies are arguing that if the federal judge’s order does not stand, it could mean the end, effectively, of law enforcement.
Thinking through the lens of a Christian worldview, one of the things we see is that sometimes in a fallen world we end up in this kind of moral predicament. We are looking at two very strong moral arguments. But we’re also looking at the fact that there are dangers in presenting either one of these arguments as moral absolutes in and of themselves, trumping everything else under every condition at all times. Finding a way to balance personal privacy and the needs of law enforcement agencies is not going to be easy, and that’s why this case is destined almost surely to end up at the US Supreme Court. And the fact that, as the Associated Press reported, this was a long simmering debate that was almost sure to break in the public, the question was when, not if. That tells us that in a fallen world, data can be used by either law enforcement or by criminals. It can be used for good or it can be used for evil. But in this case, substitute the word “knowledge” for “data” and you come to understand just how essentially biblical this argument really is. To make another biblical reference, this is one of those cases that will require the Wisdom of Solomon. But here’s the problem. Where is Solomon?
Under CBS standards watchdog Tankersley, network's ethics waned with sexual revolution
Next, yesterday, speaking at a conference near Atlanta, Georgia, I mentioned the intersection of entertainment and morality and pointed out how popular culture and, in particular, Hollywood and popular entertainment, both drives and is driven by the moral revolution all around us. And, oddly enough, I pointed to how the moral revolution can be represented in terms of change by looking at two television programs—on the one hand, the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” black-and-white from the 1960s, a show in which a married couple, Rob and Laura Petrie, could not even be depicted as sharing a bed. They could share a master bedroom, but they had to be shown as sleeping in separate beds; to the contemporary ABC show “Modern Family,” which, perhaps more than any other single program, is evidence of how Hollywood both drives and is driven by the moral revolution.
But just hours after giving that example I came face-to-face with an obituary in the New York Times for William H. Tankersley who died at age 98. Why is he important in this light? Because he was the morals watchdog for CBS, the so-called Tiffany network, setting the standard for others during this very crucial period of moral transition in America. Bruce Weber, writing the obituary for the New York Times, tells us,
“William H. Tankersley, who defined broadcast standards for CBS during a volatile period of change in mores on television and in American society, doing celebrated battle with envelope pushers like Norman Lear and the Smothers Brothers, died on Feb. 5 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 98.”
Weber then writes,
“From the mid-1950s until 1972, when he left CBS to become head of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus, Mr. Tankersley served as the firewall between the viewers of the network’s programs and those writers, producers and advertisers who might willfully or inadvertently offend their sensibilities. He was, in effect, the network’s chief censor, though he would not have labeled his role that way.”
Later in the obituary, Weber tells us that Tankersley worked with the trust of William S. Paley, the founder and chairman of CBS, and Frank Stanton, the president and later Vice Chairman. Under those two leaders, Tankersley wielded great power.
“Under the Code of Practices, a set of ethical standards established in the early 1950s and voluntarily agreed to by broadcasters, things like profanity, sexual references, disparagement of religion and the depiction of drug use and drunkenness were closely monitored on all three networks. However, the standards at CBS, which was known, both admiringly and mockingly, as the Tiffany network, were considered stricter than the norm.”
We’re also told in the obituary that it was under the leadership of Mr. Tankersley that,
“Rob and Laura Petrie, the lovey-dovey suburban couple played by Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ were consigned to twin beds. A laxative advertisement was rejected for the “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite. Mr. Tankersley vetoed gunfight scenes on the long-running western series ‘Gunsmoke,’ whose star, James Arness, once threatened to resign, Mr. Tankersley said, ‘if he can’t shoot more people.’”
But the big importance of this major obituary in the New York Times—a very lengthy article—is not how Mr. Tankersley held the line during these crucial decades, but how he didn’t. The really interesting thing here is how he adjusted the standards at CBS over these crucial decades, reflecting how this moral revolution, and at its core a sexual revolution, took place and how it was represented, depicted on television. It was under the watch of Tankersley that CBS during the 1960s and 70s reflected this moral revolution with the advent of Norman Lear, for example, and his programs “All in the Family” and “Maude,” transgressing all of the principles that had held forth over the decades previous.
One paragraph in this obituary demonstrates how an article like this shows us the moral revolution at work. Weber writes,
“But that said, Mr. Tankersley was hardly inflexible as time passed, social attitudes toward ribald subject matter and language grew more relaxed, tolerance for violent imagery increased and entertainment programming veered more often into politics.”
Weber illustrated the very point he was making in another paragraph in which he wrote that Tankersley,
“…gave the O.K. to Mr. Lear’s breakthrough series, ‘All in the Family,’ with its sexual innuendoes, political debates, periodic sounds of a toilet flushing and frank (if comic) expressions of bigotry by the main character, Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O’Connor), whose declarations in 1971, the show’s first season, would have been anathema a decade or perhaps only a handful of years earlier.”
So here we have graphic evidence of how Hollywood drove the moral revolution. There’s no question about it. All you have to do is look at some of the parties who were involved—at the very center of this Norman Lear himself spoke often of his intention to shift the nations understanding on any number of controversial issues, in particular moral and political issues, by use of comedies such as “All in the Family” and “Maude.” Having made this argument at a conference just yesterday, you can understand the irony of picking up the New York Times only to find the obituary of the man who stood at the very center of this controversy back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and who died just a matter of a few days ago at age 98.
In thinking of the scale and the velocity of this moral revolution, it’s important to recognize that just not too long ago, even as Hollywood now seems unbound by any particular moral principles or boundaries, there once was a day when CBS had a full-time czar, that was the word often applied to him, who could say what could and couldn’t be done on television, even requiring a married couple in the age of black-and-white television to sleep in separate beds. If that seems like an America that no longer exists, you’re right. That is an America that no longer exists.
China worries boys becoming too effeminate, calls for more male teachers to "make boys men"
Next, a couple of articles that appeared in close proximity—one having to do with boys, one having to do with girls. The boys in this case are in China; the girls are in America; and one of the things that both of these articles make clear—and here’s news—is that there is a basic difference between boys and girls. The article on boys comes in the New York Times. Reporter Javier Hernandez says that one of the big issues in modern Chinese culture is the fact that there is a fear that boys are losing the example of masculinity and what it means to be a man by the fact that the teaching profession in China has become overwhelmingly female. There are very few male teachers, very few men teaching in older grades, starting with about grade six. As Hernandez writes,
“Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.
“In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like ‘real men.’ In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics. In Hangzhou, in eastern China, educators have started a summer camp called West Point Boys, complete with taekwondo classes and the motto, ‘We bring out the men in boys.’”
Hernandez goes on to tell us that,
“Education officials across China are aggressively recruiting male teachers, as the Chinese news media warns of a need to ‘salvage masculinity in schools.’”
Hernandez tells us that,
“The call for more male-oriented education has prompted a broader debate.”
But the interesting thing is that this debate shows up not so much in China, but in the pages of the New York Times. That tells us something. Now when you look at the shape of the article and its placement in the New York Times, it’s clear that this is considered to be a big story, otherwise no editor in the New York Times would’ve given it such placement within the paper. The other interesting thing about this article is that it is in many ways nonjudgmental; there is no clear judgment being made in the article in terms of the words used as to whether this concern in China is valid and whether the Chinese response has any moral substance. In other words, is this right or wrong? The newspaper article doesn’t answer the question. But what is really interesting is that the New York Times repeatedly, comprehensively tries to argue for the moral revolution in this country and for the breaking down of traditional gender roles and the embrace of the LGBT movement and, more recently, especially the “T” in the transgender revolution.
But here’s this article that appears to be making an argument that it really does matter as to whether boys have male role models and whether or not boys become men. It’s placed here in the politically safe context of an emerging story in China. But the reality is, most American parents reading this would at least have to have some idea that there is a basis in the concern here. Not too long ago, one observer noted that the more expensive prep school education becomes in the United States, the more likely it is that boys will be taught by men. In other words, the wealthiest people in this country often intentionally send their sons to schools that have a significant number, far greater than that in the general population, of men teaching in the schools, especially in the upper grades.
There is something important there to recognize, and one of the things we need to recognize is the reality of common grace and God’s revelation in creation that explains why every civilization in its own way has found the honoring of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and every civilization that has survived for any length of time has honored the institution of the family.
Social media puts girls at higher risk than boys, encourages sexualization and bullying
And that leads to the other story, and that appeared in Time magazine in this week’s edition, an article by Nancy Jo Sales entitled,
“How Social Media is Disrupting the Lives of American Girls.”
The article is really interesting because in light of the digital revolution taking place all around us, there is a disproportionate impact, it turns out, in terms of the digital disruption in the lives of American boys versus American girls. It turns out that the digital risk for girls are far higher, and here we’re mainly talking about the impact on girls, adolescent girls, and young women on issues such as self-esteem when it comes to the digital revolution and what that now means as, to use Sales’ words,
“…a disruption or an intrusion in the lives of adolescent girls.”
Sales writes about the danger of sexting, texting, and any number of other things, especially social media with its moral environment of likes, and then she writes,
“And it’s girls—our daughters, granddaughters and nieces—who are most at risk in this online environment, which blends age-old sexism with a new notion of sexual liberation through being provocative. Girls who post provocative pictures often suffer shaming on- and offline. Girls are more often targeted in cyberbullying attacks that focus on their sexuality.”
Writing particularly about girls, she writes,
“Accompanying the boom in selfie culture is a rise in competitive spirit, as well as a disturbing trend of sexualization. Likes, hearts, swipes—validation is only a tap away.”
And then she writes this very, very important sentence:
“And one of the easiest ways to get that validation is by looking hot. Sex sells, whether you’re 13 or 35.”
But remember this article appeared in Time magazine, and keep that in mind with another moral issue that Sales raises in this article and that is this: Mothers in many cases are driving and encouraging the overt sexualization of their daughters in order that their daughters might be the recipients of an increase in social status; and the other thing is that mothers, according to this article, increasingly are dressing in sexualized and provocative ways like their daughters rather than daughters dressing like their mothers. Sales writes that there once was a day when parents thought that they should protect their children and, in this case, their daughters, but now she writes parents post videos of their daughters suggestively shimmying to rock star’s videos, she says,
“…that rack up approval ratings, sometimes even media attention and ad sales.”
She writes about observing this in the city of Boca Raton, Florida, at the Grand Lux Café, watching mothers and daughters. And she writes this,
“As the girls visited their social-media accounts, opening their Snapchats and liking and commenting on the Instagram posts of their friends, a parade of mothers and daughters drifted past, all dressed almost identically. There were teenage girls [dressed provocatively, her language is actually more provocative than that] and mothers wearing almost exactly the same things, except with heels and bling.”
Sales then writes,
“I remarked to the girls how strange it seemed to see the mothers in the mall dressed so similarly to their daughters. ‘They want to look hot,’ said Cassy, not looking up from her phone.
“’Everybody wants to look hot,’ Julie said.”
As if that’s not enough, it tells us something that this article in Time magazine goes on to raise other moral issues, including the effect of overt pornography on America’s young people and children and in the rise in plastic and aesthetic surgery for young girls, largely in order to accentuate their sexuality. Sales ends her article,
“No matter how various theorists try to minimize and even glamorize girls’ participation in social-media culture; it is girls who experience the reality of its troubling effects.”
Once again, we’re living in a society that wants to insist over and over again that there’s no essential difference between boys and girls; until obviously there is. As this article in Time magazine makes very clear, it is girls in particular who are damaged by the effects of this digital revolution and the emergence of a social media culture. For Christians, there is a wake-up call that we didn’t need or especially shouldn’t need Time magazine to raise these moral issues, nor to make the point that it is girls who are particularly vulnerable. But it does tell us something that whether its parents and educators in China or it is this expert on social media in the United States, there is still the recognition, and here it emerges in public, that there is a basic difference between boys and girls. And it also tells you a great deal about America that that, dear friends, makes news.