August 4, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 4, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The fall of Roger Ailes can serve warning for Christians to avoid a media echo chamber
One of the most important developments in July had to do with the media, and that was the separation of Roger Ailes from Fox News. Behind that is a huge story. Ailes’s departure from Fox was due to accusations of sexual harassment and the big news was that finally something had come along to topple the powerful Roger Ailes from his incredibly powerful post as the head of Fox News, and not just the head of Fox News, but in so many ways the inventor of an entire new way of doing television, especially television news.Show Full Transcript
It was back in 1996 that Rupert Murdock asked Roger Ailes to take over in order to form a conservative, 24/7 cable news network. One of the reasons this is so noteworthy from a worldview perspective is that it points to something very important in the ecology of the media, and specifically the ecology of news. If you go back to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, there is a monopoly on news in terms of television. That monopoly is held by the three major networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. Of the three, when it comes to news, CBS is clearly paramount during most of those years, known as the Tiffany network because of its elite status. CBS basically defined how television news was done. It involved a major authoritative anchor that had journalistic experience beginning with Edward R. Murrow and then transitioning iconically to Walter Cronkite during the 1960s and 70s. Added to that was a team of network correspondents spread around the world. Most of them had begun in print media, but then it shifted to television when it was a basically new medium.
The dominance of the three major networks, all basically liberal in their outlook, was changed when in the 1970s Ted Turner established what became known as the Cable News Network, or CNN. There were two very interesting aspects to Turner’s strategy. The first was to satisfy a hunger for the news that went beyond what could be seen in terms of the usual 30-minute news broadcast nightly by the three major networks. The other thing that CNN was able to offer was the fact that it also invested in a team of far-flung foreign correspondence as well as those who report from the United States. All this put CNN in the driver seat, so to speak, with major world events such as the Iran hostage crisis, then, later of course, what became known as the first Gulf War. But all that changed in 1996 with the establishment of Fox News, eventually Fox would actually topple CNN from the top rankings in terms of cable news. By the time you get to the last decade, there were basically three major cable news networks: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, the cable news affiliate of the veteran NBC news program. And also you had a spectrum in terms of left to right with Fox on the conservative side, MSNBC by its own motto at the time leaning left, and also you had of course CNN that steadfastly fought for a centrist reputation.
The reality is that when you’re looking at the major media, for the most part you’re looking at a basically liberal environment, and that’s because not only of the worldview of those who are doing the reporting and the anchoring of those programs, but also the entire institutional edifice of the three major networks and eventually also of the kind of journalism that was undertaken by CNN. CNN did bring a very important balance to the media environment, but that balance was furthered by the development of Fox News, especially under Roger Ailes in 1996. What’s most important to recognize is that there was no true and authentic conservative alternative in terms of the major media until the development, at least on television, of Fox News in 1996. Roger Ailes then became a legend.
As James Poniewozik reported for the New York Times,
“Mr. Ailes was a TV guy before he was a politics guy, and then he became a TV guy again.”
This tells the story of the fact that Roger Ailes had served as a producer for the Mike Douglas Show and, as a producer on that program, he had contact with someone who had been a guest on the program, Richard Nixon. Ailes told Richard Nixon that he needed not to oppose television but rather to embrace it. Television had been disastrous for Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential campaign against John F. Kennedy, and Nixon wanted to warm his image. Nixon took Roger Ailes’s advice and that was followed by an entire line of conservative candidates, including President George H. W. Bush in 1988. Mr. Ailes became a major producer of advertising media and political strategy for conservative candidates. That’s what caught the eye of Rupert Murdock, who clearly saw an opportunity to create a conservative alternative to the mainstream media in terms of Fox News. From 1996 until 2016, Roger Ailes presided at the very top of the media pyramids that saw Fox News skyrocket to the top of the cable news ratings.
But there was more that Roger Ailes brought to the television production of Fox News. For example, rather than having an enormous team of far-flung foreign correspondence, Roger Ailes basically brought the news home. He depended more on personalities who would talk about the news rather than to report the news. Furthermore, Roger Ailes understood the graphic environment to television. Ailes understood that viewers were not interested only in seeing and hearing on-screen personalities, they also wanted a bit more drama, and to that Roger Ailes added a very unembarrassed patriotism. That became very clear, especially in recent years, having to do with American foreign policy and the Republican Party. This led to consternation not only in the larger media world, but within Fox News itself. And that may be partly responsible for why there was already talk of Roger Ailes’s departure before the sexual harassment issue actually led to a separation from the network.
But what we need to understand from a Christian worldview perspective is that the media ecology of our culture is really important, and that media ecology is not just about technology, it’s also about people. The reason why the story about Roger Ailes is so important because here you’re looking at an individual who largely, single-handedly redefined television news. It also reminds us that this media environment is an ecology of information and ideas; worldview is a very important dimensions of every aspect of television news or every dimension of the media at large. But in terms of the media environment, politically, it really is important to understand that in 1996 there was a fundamental change in the entire way that Americans could and did gain information and political analysis, news, and other kinds of programming. There was the development of Fox News and there was also the development of the Internet as an independent forum for information. By the time you have the development of the World Wide Web and the fact that virtually anyone can join the media equation as a blogger, or at least as someone who through social media can make political commentary, we really are looking at a different world.
But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.
This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.
This confirmation bias, however, leads to another problem, and that is that we grow indifferent to evidence against our own positions and credible arguments that would lead us either to change our minds or to make our own arguments in an even better and more focused way. This is something Christians need always to keep in mind. We need to make sure we are listening to those with whom we disagree and to those who disagree with us. We need to be very clear that we understand the ideological background of the media that we consume and the voices that we hear. We need to avoid situating ourselves in an echo chamber and we need to avoid the intellectual fallacy of confirmation bias. We should not be willing to hear only those things with which we already agree. We should be ready to confront other arguments. That’s exactly what the Christian worldview prepares us to do. To listen not only to those with whom we agree, but those with whom we disagree—and not out of insecurity, but out of security and biblical authority and the historic, theological teachings of the Christian church within the contours of the comprehensive Christian worldview. We not only have every reason to engage other worldviews, but every responsibility to do the very same.
So looking back over 20 years, we should be thankful for the fact that the media ecology in the United States is now quite different than it was in the beginning of the 1990s. We should be glad that there has been a reset, so to speak, of the American media picture by the emergence of Fox News and by also the pluralism that is now found in terms of media in the United States. But we also have to understand that Christians bear a responsibility to be very discerning and careful in terms of all the media we consume, to be very, very thoughtful and discerning in the media of which we engage, and of course to be very, very careful in terms of our own thinking. Because the most important aspect of our thinking must be the fact that we are faithful.
Biden officiates same-sex wedding, tweets photo posturing on the "right side of history"
Next, the news came in a series of short articles, but all the same point—the headline that ran in The Hill, one of most influential newspapers in Washington, D.C., was this:
“Biden officiates same-sex marriage.”
It turns out that the Vice President of the United States has presided over his very first marriage ceremony, and it’s the marriage of two men. As Jordan Fabian reported for The Hill,
“Vice President Biden on Monday officiated a wedding for a same-sex couple, marrying two White House staffers at his residence in Washington.
“Biden tweeted a photo of the ceremony, writing: “Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn’t be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys.”
The Hill then offered this very interesting fact, and I quote,
“The vice president’s office said Biden, a first-time wedding officiant, obtained a temporary certificate from the District of Columbia so he could legally conduct the ceremony.”
Now this is hardly the first same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C. It might be the first marriage of any sort for Joe Biden, and it is the first marriage of this sort that has taken place in the Vice President’s residence in Washington D.C. But what is really significant is the fact that the Vice President of the United States, shortly before his own term of office will end, has decided that he wants to be seen as the kind of politician who would preside at a same-sex wedding ceremony.
The fact is that, according to The Hill, only the immediate family of the two men attended. We wouldn’t know about it except for the fact that the Vice President tweeted about it; he posted about it in terms of social media, which is a way of saying he wanted the world to know that he did it.
Now from a worldview perspective, what does this tell us? We’ve been watching for years now politicians scrambling to be seen as the kind of people who will either preside at a same-sex wedding or not and, for that matter, those who want to be seen—we see this phrase over and over again—as being on the “right side” in terms of the cultural conflict. They want to be known as those who are not only settled about the sexual revolution, but ready to celebrate it. And that’s exactly what the Vice President did.
But we’re also looking at a scrambling in terms of just how fast this sexual revolution can take hold. Infamously, Barack Obama was for same-sex marriage before he was against it, and later for it again as he ran for a second term in office. Hillary Clinton was against same-sex marriage until very recent years, setting herself up for her own presidential bid even in the present. And when you look at Joe Biden, once again you have someone who was relatively early in the political process for same-sex marriage, but that was after he was adamantly against it, and we see this pattern over and over again. On the Republican side, it’s an even more fascinating pattern because Donald Trump is now against same-sex marriage, or at least that is to say he wants to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but he doesn’t want to confront head on the Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Furthermore, Donald Trump, at least at one point in fairly recent years, wanted to make very clear he seemed to be for same-sex marriage when he celebrated the wedding of entertainer Elton John and his so-called husband David Furnish.
So what we’re looking at here is a scrambling of the political equation, trying to adjust on the other side of this sexual and moral revolution. This headline in The Hill about Vice President Joe Biden tells us that the timing here could not be insignificant. The final weeks and months of the Obama-Biden administration are coming to a close. President Obama will deserve credit in terms of this moral revolution—or blame, depending on one’s perspective—for having been such an agent for the legalization of same-sex marriage and, furthermore, this president will bear the incredible responsibility for using the power of his administration now to crush any kind of opposition to the sexual revolution.
Joe Biden was known as someone who was for same-sex marriage, and you may remember that in the year 2012, it was the Vice President who put the President in a very forced position of having to endorse same-sex marriage. The Vice President spoke out of turn and put the President in the position where he had to declare himself. But in terms of his own headlines, Joe Biden basically hasn’t had one on this issue until now, and now he does. As The Hill reported,
“Biden officiates same-sex marriage.”
And of course, we know about it because having done it, he decided to post it on Twitter. And there you have the picture just in 140 characters. There’s the moral revolution in a nutshell.
The NBA, creator of the WNBA, spurns North Carolina for codifying gender distinction
Next, in recent days, the state of North Carolina has been in the center of the target in terms of the sexual revolution. We see headlines such as this in the Wall Street Journal on July 27,
“NBA Pulls All-Star Game From Charlotte Over North Carolina Bathroom Law.”
Jon Kamp and Valerie Bauerlein reported,
“The National Basketball Association said Thursday it is pulling its next All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., because of a state law stating that transgender people must use bathrooms associated with their birth gender when in schools and public buildings.”
They went on to report,
“The exit from North Carolina is a major blow for the state’s largest city, which stands to lose at least $100 million in economic benefits as a result, according to state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat.”
The NBA’s also trying to be very, very clear about where it stands in terms of the sexual revolution. And as we see, the NBA has put the pressure on the state of North Carolina and has sought to humiliate that state by pulling the All-Star game that had been scheduled for Charlotte.
“The league prides itself on being socially progressive, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver had called the legislation “problematic” as early as April. But moving the All-Star Game was a drastic step that Mr. Silver hoped he could avoid.”
The New York Times in its own front-page headline story basically celebrated the decision by the NBA. Reporter Scott Cacciola and Alan Blinder wrote,
“The move was among the most prominent consequences since the law, which also bars transgender people from using bathrooms in public buildings that do not correspond with their birth gender, was passed in March.”
The two reporters from the New York Times went on to make a similar assessment to that we saw in the Wall Street Journal.
“The league, which has become increasingly involved in social issues, said that both it and the Hornets, the N.B.A. team based in Charlotte, had been talking to state officials about changing the law but that time had run out.”
On the one hand, what we see in this development is just a parallel to what took place with the Vice President of the United States tweeting about himself presiding at a same-sex wedding ceremony. Here you have the NBA, one of the most powerful sports organizations in history, trying itself to be very clear that it poses on the right side of the sexual revolution. The other thing we see here is that we are looking at a power of coercion, a very strong form of coercion, when you look at the power and the centrality of sports to so much of American culture. And you also look at the big money that is at stake—remember the estimates of the income to Charlotte from this game were something like $100 million.
But there’s something else here that’s really interesting. We are talking about the National Basketball Association, and one of the most interesting responses to this was made by Tami Fitzgerald, who is executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition. She pointed out that the NBA was showing what she described as hypocrisy at its worse since the NBA itself clearly “recognized the innate biological differences between men and women when it created the women’s national basketball association two decades ago.”
Now that’s a really interesting point. Tami Fitzgerald is making the point of hypocrisy, and she’s pointing a finger directly at the NBA. And here we see another very important issue from the Christian worldview. This kind of hypocrisy is now becoming so rampant and is happening so fast that those who are committing it can’t get ahead of their own complexities and complicities on the issue. Where are the women, transgender or otherwise, playing on an NBA team? When we look at this we come to recognize that in the scramble to try to get on the right side of this issue, you have organizations as large and as powerful as the NBA willing to use coercion, willing to pose morally, and also putting themselves in a very awkward position. Like so many others who are now trying to champion the sexual revolution, the NBA will be unable, and I would argue even unwilling, to live with the consequences of the position it wants to foist upon others.
Furthermore, you see a very interesting kind of language emerge from this in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times articles and in many others as well. You have the NBA saying that their concern was a safe environment for the All-Stars game. What does a “safe environment” mean? Well, it means “safe” in the definition of those who really aren’t talking about physical safety, but about a kind of emotional safety that would require an absolute surrender to the moral revolution. The NBA put Charlotte at the center of its target, but your community could be next.
In surprising decision, SCOTUS temporarily blocks transgender bathroom use in Virginia public school
Meanwhile and finally, late yesterday CNN reported, and I quote,
“A divided Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to temporarily block a lower court order that had cleared the way for a transgender male high school student to use the boys’ bathroom in a Virginia public school this fall.”
As CNN explains,
“The ruling is a victory for the school board and a loss — for now — for Gavin Grimm, the student who won at the lower court level.”
The really interesting thing about this development late yesterday is the fact that the Court handed down this order. Even though it’s temporary, it’s still at this point very significant. One of the most interesting things this points to is the fact that the issue eventually will find itself before the nation’s highest court, and we’ll find ourselves once again in the position of the fact that eight or nine unelected judges will be making a decision about how all Americans will live on such a basic and very intimate issue. But the other thing this points to is the fact that those who are trying to push this moral revolution have pushed the transgender issue ahead of where either the law or public policy or practice can actually follow. We’ve seen this again and again, but in this case coming from Virginia, it’s clear that even those who want to champion this moral revolution and to declare the transgender revolution is a settled fact, they can’t actually figure out how to make it work in terms of actual places with actual people such as an actual public school in the state of Virginia.
This is one of those headlines that follows many others and will be followed still, but it points out, even in this development just yesterday, that this moral revolution isn’t fully accomplished. And the reason for that is that human nature resists at least what is being championed and declared as the total victory of the sexual revolutionaries. There still is amongst the American people at least a residual knowledge of the fact that gender is more than a mere social construct, and we’re also seeing that even the nation’s highest court seems to understand that when it comes to the public schools, even they haven’t yet figured out how to make this revolution work.