August 9, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, August 9, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The NY Times recognizes its own liberal bias and worldview. Can Christians say the same?
It has been very clear for a long time that the media in the United States will tend to lean leftward in a more liberal direction, operating out of a more liberal worldview. The phrase “more liberal” refers to the fact that the media tends to be far more liberal than America writ large. The reasons for that are several.
The first is that the media elite is drawn from a rather restricted pool. Those who join the status of papers such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, who write for magazines like The Atlantic or the New Yorker or the New Republic, those who will eventually operate in terms of the television media and beyond—they tend to be drawn from the same schools. They tend to have attended the same kinds of colleges and universities and to operate out of the same social sphere.Show Full Transcript
The second reason is that those who are in control of the mainstream media have their own ideological perspective, and those for a long time have tended to lean considerably to the left. And the third reason is that we all tend to operate in an echo chamber. And when it comes to the mainstream media, when it comes to the most elite media in particular, they tend to operate out of an echo chamber that is largely devoid of conservative ideas and conservative arguments.
None of that is particularly true, but what is now increasingly and surprisingly true is how many in the media are ready to state their biases. A very interesting article appeared yesterday in the New York Times. It was by Jim Rutenberg who writes the “Mediator” column in that newspaper. The title,
“Balance, Fairness and a Proudly Provocative Presidential Candidate”
Rutenberg begins his article with these words,
“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”
Now that’s a question being asked by the author of the mediator column at the New York Times. He continues,
“Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.
Now listen very closely to his following words,
“If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”
That word “untenable” is really important. That is to say, there would be no defense of this kind of behavior whatsoever under normal circumstances. But Jim Rutenberg is arguing that these are not normal circumstances. He is arguing very explicitly in this article that the appearance of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate means that the old rules of objectivity, the old dividing line between news and opinion writing, all that has to give way to the greater priority, he argues, of stopping Donald Trump and doing so as a working journalist.
When he gets ready to conclude his article, Rutenberg explains his understanding of the job is now “to ferret out what the candidates will be like in the most powerful office in the world.”
“It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters,” he concludes, “but journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.”
There he deliberately goes back to the very word he used in introducing the issue. In the print edition of the article that appeared in the New York Times, the headline includes these words,
“The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity.”
That’s what makes the article and the issue so important. The news media often operate under the claim of objectivity. That’s a suspect claim under the best of circumstances, but it is a very laudable end and aim. It is exactly what journalists should strive to achieve—objectivity. But that objectivity should include at least acknowledging one’s own worldview, ideology, and one’s own bias. But what you have here is not objectivity as the goal, but rather the abandonment of objectivity or even a claim to objectivity in light of actually championing a candidate or, in this case, more opposing a candidate, and here that abandonment of objectivity, that dissolution of the line between news and opinion writing, is described as,
“Political journalism’s most solemn duty.”
With those words, what you hear is a revolution. Responding to Rutenberg was James Taranto writing for the Wall Street Journal. He cited the very question that Rutenberg asked. How are journalists supposed to cover Donald Trump? And then he said,
“Before we consider Rutenberg’s answer, let’s try offering one of our own: Maybe you shouldn’t. If you have such a strong opinion about one of the major candidates, perhaps you shouldn’t be reporting on the election. You could request a transfer to another beat, or to the opinion section.”
If journalists feel so strongly about defeating one candidate, Taranto argues,
“Perhaps you should consider a career change. You could go to work for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, or for one of the many independent advocacy organizations that support it.”
From the Christian worldview, the point here isn’t so much political as it is informative. Here we understand the open acknowledgment of the fact that the line separating news reporting and opinion writing is being increasingly erased, and it has been for some time, just not so publicly acknowledged is what we see here. Actually the issue of the liberalism of the mainstream media and of the New York Times in particular has been acknowledged by that very newspaper also quite recently.
Writing on July 23 of this year, Liz Spayd, the paper’s public editor, asked why readers are likely to see the New York Times as so liberal. Before going a bit further, it’s worth noting that the New York Times deserves credit for running this article and for having even the office of the public editor. That came in the aftermath of a major scandal of the New York Times known as the Jayson Blair scandal. But it followed a model set by some other major American newspapers. For the record, the very first public editor in a major American daily newspaper was with the Louisville Courier-Journal, and then what was known as the Louisville Times. That was decades ago.
Now, Liz Spayd, writing just days ago in the New York Times, answers the very question she asked. Why is it that so many people see the New York Times as so liberal? Even when it comes to comments within her newspaper, she wrote,
“On most days, conservatives occupy just a few back-row seats in this giant liberal echo chamber, not because Republicans are screened out by editors but because they don’t show up in the first place.”
That’s what I meant by talking about the fact that in America’s current ideological climate, both sides tend to be socially engaged within the groups rather than outside. It’s interesting that though the public editor deserves credit for raising the question, and even as she acknowledges grounds for why conservatives might see the paper as a very liberal paper in terms of ideology, she doesn’t fundamentally answer her own question. That stands in contrast to Daniel Okrent, who was the public editor back in July of 2004, 12 years ago. He asked the question: Is the New York Times a liberal newspaper? His own answer,
“Of course it is.”
Remember, this was 12 years ago in 2004 when President George W. Bush was running for reelection. He then wrote,
“I’ll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything).”
But Okrent then wrote,
“But for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.”
Okrent continued— remember he was then the public editor of the New York Times writing about his own newspaper,
“But if you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide”—he then puts in parentheses “(devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans)”—he continued, “If your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.”
Now just keep in mind the amazing candor of the public editor of that paper acknowledging that the worldview of the paper sees people like devout Catholics and Orthodox Jews—you could add their evangelical Christians—as strangers to be examined as if on a laboratory slide. The public editor then went on to discuss the issue with the publisher of his own paper, then Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. Sulzberger told the public editor that he didn’t think the New York Times was so liberal as it was “urban.”
“That the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means ‘We’re less easily shocked,’ and that the paper reflects ‘a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.’”
Read that especially political, cultural and moral flexibility. Back then in 2004, gay marriage wasn’t even really on the political horizon, but the gay-rights movement was. And the public editor wrote about articles that had appeared on the issue in his paper. Summarizing,
“Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.”
Amazing candor. Even more amazing and more important was Okrent’s understanding of why this was the case. He wrote,
“On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires.”
He then says, this is so vitally important,
“This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning.”
Now that’s absolutely candid and undeniably true, and we also need to understand it would likely be true if conservatives maintained control of the mainstream media rather than liberals. The fact is that if indeed the media are tilted in any one polarity, this kind of echo chamber inevitably results and this kind of imbalance is always going to be evident. Okrent was both honest and perceptive when he wrote,
“Getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning.”
That’s very true. It’s especially true for Christians to understand as we seek to be faithful in applying the biblical worldview and all of biblical truth in terms of our understanding of the world. We have to work very hard so that we’re not just listening to ourselves and repeating one another. That’s why on The Briefing I spend so much time dealing with articles that come from the mainstream media, outside our own Christian environment.
Finally Arthur Brisbane, who was the public editor of The Times back in 2012, addressed the question as he left that very important responsibility. Speaking of the editorial bias of the New York Times, he wrote,
“Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.”
Most important issue there: his acknowledgment of the worldview issue. It’s right there in black and white. The purpose of this story on The Briefing today is not to throw brickbats at the New York Times, but rather to come to an understanding of the challenge we face as Christians in consuming the news, in trying to analyze what we are hearing and what we are reading, listening to the larger cultural conversation. The New York Times remains the gold standard in terms of newspapers in the United States. The reach of its reporting and the breadth of its editorial staff is unmatched. It still is the paper of record in this country. That’s why the kind of dialogue that began yesterday in the New York Times and as we saw began even decades before is really important for us all to hear.
Is one "more fulfilled" single rather than married? Dubious studies based on other studies make claim
Next, over the last several days we have seen a spate of headlines such as this that have appeared in The Telegraph of London,
“Singles ‘more fulfilled, sociable and self-sufficient than married people’”
In this case, the article is by Sarah Knapton, the science editor for The Telegraph, and she wrote,
“Single people are more fulfilled, sociable and self-sufficient than married people despite being marginalised by society, a psychologist has found after reviewing hundreds of studies.”
“Dr Bella DePaulo, of the University of California, claims the pervasive view that singles must be “sad and lonely” is nonsense and claims people on their own often live more meaningful lives.”
The next sentence,
“Speaking at the American Psychological Society’s annual meeting, Dr DePaulo said there was a relentless celebration of marriage and couples in popular culture, which she labels “matrimania”, while singles faced discrimination and stereotyping.”
Now before we go any further, here we have a classic example of the intersection of the media and so-called social science. I say so-called because the use of the word science and so much of what is labeled social science actually has very little to do with anything that most scientists would’ve recognized until recently. It’s more driven by ideology and especially by poll-taking and surveys than anything else. Recently, the revelation of so much fraud and outright misrepresentation, not to say flimsy research, in the social sciences has made headlines also around the world.
The next thing we need to recognize is that the most suspect of all the categories of social science research, as it’s called, is that which amounts to the study of studies, and that’s what we are told is happening here.
Here we have a psychologist at the University of California who has studied hundreds of studies, we’re told, and has come to the conclusion that single people are often far healthier and more sociable and more self-fulfilled than married people. You’ll also note that she was speaking at the American Psychological Society, and that she had a very clear political and ideological agenda. All that’s right here in the forefront.
If you go to the website of groups such as the American Psychological Society, if you look at their websites and at the plenary sessions in the papers to be presented at these meetings, what you’ll see is a veritable cornucopia of arguments that the nuclear family and that heterosexual marriage are simply passé. Now remember, this is identified as what’s called science. But then she writes,
‘“Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be. Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life.’
She went on to argue that single people tend to be happier in their jobs; they’re more likely to stay in touch with friends and family; they’ve got more time for social engagement; they show up as more self-reliant; they are less inclined to negativity. She said this after she studied 841 studies to be exact. She says that single people,
“Value meaningful work more than spouses do”
Keep that in mind. Then she concludes,
‘“There is no one blueprint for the good life,” she added. “We can create our own life spaces. What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces, and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.’”
Now just remember, this is being packaged as a scientific study of other scientific studies. But what this professor is talking about doesn’t sound scientific at all, because it’s not.
In the United States, the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio ran the headline,
“Singledom has many advantages over marriage, studies show.”
Remember that very clearly: “studies show.” Studies show what studies show studying other studies that will be studied in the future in order to study what the studies mean. But it’s interesting: the studies always turn out to mean what the latest studier of the studies of studies wants it to mean. The Christian worldview truly honors and dignifies those who are single for the cause of Christ and the glory of God. There are any number of reasons why a believing, faithful Christian may be single at any particular point in life, but that doesn’t marginalize the fact that the very first chapter of the Bible, not to mention, add to it the second, makes very clear that marriage is the basic template for human society, for human relatedness, and for the very foundation of human civilization.
But of course, that’s all passé in terms of the new social revolutionaries, and one of the most interesting things that bleeds through these articles is just the antipathy in which marriage is held by so many in the cultural elites. The other thing simply to note is the obvious people who are unmarried, not having a spouse, have more time for the kind of social engagement with other single people and even the development of other relationships outside of the marriage and to say that they find this very fulfilling. Marriage also brings about a recalibration of work and its place within one’s life; that’s simply to be expected. We didn’t need a study, much less a study of 841 studies, to tell us that.
When liberal policies outpace liberal preferences: San Francisco liberals don't want affordable housing
Next, while we’re thinking about the intersection of ideology, worldview, and geography, just consider the city of San Francisco, so iconically a part of the Democratic left that the phrase “San Francisco Democrats” is almost immediately recognizable. San Francisco also has another particular issue: it is running out of housing. In particular it’s running out of affordable housing.
In places like New York City and San Francisco, the housing prices are so skyrocketing that only the very wealthiest can afford it. Furthermore, the interesting thing is, they tend to the places that are predominantly liberal, extremely liberal. Liberals say they are very concerned about income inequality, but one of the most interesting things is that the income inequality tends to be concentrated most where the people who say that income equality’s the biggest issue are also concentrated, and on the upper end.
Noah Smith, writing for Bloomberg Business Week, says,
“The U.S. is running out of places for people to live. Rent is a bigger and bigger part of our cost of living.”
But then he goes on to talk about the city of San Francisco in particular, making very clear as the headline reads,
“San Francisco Progressives Declare War on Affordable Housing”
It turns out the liberals in San Francisco are quite concerned about income inequality and the lack of housing, and they want that problem to be solved—but somewhere else, somewhere in particular that will not mean that the people who can’t afford their housing would be their neighbors, and furthermore that anything would happen that might create a drop in terms of their own property values. By the way, Business Week reports that a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco now costs about $3500 a month to rent.
This is also reflected in a recent story talking about the inequalities between the amounts of money that school districts have to spend on the public schools. It turns out that the state with the greatest inequality is the state of New York. The “not in my backyard” syndrome can affect anyone, anywhere, but it’s particularly informative to us when we see that those who say that they are consumed with a passion for income inequality: they want to swarm around a candidate like Bernie Sanders; they don’t actually want the policies that Sanders is promoting in their own city, certainly not in their own neighborhood.
One of the other interesting things going on in San Francisco, Business Week makes clear, is that they are trying to kick out all forms of industry that are not driven by modern technology. Silicon Valley and the kind of Silicon Valley enterprises that have made that area famous—why, they are very welcome. And of course they draw a particular kind of employee and staff. They create a certain kind of social environment. That’s what San Francisco wants to preserve even if that means making it almost impossible for any kind of traditional industry to survive, not to mention the people who would work in those industries and then live in those very neighborhoods.
France's socialist president has an un-socialist habit: $11,000 haircuts
But finally, even as many on the Democratic left are mourning the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders did not become the Democratic Party’s nominee, and even as there is the recognition that Sanders’s economic policies are basically those that Hillary Clinton nonetheless has adopted as the party’s nominee, it’s also clear that Americans are resettling their understanding of what it means to be a socialist and whether or not they would support a socialist candidate.
In the nation of France, that question was settled long ago, and the current President of France, François Hollande, is himself a socialist. But as NPR reported recently, he apparently is a very interesting socialist. The headline,
“France’s Socialist President Pays Nearly $11,000 A Month For Haircuts.”
Reporter Merrit Kennedy for National Public Radio wrote the French President François Hollande’s,
“dark, thinning hair on top hasn’t really been a subject of conversation, until now. He’s facing a scandal after it emerged that he pays a hairdresser nearly $11,000 (9,895 euros) every month.”
The French president, as NPR notes, actually doesn’t have much hair. But he does have a very expensive haircut. The scandal in France grew when it was discovered that the amount the French president spends on a haircut is roughly equivalent to a government minister’s salary. Explaining why the haircuts cost so much, the French press agency, France 24, reported that the job comes with significant responsibilities. The hairdresser is,
“committed to secrecy and needs to be available 24/7”
The well-paid haircutter complained that he had to miss the births of his own children to be available to give Hollande a haircut. The worldview significance of this: worldview really matters. But if you call yourself a socialist and you’re having $11,000 haircuts, then you’re really not a socialist. Period.