Why Christians should support a free press

RNS photo illustration by Kit Doyle

(RNS) — In my youth, few things excited me more than running down to the end of our driveway in suburban Chicago and seeing not one, but three blue bundles spread across the blacktop. In each plastic bag contained a treasure of knowledge, new vistas of information about the world: the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Herald.

I was one of those kids, the nerdy ones who read the news and the sports section every day and the comics on Sundays. This was before the internet, before Twitter gave us breaking news every second and before a thousand email newsletters flooded our inboxes.

Our family didn’t have a TV, so we got newspapers and devoured them. And we listened to the radio: WGN, WLS, WBBM.

I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the work of media institutions and those hard-working journalists who deliver the news to ordinary people around the world.

But my appreciation for the media doesn’t just stem from being a news nerd, but from something deeper. As a Christian, I believe in the pursuit of truth (Philippians 4:8). The telling of stories didn’t start when the first ink-stained pages rolled off of a printing press, but when God himself inspired 40 different authors to tell his story. The Bible tells the gritty yet beautiful narrative of humanity’s creation, fall and God’s glorious redemption in Christ.

Faithful Christians will never give today’s headlines the same weight we do our Bibles, but we should appreciate the way a free press contributes to a healthy civil society.

Unfortunately, in recent years, trust between the media and its consumers has deteriorated.

A variety of factors led to this moment. The fragmented media environment allows us to choose our information based on our personal biases and shut out news that cuts against our tribal instincts. Our public officials have made a sport of condemning reporting that makes them look bad, catechizing their most fervent supporters to only believe the good news about them.

And many in the media have contributed to the lack of faith in the institutions they represent, seemingly cheerleading for certain outcomes or underreporting stories that may contradict a personal worldview.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Creative Commons

Restoring faith in our media institutions is a shared responsibility. Christians should not only see the value of a free press but should support robust reporting, even journalism that reveals the misdeeds and sins in our own communities. Transparency doesn’t hurt the advance of the gospel. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ lay bare the gritty reality of every human heart.

In other words, a newspaper article cannot reveal anything about us that God doesn’t already know.

Meanwhile, the media could learn from some of the criticism of consumers. Too often, in our day, it seems that an undercurrent of bias exists against Christian ideals, even in subtle ways in which stories are reported or given the weight of breaking news or national importance. Too often journalists, especially on social media, seem to cheerlead rather than report.

This tendency not only hardens opinions against the media, but it also makes it harder to defend the good work of courageous journalists who risk their lives to report news from around the globe.

All of us should understand that a free press is a sacred trust. At its best, robust journalism is a bulwark against corruption in high places, a check against the abuse of power and a vehicle to report on the good and the beautiful in a broken world.

The news may be delivered in ways vastly different from those of my childhood, but the media’s purpose in a flourishing society is no less important.

(Daniel Darling is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is the author, most recently, of “The Dignity Revolution.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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Daniel Darling


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  • The fragmented media environment allows us to choose our information based on our personal biases and shut out news that cuts against our tribal instincts

    This fragmentation didn’t really exist (at least not nearly to the extent it does today) before Fox News arrived on the scene in 1996 specifically to counter the resurgent Democratic movement that saw Bill Clinton’s two terms in office. The Clintons had to be stopped, you see, and so a whole new network came into being that created a new approach to the news: not as the presentation of mutually-agreed-upon verifiable facts from reliable sources, but rather as a simple commodity to be bought and sold like any other with a specific bent toward a certain demographic group that was becoming resentful of the liberal change it saw all around it – what we now refer to as the Republican Base. This was all accomplished by the very man who had worked as political consultant to no less than three Republican presidents: Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I in the area of communications.

    Two decades later, we have an entire demographic group that no longer trusts even the notion of mutually-agreed-upon facts but rather stands behind a man whose closest associates talk about “alternative facts” and say things like “the truth isn’t the truth.” This, from the very people who rightly criticized Bill Clinton for saying “that depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.” Back then, they were right to mock Clinton and stand on principle. Where is their principle now?

  • Fox News was a result of CNN, the NYT and other media outlets letting their editorial page leak into their news pages. Conservatives got tired of slanted “news” articles and began to search for other news sources. The free market then created Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
    The problem now is that universities and journalism programs are bastions of liberalism. Students are indoctrinated and graduate with progressive programming that they then apply to the news stories they write.
    I have seen newspapers change since the time I delivered them as a kid until now. Back then, the story was the story; man hits dog with car. Dog dies. Now, it’s: (privileged white) man intentionally persecutes dog with gas guzzling car that causes global warming. Dogs mother said he was just getting his life back together after 7 years in the pound. Dog survives, but believes medical marijuana would help.

  • You are correct, and one of the great ironies is that people who imagine themselves having Christian values or family values flock to Fox. They forgot, I guess, that Fox Network burst onto the American scene in 1987 bringing us a completely questionable family portrayal with Al Bundy and his crew on “Married With Children”. Then, they brought us Fox News Channel.

  • Christians should support a free press mainly because nothing else will tell them a balanced truth about anything (or everything). Yes, you have to read a variety of publications, and yes, you have to read them over a period of time. But, if you consume a lot of it, you will be informed in ways that your Bible, your church, your employer, your public school, your government, your retailers, and your neighbors will not give to you. There are two problems with all the other sources in our lives. Often they don’t know much, and if they did, they have individual reasons for not telling much with any balance..

    If your spiritual leaders are telling you that “mainstream” media is bad, get new spiritual leaders ASAP.

  • A Free Press is the best protection we have for our rights–this includes the right to practice the religion of our choice OR of not to practice any religion. When governments can hide their atrocities from the people none of us are safe.

    One of the BIG differences between Conservatives and Liberals is pointed out in George Lakoffs book about “Moral Politics”. Liberals tend to believe that challenging and questioning what we read or hear is our Moral and Civic duty, a great virtue.Thus we tend to read more than one paper or watch more than one TV station to get different takes on the news. AND we never buy what we read on social media sites!

    Many Conservatives tend to believe that challenging and questioning what they read or hear is the greatest SIN–Obedience to those in authority, has been pounded into them since childhood (sometimes physically) and Obedience–without hesitation, question, challenge or complaint is their greatest moral virtue.

    It is easier on their psyche to read and listen to what they know they will agree with than to read or listen to something that leaves them with questions!

  • Christians should support a free press for the same reason people of any faith should — because freedom of the press and freedom of religion are not isolated from one another. Tyranny by its nature seeks control, not over just one freedom but over all.

    Those who support agenda-driven media because it supports their worldview should be cautious. It will likely come back to bite them in the end.

  • It is my belief that Fox News is the poison that runs through the veins of the entire Republican Party, eventually ending up in their brains where it does the worst damage. The antidote of course is simply changing the channel, something that is unlikely ever to happen.

  • I agree with you about Fox News, and, of course Conservative Talk Radio has been similarly poisoning minds for about the same period of time——20-25 years. We also have some religious broadcasting which is about as crazy as both of those. And, guess what?
    A full half of our voters are now happy to be Trumpees with no appreciation at all for 1) the labor struggles of the past, 2) the favorable government regulation of the past, 3) the norms of decency we have gained through those “activist” courts, 4) the civil rights struggles of the past, 5) the benefits we derived from separation of church and state, 6) the many benefits to workers of steep income taxes on their bosses (a thing mostly now killed).

    It’s a very sick situation—-compared to what 21st-century thinking might have been without all that noise.

  • You realize, of course, you are commenting in a forum which is an agenda-driven media.

    If you don’t believe that, read Reese and Silk.

  • HA ha ha too true AAA+++ for Parker.

    Now watch as the supposed ‘free press’ advocates try to silence what you’ve written.

  • I can’t speak about newspapers but if you check out conservative online news sources such as Breitbart, Daily Caller and Daily Wire, for example, you see opinion pieces disguised as objective news. Ditto for liberal sites such as HuffPost, Slate and Vox. Both sides neglect or bury news unfavorable to their side. Their biases are evident in the headline as well as the body. Some are outright dishonest. I have to spend a lot of time trying to get an accurate picture and don’t always succeed. Woe to the citizen who just reads or listens to one source!

  • Given Christianity’s complete melding with the Republican party one would be forgiven for looking askance at their idea of a “free press”. Their understanding of a “free press” is dead-opposite of the historical meaning of the term.

  • “Liberals tend to believe that challenging and questioning what we read or hear is our Moral and Civic duty, a great virtue.”

    Some “liberals” don’t. Consider Mark Silk, who basically drove everyone who disagreed with him out of commenting on his articles. You – of course – remain.

    “All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake ‘public opinion’ for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.” – Vladimir Lenin

    “Many Conservatives tend to believe that challenging and questioning what they read or hear is the greatest SIN …”

    Please provide two examples.

  • “We think we have got freedom of the press. When one millionaire has ten newspapers and ten million people have no newspapers – that is not freedom of the press.” – Anastas Mikoyan

  • Freedom of the press regarding government interference. There is no guarantee for an accurate and unbiased press. It’s caveat emptor. Unfortunately most people don’t have the time or inclination to make sure they’re getting to the truth.

  • Now Bob, what on earth are you doing spending time on a blog for gay people? Research? Or does it satisfy some other appetite?

  • You realize, of course, you’re commenting in that same forum.

    I take in information from many sources but always with a grain of salt. I prefer to do my own thinking.

  • But I did not raise the issue of an “agenda-driven media” in an agenda-driven media.

    My comments start with the assumption that this IS an agenda-driven media and if you cross the wrong author – e.g., Mark Silk – you become an ex-commenter.

  • Happy to give a personal example. One gent I knew tried to convert me and I asked him how he could know Christianity was true if he had never learned anything about other religions and asked if he had ever read the Upanishads, the Tao teh Ching, the Analects of Confucius. He said he hadn’t to do so in his mind would be to commit “spiritual adultery”. Adultery is a SIN in his lexicon.
    Other examples are people who choose Fox News as their only news source. It doesn’t question or challenge their beliefs.

    Another gent when asked if he ever watched PBS programs said NO they are all lies. We all know the Bible tells him not to bear false witness, to do so is a SIN.

    Then there are many writers who have also realized this point–that OBEDIENCE is seen as the highest moral virtue. You might read Lakoff’s “Moral Politics”, Jonathan Haidt “Moral Foundation Theory” to name a couple of good books!

  • Now, it’s not fair to call him bob. You don’t know that. His name is “mark”. Just because his two comments below about Mark Silk “driving people out” who have “crossed” him, makes it appear, and not for the first time in the past week alone, that he has started posting under yet another name, and right afterwards, doesn’t make it so. It’s just a confluence of unrelated events.

    And it could be a total coincidence the bob and mark both make references to joemgod. I mean, hey! You and I both read joemygod, so it is entirely possible that bob and mark do, too.

    As for your insinuation that he visits joemygod for some other gagenda, please!!! When I was a kid, My brothers used to look at playboy magazine for the articles. Lots of boys did. Not me, of course. I was a good boy, and I knew that I might accidentally end up looking at breasts, which would sexualize me at a young age. I liked to look at pictures of gladiators, instead. And Greek Gods, because even then I was interested in religion and ancient history.

    So, please! Let’s keep this respectful, honest and civil per RNS rules and TOS. Especially the Terms of Service.

  • I didn’t raise the issue of “agenda-driven media” either. The article did.

    I can only speak to my own experience, but I’ve disagreed with authors here several times (including Mark Silk) and never been censored.

    Moving on.

  • Not really. Fact checking is almost non-existent with the right wing sites you mentioned.

    Right wing sites tend to go from “mixed” to “questionable” when it comes to reporting. Meaning not only biased, but frequently just wrong or even lying.

    Your left wing sources are noted always with high levels of factual reporting and passing fact checks in general

    Bias exists for both sets, but the “liberal biased” sources at least make efforts to ensure they are getting facts straight. Right wing sources seldom or never do.

  • That was stupid. Disagreement is not silencing someone. What I find funny is that conservatives shout loudly about being banned from liberal discussion boards but banning people for ideological positions is a regular practice on conservative sites like Breitbart, Daily Caller, and the like. Evidently it only counts if it happens to you.

  • You cited a source which is known as:
    “A questionable source exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, overt propaganda, poor or no sourcing to credible information ”

    ” It often publishes misleading news stories and conspiracies that amount to fake news. Has a horrible track record with fact checking”

    Then another one which fails any kind of credibility check
    “The Stream is an online news and opinion website that is overtly Christian. It has a strong right wing bias and advocates for Creationism. Due to its many positions that are contrary to science we are placing this right wing site in this category due to pseudoscience. ”

    So in essence you attack a legitimate well vetted news source by using ones nobody in their right mind should ever trust,

  • You must be confusing me with someone else. I’ve often been confused with Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney. Sometimes all at once. It happens.
    I’ve never said that. But feel free to peruse my comment history if you have nothing else to do. It goes back some years.

  • One gent does not make a case.

    Two unnamed “gents” don’t make two examples, and capping it with “Other examples are people who choose Fox News as their only news source.” doesn’t improve it.

  • My mistake is that when you said “my husband” in a previous post, I forgot that the US condones sin.

  • So it looks like you LIED when you said I said I was a woman. God doesn’t like it when Good Christians (TM) lie.
    As for condoning sin? Evangelicals voted for Jabba the trump overwhelmingly. As did Mormons. Evangelicals have no issue with divorce for reasons other than adultery, or so it appears by their divorce rates, and the fact that people can get divorced for other reasons. Two words: KIM DAVIS, a good and holy woman whose marital history and infidelities would make Jabba blush.
    Oh, yeah. and the US believes in religious freedom, even though it is a sin not to believe that jesus died for your sins. I think that qualifies for blasphemy against the holy spirit. Yet we allow it. We even condone it.
    Try again.
    Or don’t.

  • I should have stated that Breitbart, Daily Wire and Daily Caller are the ones that are often deceitful.

  • Fortunately sin is not part of the US legal code and can be ignored. I expected better conduct from christians compared to us heathens but have been disappointed.

  • Well I helped substantiate that. They apparently have an objectively measured lousy record for fact checking.

  • In other words, you are unable to refute the two incidents that were offered to you. You may not like the media sources that put the truth on the table, but you find yourself unable to whitewash or even deny the actual incidents that were reported. No refutation is available, because the WaPo reptoids really DID do the dirt.

    So your response is simply to shoot at the messengers? Can’t touch the accuracy so you’re taking an axe to whoever speaks the accuracy?
    Now that’s just **pee-tee-full** (although, as always, I do appreciate you always trying to give it the ole college try.)

  • I don’t have to refute sources which are known to be garbage. Ones notorious for either failing basic fact checks or being a clearinghouse for the ridiculous. I already provided sources which indicate why your articles can be ignored.

    ” You may not like the media sources that put the truth on the table”

    That could be the case, but that is not what you brought to the table. As seen by my links to a source which evaluates media sources on the basis of partisan bias and factual reporting. One of your sources was considered “red flagged” as not to be taken at face value at all.

    You have to come up with something a little more credible on its face. I have found MediaBias/Factcheck to be a rather reliable source as to whether a cite is actually news or just junk. They are fair in their assessments of bias and do their own fact checking for accuracy

    You on the other hand have at times spouted psuedoscience, debunked stories and flat out fictions if it supported your views. Even when corrected, you simply repeat the same nonsense in other threads. Your credibility is non-existent.

  • I don’t believe it! If you take the evidence of the US Congress, on an issue like health care you usually have the Conservatives splintering, and the Liberals marching in lockstep.

  • What you’re offering is your opinion, and your opinion that your opinion is superior to the opinions of those you dislike.

    Nothing more.

  • And permit me to pile on a little. We got some Alt-Left DNC Shills doing THEIR favorite dirt over at the publicly funded National Public Radio. They love their Trump-Hating dirt. But this week, they got caught.

    “NPR was forced to issue a lengthy correction Friday after falsely accusing Donald Trump Jr. of lying to the Senate about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, claiming his statements contradicted Michael Cohen’s plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

    “… Trump Jr. celebrated the correction in a series of tweets. “I guess this is as close as I’ll get to an apology where yet another ‘bombshell’ bites the dust,” he wrote in a tweet. “Pro tip: don’t just rush to publish anything thinking that it’s the got-ya you so desperately want it to be. CNN has the market cornered on that… let them own it.”
    — Fox News Online, Lukas Mikelionis (12/1).

  • Well, sin is a part of Obergefell (in fact it’s 99.9 percent of it).

    “Christians” & “Heathens” can easily agree on that one, I’m sure.

  • Of course I am offering my opinion, everyone on these threads is offering his or her opinion, that is what this comment section is about. You just don’t happen to like my opinion because you are unable to refute it. Grow up Mark.

  • Again “Grow up Mark.”

    You really have nothing much to say beyond “Atheism is good, religion is bad, and if you don’t like it, grow up.”

  • “Ole college try” is going a bit far. “Ole high school try” might be more apropos, particularly at the freshman level before anyone learns very much about research and citation.

    The only reason to deem trustworthy the source that Tater offers in such childlike faith is that it SAYS it’s trustworthy. The group who write for it explain precious little about how they arrive at their conclusions. Much of it, in fact, is word for word Wikipedia.

  • I was trying to be kind. But I wouldn’t call her a monster: just misguided and ignorant beyond measure and likeability, and about ten other adjectives that I won’t include because I’m trying to raise the tone a bit. 😉

    The term monsters I reserve for people who actually are monsters: the people who kick their children out on the street, the parents who kill their gay kids, the religious leaders who molest kids, and the religious leaders who use religion to justify it all.

    Plus, maybe a few others.

  • Readers, Mark likely doesn’t like Susan’s opinions because Susan is often dishonest with both herself and others. Also, she reasons like a child often. (Yet incredulously asks others to “grow up”) Her last point illustrates this. Susan provided anecdotal evidence in support of her claim. She used the invalid “argument from personal experience.” Ex. Do all men wear hats? “A man I knew wore a hat, therefore I conclude all men wear hats.” Please never use this type argument as it is valueless. Use valid arguments only. Thanks

  • I hand’t noticed. I’m so gay that I make Sean Hayes look butch.

    Of course, At the same time, I am also so butch that i make Sylvester Stallone look like a nelly Queen.

    There’s my existential dilemma. As a self respecting homosexual, I just never know whether I am supposed to be a muscled, hairy, mustachio’d sexual predator/violent psychopath, or a lithe, hairless, bottle blond who faints from fright at a Disney princess.

  • You really have nothing more to say.

    “Grow up” in this context means “Don’t keep pointing out that the old lady has nothing substance to say, but sure does like to gussy her opinions as profundities.”

  • Are you stalking me Mark? Since when is 68 old? Age is a matter of attitude.

    You have googled my name and discovered I have an article that comes up in the top ten listings. You have checked out the Religious Tolerance organization and gone back several months looking for my essays. Did you also try to find my address in New Mexico? Do you know where I now live?

    I think you have overplayed your hand and exposed yourself as a stalker.

  • One of the problems you’re encountering is that your favorite topic to talk about is Susan Humphreys.

    As a result anyone with a good memory – mine borders on photographic – recalls you mentioned New Mexico and living there at least a dozen times in the last year alone, gave sufficient information to calculate your age +/- one year.

    The Religious Tolerance material responded to your suggestion to Tired Catholic that he read it.

    My multiple citations of your anti-religious comments a week or two ago resulted from your posting them and leaving them on-line.

    So, you’ve overplayed your hand and exposed yourself as an officious self-important individual who just assumed no one puts the pieces together.

  • And practicing said freedom with the Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings
    (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups
    calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally,
    Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early
    philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely
    different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for
    eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

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