Time for Raising,
not #LaueringTheBar

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The news is all about shaming Matt Lauer these days – A Disaster; a Storm of Criticism; Matt Lauer failed the Moderator Test – but to be fair, if he’s a traitor to journalistic ethics, he’s got plenty of company.

After Chris Wallace was selected to host an upcoming presidential debate, Wallace said, “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.” In the interview, Wallace spoke of helping “tens of millions of Americans make up their minds,” but he didn’t mention how Americans should go about that if no one helps them separate truth from fiction.

In John 8:32, Jesus says the truth will make us free. Buddha said we can conquer liars by speaking truth, and went on to say, “One who has imbibed the Truth lives happily with well-seeing mind.” But when journalists don’t challenge lies, and instead leave them to sound like facts, they assist the liar instead of arming us with the weapons we need to conquer lies and set ourselves free.

Wallace likened his role to that of a referee in a heavyweight championship fight, but a referee doesn’t just stand by while one fighter bites or head butts another. Those fouls result in penalties or even disqualification, and it’s the ref who makes the call. If Wallace wants to use the referee analogy, he should follow through with it. It’s a foul to use rough tactics instead of clean punches, and God help us if boxing is more civilized than American politics. The debate equivalent of head butts and eye gouges includes ad hominem attacks, gender-based attacks, fabricating stories about yourself or your opponent, and any other dirty tricks candidates try to employ.

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In both arenas, opponents will try fighting dirty if someone doesn’t step up and stop them. We “out here” can’t stop them; we often can’t even identify the fouls. We are responsible for our own jobs and can’t stop to research every statement we hear. So to every journalist interviewing or writing about a candidate or moderating a debate, we are counting on you. You’re the ones with the means to discern truth from fiction, and you have an ethical obligation to genuinely help us make up our minds. Don’t abdicate that part of your job.

Novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” For now, I’m prepared to set the bar much lower and ask that you at least do the right thing when everyone is watching. Quote the candidates, but put an asterisk next to the lies, and tell us the truth. Let the candidates debate, but have the courage to blow your whistle and stop them from committing fouls. Otherwise, you aren’t helping us make up our minds; you’re helping them dupe us.

Don’t help them dupe us. Arm us with truth. Set us free.

8 Comments


  1. What a wonderful and biting rebuke of journalistic integrity or lack there of. The very purpose of the media is to provide us with the most up to date truth we can have. What happens when they lose site of their original purpose? We suffer in the chains of ignorance and become slaves to the “father of lies.” In this case, those generating them.

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  2. Wonderful job. I love that you really explore the idea of what a true referee should be doing; not simply sitting by as the boxers fight each other but keeping an eye for the foul shots. Journalism has reached a low point in this country with this election. I truly believe that it has become more about eliciting headline producing headlines than fact checking. By allowing lies and untruths to hang in the air unchallenged they have empowered a man who lacks morality and scruples. You are right, it is not just Matt Lauer. It is the whole enterprise of journalism that has lost its way.

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  3. Well said!

    Journalists are to report “the facts, ma’am, just the facts” without bias. That means honoring the truth.

    Prior to WWII and even before Hitler came to power in Germany, people … including journalists and politicians … sat back and were mute. Once war broke out, they continued to be mute, unwilling to call out the truth. History has recorded the results of that war and the Holocaust. History cannot be permitted to repeat itself.

    Journalists of today must speak the truth, even if that means calling out a Presidential candidate on his lies and bigotry. It’s called speaking truth to power. We are depending on it, for as you say if they do not point us in the direction of truth, we cannot make an informed decision. We will be blindsided (duped). The consequences of that can and will be devestating.

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  4. I do think that voters have a responsibility to do some research before engaging in that most sacred of American duties. That said, much of that research does rely on media coverage, and we should be able to trust that most of it is as objective as possible or, at a minimum, fact-checked and reported as such.
    As I watched that forum, I was struck not just by Lauer’s low bar for journalistic integrity, but also about what seemed–based on his unwillingness to ask follow-ups–like lack of preparation. I’ve never been a journalist, but I’ve known a few who wouldn’t go into an interview as unarmed with facts as Lauer appeared to.
    I like that you pulled other journalists into the discussion noting this as a trend rather than an isolated incident. As you say, this behavior is not arming folks with the truth, it’s helping the candidates “dupe us.” One question I had in reading your piece: you pointed specifically at television journalists here, but do you think this is a trend in print (and other areas of) journalism as well?
    I genuinely appreciate that you utilized Buddhist teachings in concert with Christian ones as a way, perhaps, to reach out beyond the Christian masses. Thank you for an insightful work here.

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  5. There is certainly a level of journalistic integrity rarely attained anymore, or maybe it is largely a mythical level at that. The expectation is, however, that especially in the political arena, journalists are allied with the general public and provide verifiable truth as a common commodity so that we can make our choices wisely. It does feel like a betrayal that this just isn’t true any longer.

    I think we currently have a very cynical view of journalism, and expect so little journalistic integrity, that we look for the advertisement in every interview. “Who is this journalist really working for?” is quite often the first question I ask any more. I am particularly suspicious of any “journalist” whose employer is a major corporation. It is really sad that we cannot trust the sources of the information upon which we rely.

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  6. Great story. I love how you bring out other journalists. THis is an important topic that few people are talking about. I used to like Matt Lauer but I was a bit disappointed by his interview. It seems everyone in the media is afraid or at least intimidated by Trump and the power associated with his great wealth. Everyone seems to dumb down to him and I cant understand. Does wealth (Trump) have that much power over our society?

    Just wondering? Thanks for great insight.

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  7. Thank you for this ringing “call to arms” going out to all journos….however, these days the media revolution means that anyone with a cell-phone – or a blog – can make “truth.” Therefore the onus is not only on those with that official designation.

    That said, I see what you’re getting at. With the official title, comes official responsibility. I am tired of visiting many fact-checker websites and having them each report a bit differently on any one statistic or bit of evidence cited by a candidate. These days, I try to settle for an accurate recounting of events and at least try to research the inevitable spin that is involved, based on a given publication’s track record.

    Also, I am enough of a postmodernist to view the search for truth as the peeling of an onion. All you get in the end is more onion. To paraphrase my favorite philosopher, “it’s onion all the way down.”

    I’m wondering these days if our yearning for truth is an attempt at a return to the Garden of Eden. That way is barred. However I do agree with your thesis as I understand it: the moderator should call foul on sneaky snakebite attempts, and the journos should report the conversation between Eve and the serpent accurately.

    Robert’s Rules of Order, anyone?

    Thanks for a most thought-provoking post!

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  8. I like this a lot. I thought of one kicker you could use at the end. “Don’t help them dupe us. Arm us with truth. Set us free. And remember, Jesus is always watching.” Just a little edgier. I like to use a kicker at the end to bring people back to the main biblical/theological thrust of public theology.

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