September 14, 2020
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A Glaring Occasion of Sin
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A Glaring Occasion of Sin

A good friend sent me a statement charging Fox News with “inexcusably” violating “elementary canons of journalism” in its handling of the Coronavirus. It was signed by a large number of professors and journalists. I am sure my friend intended to persuade me that I should join the throng of enlightened, responsible people and abandon Fox News and President Trump. This essay is my response to my friend.

First: I am not in the least shocked that a group of college professors and journalists signed a letter criticizing Fox News. Here’s why: 

About the Professors

“Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business management at Brooklyn College, reviewed the party affiliations of 8,688 tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors at 51 of the top 60 liberal arts colleges listed in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 rankings. Nearly 60 percent of all faculty members were registered as either a Republican or a Democrat, and of that sample, there were 10.4 times as many Democrats as Republicans.“  

Other studies confirm this one. The imbalance has been known for many years. I would think that with all the “progressive” preaching about diversity and tolerance, they’d have long ago corrected this imbalance in their ranks by hiring more conservative professors. After all, liberals dominate the committees that make hiring recommendations, so they could easily have achieved a balance. So why didn’t they? Their message to America seems to be, “Do as we say, not as we do.” Some call that a bad example. Others call it hypocrisy.

About the Journalists

Ken Stern, the former CEO of National Public Radio is not a Trump fan. In fact, he criticizes him sharply for his attacks on the media. But the main focus in Stern’s essay is on the media’s failings that are too often hidden. He writes:

“Most reporters and editors are liberal — a now-dated Pew Research Center poll found that liberals outnumber conservatives in the media by some 5 to 1, and that comports with my own anecdotal experience at National Public Radio. When you are liberal, and everyone else around you is as well, it is easy to fall into groupthink on what stories are important, what sources are legitimate and what the narrative of the day will be. This may seem like an unusual admission from someone who once ran NPR, but it is borne of recent experience . . .” [Stern goes on to describe at length a trip he took among conservatives around the country.]

“Over the course of this past year, I have tried to consume media as they do and understand it as a partisan player. It is not so hard to do. Take guns. Gun control and gun rights is one of our most divisive issues, and there are legitimate points on both sides. But media is obsessed with the gun-control side and gives only scant, mostly negative, recognition to the gun-rights sides. . . It is an amazing story, though far from unique, but you simply won’t find many like it in mainstream media (I found it on Reddit). It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.” 

Secondly: When I encounter Christians who refuse to watch Fox and remain loyal to CNN, MSNBC, etc., I am not surprised that they embrace the anti-Trump views constantly promoted on those networks; what they hear over and over they are naturally inclined to believe! But I am surprised that they are either unaware of the overwhelming Evangelical support for Trump, or at least incurious about Evangelicals’ reasons for doing so.

“Ninety-nine percent of Republican white evangelical Protestants oppose impeaching and removing Trump. (As this link will show, the source is not Fox but CBS.) In addition, “Roughly seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (69%) say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to the Pew Center’s latest polling in January 2019.”

Why the Evangelical Support? Jewish author Dennis Prager offers this explanation: “Religious Christians and Jews who support Trump understand that the character of a public leader is quite often less important than his policies . . . It can feel good to oppose the president, but religious supporters of the president are more interested in doing good than feeling good. On issue after issue—religious liberty, the unborn, Israel, the American flag, and free speech, to cite just a few—the president and religious Americans have made common cause.”

[Prager then adds, pointedly] “One of the few moral heroes of the Holocaust was the German industrialist and member of the Nazi party Oskar Schindler. He personally saved more than a thousand Jews’ lives. He was also a serial philanderer. I suspect many leading Nazis never cheated on their wives. Character is a complex issue.”

Thirdly: I am baffled that so many Christians refuse to watch Fox News, which has a favorable view of Christianity, and instead watch the mainstream media, which is condescending or contemptuous toward Christianity. (See “Paul Marshall’s book Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, for a discussion of this subject.

Am I implying that Christians should watch Fox just because that network thinks well of Christianity? No, not at all. I am saying they should watch because Fox’s treatment of Trump and his administration is more in accord with the teachings of Christ than progressive” news sources’ treatments are. Let me explain further:

In John 8:4-6, when the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery and asked whether they should stone her as Moses commanded, Jesus began writing in the sand, and then said “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” One by one, they walked away. Fox News journalists generally follow that example with the President, while mainstream journalists send their staffs to the stone quarry with oversized wheelbarrows.

In Mark 15:12-14when John brought Jesus before the crowd, they shouted once and then again “Crucify him.” As I write, we are entering Holy Week, so this phrase is at the moment prominent in the minds of Christians. We are taught that the cry came not from a sense of justice or careful thought but from blind anger and mindless hatred. I would in no way compare Jesus Christ and Donald Trump (though I have no reason to believe Trump is any less a follower of Christ than I am). Nevertheless, it seems to me that journalists’ incessantly repeated cries of “Impeach him,” rose from a similar kind of blind anger and mindless hatred. If that seems too strong a statement, let me understate my point: the cries of journalists were far short of being Christian.

In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him? Up to seven times? Jesus responded, “Not just up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven times.” Most Fox commentators show respect for that admonition, and not only toward Trump, but toward others. In contrast, relatively few mainstream journalists do, especially toward Trump. Rather, most of them almost never forgive any fault of his, but indeed go out of their way to find faults, small or large, past or present, real or imagined, to gleefully report and condemn. And when Democrats express falsehoods about Trump, they immediately publish them, even when the actual facts are at their disposal. The list of examples is lengthy, so let me simply contrast Trump’s actions on Coronavirus and the Democrats’ published statements attacking him:

President Trump 

January 29: “Announced the formation of the Coronavirus Task Force to help monitor and contain the spread of the virus and provide updates to the President.”

January 31:Declared the coronavirus a public health emergency. Announced Chinese travel restrictions. Suspended entry into the United States for foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the coronavirus.” “Took critical steps to funnel all flights from China into just 7 domestic U.S. airports.”

February 4: Delivered the State of the Union address in which he noted the danger of the coronavirus and pledged to keep Americans safe. [Note: this was the occasion on which Nancy Pelosi stood behind Trump and tore up a copy of his address for the camera.)

The Democrats

January 31: Joe Biden called Trump’s travel restrictions on China “demagoging.” 

February 5: Chuck Schumer claimed “the premature travel ban to and from China by the current administration is just an excuse to further his ongoing war against immigrants.” (Note: On the same date, The New York Times declared it was safe to travel to China.)

February 24: Nancy Pelosi encouraged people to visit Chinatown in San Francisco.

February 26: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo said the virus should not cause undo fear.

March 2: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced, “I’m encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives and get out on the town despite Coronavirus.”

March 10: Bill de Blasio declared Coronavirus was no worse than the common cold and kept NYC schools and restaurants open. On the same date he further played down the virus, saying “We cannot shut down because of fear.” “We want to encourage New Yorkers going out.” “If you are under 50 and you’re healthy, which is most New Yorkers, there’s little threat here.”

March 12: Joe Biden criticized the President for “banning all travel from Europe—or any other part of the world.”

March 29: Despite Trump’s clearly documented swiftness in reacting to the virus and Drs Fauci and Brix’s continuing confirmation of that fact, Nancy Pelosi, in a CNN interview, accused Trump of “denial at the beginning“ “delay in getting equipment to where it is needed,” and “fiddling while people were dying.”

In early April, many of these same Democrats charged Trump with misleading people about Hydroxycloriquine’s effectiveness and safety. In doing so they ignored these salient facts: In 2013 Dr. Fauci praised the drug’s effectiveness, as have Dr. Daniel J. Wallace, who has given the drug to his patients for 42 years and has found the risk of taking it to be “nil,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Marc Siegel, whose 93 year old father recently recovered from Coronavirus after taking the drug, and Dr. Anthony Cardillo, who states, “Every patient I’ve prescribed it to has been very, very ill and within 8 to 12 hours, they were basically symptom-free.”

What does this timetable reveal? That President Trump took action to combat the Pandemic well over a month before Democrat leaders even acknowledged the seriousness of the problem. Moreover, while he was doing so, they mocked him, and then later, when they came to their senses, instead of apologizing, claimed he had not acted soon enough!

And how did the mainstream media respond? By lauding the President’s impressive speed or criticizing the Democrats’ slow-wittedness? Of course not. By challenging Pelosi’s outrageous charge against Trump on March 29? Not at all. They were too busy attacking the President.

A friend of mine told me of an experiment he undertook a week or so ago to relieve the boredom of staying at home. He watched the President’s daily news briefings carefully, taped CNN’s and Fox’s reporting on the briefings, and then compared the reports to see which was more accurate. What he found, he explained, was that Fox was much more accurate; moreover, that CNN used clips that cast Trump in the worst light and in some cases clearly distorted what he had said or took it out of context. If you are thinking, “I’d have to see that to believe it,” you might want to try my friend’s experiment for yourself.

My friend’s conclusion about CNN should not really be surprising, especially to those who watch it and similar media like MSNBC. Since before Trump took office, they accused him of collusion with Russia and other criminal offenses and called for investigations to support those and other charges against him. Many months later, when the investigations were concluded, they rejected the results and intensified their attacks on Trump. To this very day they have refused to give Trump credit for his many achievements in office, or even to report them to their viewers/readers and let them decide for themselves. Instead, they have insulted viewers/readers’ intelligence by filtering and distorting the news.

Finally, and most importantly for me, I believe mainstream journalist’s indefensible treatment of President Trump and Fox News is not only a sinful act in itself (see the eighth commandment); it also, and even more significantly, creates an “occasion of sin” for their viewers/readers.

The term “occasion of sin” refers to people or places or activities that tempt or, worse, lead others to sinful behavior. Though the term is Catholic, the concept is shared by other Christians, and derives from Christ’s admonition (Matt 18:7), “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” I submit that those who refuse to recognize the occasion of sin in the media’s demonizing of President Trump, and who continue allowing it into their homes and the minds of their children, share in the media’s guilt.

Unfortunately, I have never heard this expressed in a Catholic homily nor heard of its being expressed in mainline Protestant homilies. Whether the omission suggests that the clergy share the media’s unchristian view of the President or simply that they fear being “too political,” I haven’t a clue. In any case, I believe that omission is not only a shame—it is a dereliction of their responsibility to preach the Gospel. I pray that all Christian clergy will have the courage to warn their parishioners about this sin, and that the parishioners will heed the warning.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero