NCR Blog: Six Ways to Battle Biased Reporting

By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.

You don’t have to wade too far into the news on any given day to see articles that are biased against the Catholic faith. For those who have watched the unfolding story of the Planned Parenthood videos, there are few current events that better underscore the depth of mainstream media bias. 

As Catholics, it can be disheartening to feel like the deck is stacked against us all the time. But awareness of the media’s often concerted effort to mislead people about our faith and the things we hold dear doesn’t have to leave us in a state of despair, cynicism, or send us back to the confessional for acting in anger. Here are six things that can be done to pro-actively to stem the tide of the maligning media.

1. Don’t Be Afraid of Intellectual Challenges to Our Faith

I grew up in a very progressive part of Oregon (and yes, there is an unprogressive part of that beautiful state). It always strikes me as funny to hear from the locals how free-thinking they are; if you look around, it becomes clear that they all just think like everyone else. There is nothing free or liberated about groupthink. 

Catholics are often accused of not thinking for themselves, but the culture has moved so far from the basic precepts of the faith, that Catholics have become the most thoughtful people around. Like George Weigel says, no one picks up the faith through osmosis anymore. It is something that people think themselves into. 

Despite what the culture might say, there is nothing intellectually limp about Catholic theology and philosophy. St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval master, when arguing a point would seek out the strongest arguments against his own position and then try to refute them. He knew the truth of the faith would prevail, so rather than simply refuting weak positions, he wanted to make sure he was battling the best. 

Unfortunately, today’s media does the opposite. Most attacks against the faith are considered straw man arguments – they don’t really represent the truth of our faith, but merely a caricature of it in order to defeat or mock it. Few journalists have anything nearing the historical or theological background to faithfully report on the subtle and expansive issues related to the Catholic faith. 

After 2000 years, not only has the Church seen most everything, it has an intellectual antidote or explanation for most cultural ailments. Topics like marriage and sexuality, though they no longer fit our decadent culture’s notion of common sense, are compelling and beautiful when lived out. If one looks closely enough, the Church can defend herself – though may have to do the talking. Bishop Barron was a striking example of this during MSNBC’s coverage of the Pope’s visit. Armed with his own deep understanding and lived experience of the faith, he was able to silence Brian Williams and Chris Matthew’s tired and shallow criticisms of celibacy.

2. Send Your Own Message

Many television consumers are actively “cutting their cable” and finding other internet-based sources for their favorite programs, minus the bill for the other 700 channels they don’t watch. This has the added bonus, in some cases, of drying up funding for news outlets, or at least send a message that a one-note style of reporting isn’t appreciated. 

Reaching out to TV sponsors can also be effective. When a host on The View recently made disparaging comments about the nursing profession, the network heard about it loud and clear. At least five major sponsors pulled money from the ABC show following viewer outcry.

One friend of mine, so aggrieved by the Planned Parenthood videos, has left her own comfort zone and actively emails the latest news or action items as they are made available. Email and social media make it a lot easier to get an alternative message out to a large number of people.

3. Seek out and Support Trustworthy News Sources (Like the National Catholic Register)

As any journalist can tell you, it is very easy to put your own bias on a piece – a word left out here – a slanted quote from a source there. But a bias isn’t always to be dismissed as a negative. There always will be a bias – it is how people are hardwired to think. Where it becomes a problem is when a news outlet tries to give the impression that they are simply neutral and just reporting the facts. Knowing what the bias is that a news outlet is operating under can make all the difference.

With so many news sources available today, it is important to have alternative sources for news media. Cross-referencing stories, when you are not sure of what bias is at work, also has a way of shaking out inconsistencies.  

4. Simply Unplug

There is no beatitude that says “Blessed are the well informed.” Sometimes it is just best to unplug a bit from the media. Because smartphones are everywhere, it can be difficult to leave not briefly glance at the latest news. Retreating to a book/ebook or turning to prayer when you have a spare moment instead of looking at the headlines can release some of the pressure of our tumultuous world. 

5. Do the Opposite

The culture wars go beyond the material - they are spiritual battles. Our response cannot simply be a material one, but has to include spiritual weapons. Biased reporting provides a great opportunity to live out St. Ignatius’s teaching on “do the opposite.” He said, “do the exact opposite of what is done by men of the world – hate what they seek and seek what they avoid.” When our inclination is to feel defeated, we can instead feel hope, pray, and trust in God’s providence in the face of the lies. Yes, complaining about media bias has something subjectively satisfying about it – but in the spiritual realm, it doesn’t bear much fruit.

6. Pray for Journalists

Journalists are people like everyone else and are influenced by those around them. There have been several examples (whose names don’t need to be mentioned) where an outsider joins a newspaper or channel to provide a different perspective and after a few months, his unique point of view has elided into those of all the other reporters or commentators. It is difficult to swim upstream when everyone around you is going the other direction. Catholics know and understand this because we live it everyday, but for most in the world, they just want to be liked and to get along with others. 

Journalists need our prayer support now more than ever; both to help them see the truth, but also be able to swim in the opposite direction from their peers and producers. It is a tough job and fiercely competitive – so swimming against the tide can sometimes be career suicide. Imagine, however, the change that could take place if we could actually get a few of the cradle Catholics who have strayed from the faith back to living a vibrant and loving expression of Catholicism?

Posted on October 7, 2015 .