Since starting my career as a blogger, three and a half years ago, I have often found myself quoting from Wikipedia in order to help establish basic facts and definitions (despite coming to realise Wikipedia’s own liberal bias). Part of my journey as a cultural commentator is feeling consternation upon discovering there is bias in news reporting. as well as it distorting and withholding facts. Often such bias leads to fake news, which does a disservice if one believes truth is paramount. Yet when it came to this particular definition, I found what Wikipedia said was especially helpful:
“Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing). In the case of judgment, discernment can be psychological or moral in nature. Within judgment, discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter overlooked by others”.
The point of this blog is to discuss two subjects: discernment and journalism and then relate the two to a sad observation I have made as I have become more aware of the culture wars raging around me: that practically all journalism is biased one way or another and often that bias leads to promoting a fake narrative, and because most of us take what we believe from the narratives we are exposed too, this is important if one believes there is right and wrong ways for the world to go. As a Christian of the more evangelical, zealous variety, I have become aware that discernment, often prefixed with the word “spiritual”, is something often highly prized. One of the reasons was that it was seen as a spiritual gift although the reality is while it is true God alone can provided a 100% spot on perspective on everything, it does not excuse us from checking out all the facts and recognizing we all have baggage and prejudices that need to be acknowledged. As a Christian, I also believe there is a spiritual dimension and while I accept there are great journalists (see below) who don’t recognise this, this does have a bearing on what happens on earth. When it comes to understanding what is going on and doing something meaningful about it, I have too often been disappointed with those supposedly having spiritual discernment.
I have included the above meme because the late Bernard Levin is one journalist I particularly admired, who while respectful of those with religious beliefs was, I understand, an atheist. He had those rare qualities of being intelligent, able to communicate and dedication to finding out the truth, doing so in a balanced way (meaning he tried to check out the facts and many of the angles, even those he was not inclined toward). He had discernment and sadly, according to my observation, was a rarity. As a result, I have become distrustful of the media and try to compensate by reading widely, even if I tend to put more credence to what has been described as “alternative news” realizing they also have an agenda. Two stories that struck me recently both involved, unsurprisingly, President Donald J. Trump, and partly because of the way the stories have been reported, sharp differences in opinion have arisen.
The first is to do with Trump pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Those who agree and disagree make strong cases. While the facts are clear on the matter and should be indisputable, it often strikes me when news outlets report on this story they often cite those facts that align with their opinion, in this case whether the President was right or wrong. Some have raised other matters such as him treating people he had arrested in a bad way. Even though I am inclined to the view that the President was right to pardon and the judiciary was wrong in convicting Arpaio, I realize I am beholden to check out these stories that might lead me to a different conclusion and recognize without a full examination of the facts the best I can do is come to a view that is incomplete. The second story is the Independent article: “Donald Trump has ‘dangerous mental illness’, say psychiatry experts at Yale conference”. In fairness, what it wrote was as far as I can make out true (other news outlets would confirm such a view). But my gripe, having read a whole string of other Independent articles, is that alternative perspectives like this being part of a long line of actions trying to undermine and take down the President and that there may be a strong case (I believe there is) that the President, despite his manifold faults, is perfectly mentally able, are ignored, and the reason these perspectives are ignored is they don’t suit the narrative it wants to push.
If I have a dream, it is for there to be more journalists like Bernard Levin that consistently seek to exercise perfect journalistic integrity, not easy given news outlets owners invariably have their agendas. I am hard pressed to cite news outlets I have perfect confidence in, although I have found even the worst can surprise. It is for this reason I go to alternative news outlets and try to get a balance and full coverage from what I read / see / hear, before venturing forth with my conclusions. Right now, my favourite news outlet is “The Drudge Report“, and while I recognise there is a bias like anywhere else, I applaud it frequently citing stories from its detractors. I long ago came to a view that seeking after and fighting for the truth is one of our noblest undertakings, for it can be painful and take over our lives, which is when the gift of discernment comes into its own!