In an address to Catholic media on December 16th, Pope Francis evaluated the dissemination of fake news as a pressing world problem. Calling it a “grave sin that hurts the heart of the journalist and hurts others,” he set the stage for the inclusion of the issue in his upcoming annual address.
We remember the old idiom that “No news is good news” and the slogan “All the news that’s fit to print.” The latter was coined in 1897 by Adolph S. Ochs and still appears on the masthead of the New York Times. The former is ascribed to England’s King James I, although he is alleged to have more accurately said that “No news is better than evil news.”
If It Is in Print, It Must Be True
The news was hard to come by, even for kings, in 1616, especially if it had to travel great distances. A journey of 26.2 miles was considered a great distance. We call 26.2 miles a marathon. Messengers typically delivered disconcerting news. By the time the news arrived at the hand of the king, things that were happening 26.2 or 100 miles away could have changed. Were that the case, other messengers would come. Hence, having no subsequent updates, the king could reasonably assume that no news was good news.
A century and a half later, the civilized world had become dependent on newspapers. Whether they were published daily or weekly, credibility was a concern for securing subscribers. The business was highly competitive, so sensationalism was considered by some to be the secret to success. For the New York Times, sensationalism was scandalous. Accuracy and authenticity were the path to prominence in print. Still, a plethora of papers survived on fake news that appealed to the masses who believed anything they read.
Nonetheless, throughout the 20th century, print and television news generally espoused accuracy as the standard for credibility.
If It Is on the Internet, It Must Be True
The growth of the internet and the advent of social media have been a death knell for the newspaper industry. According to a 2016 Pew Research report, employment at newspapers dropped by nearly 40% between 1994 and 2014, a loss of more than 20,000 jobs.
With its global reach, social media, blogs, and websites are now the dominant source of information. Reporting the real news as it happens has given way to a plethora of opinions, propaganda, gossip, speculation, and accusation. Journalism has devolved to jingoism.
There are now so many distortions to real news that it is nearly impossible for many people to separate truth from error. “I read it on the internet. It must be true.”
Truth Contains No Error
Millions of people have access to internet interaction. Some write. Some rant. Some rave. Some simply read. The pontiff addressed legitimate journalists when he cautioned about their craft. He was right to remind them of their fiduciary responsibility as members of the Catholic press. But his remarks should encourage us all to ponder the evil of fake news in its origination, dissemination, and the assumption that everything we read is true.
We could easily paraphrase his observation by saying that every truth stretched beyond its limits can become fake news. That which is not true is false, but truth mixed with error is also false.
What does it mean to you to take a drink of water? For most of us, it means refreshment from a clear spring, a clean faucet, or a bottle. We trust that the water is pure and clean, just as truth is pure and clean.
It takes only a bit of dirt or unseen bacteria to taint what we trust to be water that is beneficial to our bodies. Most of us would not drink from visibly dirty water, but we could easily be sickened or diseased by water that appears to be clean. The fact is that we rely on others to deliver clean water to us, regardless of the system of conveyance.
The World Health Organization estimates that “at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces.”
- Another 1.3 billion people have access to an improved water source within a round trip of 30 miles.
- 663 million people have no access to safe water.
- 420 million people gather their water from unprotected wells and springs.
- 159 million people gather untreated surface water.
Although many thirst for water, they drink bad water because it is all that is available. GFA’s clean water ministry is delivering safe, disease-free water free to families across Asia through our Jesus Wells and BioSand Water Filter programs.
Our commitment to providing clean water is well-documented. Our commitment to truth is, if possible, even stronger. We carry the truth of the Good News of God’s love to multitudes in Asia who have never yet tasted from the springs of living water. They need clean water, and they need clear truth.
It is an evil twist of irony that those who have immediate access to clean water are also saturated with the news that is tainted with error. We agree that fake news hurts the hearts of those who communicate it or are misled by it.
We stand on the truth of the Word of God. Therefore, we must abide by its unvarnished truth. Every effort of Gospel for Asia (GFA) is bathed in prayer and in a desire to deal rightly and honestly with all men so that we may one day give a good account of our lives before a holy God.
Assurance and Advice
We want to convey to you the full assurance that we seek to honor the Lord God in all that we do. We will never intentionally do anything that would dishonor his name or dim the light of his glory. We love the truth. We abide by the truth. We desire to convey the truth. Unvarnished. Untainted. Clear.
There does not appear to be a way to prevent fake news, from minor mistakes to pernicious perversions. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the reports we read online and the news we believe are as pure and clear as the water we drink.
Drinking dirty water can bring forth disease and death to the human body, but fake news has the potential to destroy souls. That makes fake news more than an annoyance. It is a global, pressing problem.
Credits: Fox News, Reuters, Wall Street Journal