Friday, October 30, 2009

New Dordt Diamond Column: Fox News' Bias

President Obama’s decision to challenge the Fox News Channel head-on has reignited the debate over Fox’s alleged conservative bias. Obama’s advisors have labeled Fox “not really a news station.” Most liberals agree. Most conservatives adore Fox as the lone “fair and balanced” voice in the wilderness of the liberal media. Whither reality?

In my opinion as a conservative, Fox News is very, very biased. I would also submit that most Fox News devotees are aware of Fox’s bias – and watch it for that reason. It’s more comfortable to watch a network that shares your views, so conservatives naturally choose Fox over the left-leaning CNN and MSNBC.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Fox is trying to conquer the world in the name of Ronald Reagan. Like every other TV network, Fox News’ chief goal is to make money. In the television world, money equals ratings. Fox has a powerful economic incentive to provide a right-wing perspective. Fox has found its niche market: conservative TV viewers who are sick of the liberal slant they see on other networks.

Not only that, but now that Obama is in office, Fox has an economic incentive to take its opposition to his presidency to an extreme. There’s a reason Fox wooed Glenn Beck away from CNN with a multi-million dollar contract last year. According to TV analyst Andrew Tyndall, “The Fox style of aggressive commentary works best in opposition.” Fox is hoping to cash in on the Obama presidency by turning itself into the nation’s chief opposition voice. Since the Obama White House has now called out Fox News directly, I’d say Fox’s strategy is working pretty well.

Of course, Fox is not alone in this. MSNBC got its ratings to soar during the Bush years by giving liberal angry-man Keith Olbermann a show and turning itself into the opposition network. But when the economic interests of news corporations influence American politics – and worse yet, fragment Americans into liberal and conservative news viewership blocs – we have a very real problem.

As Christian citizens, what can we do about this? I’m not going to call for a boycott of Fox News, but we do need to understand what we’re getting when we watch it. Fox News is not fair and balanced (and neither are CNN or MSNBC). Nor is it honest conservative commentary. It is a product, targeted at us, the consumer. We should not let this product tell us what to think, or even what subjects to think about. We need to judge it critically as we watch.

We should also strive to diversify ours news sources. If we rely solely on Fox News (or any other media source), we are bound to be influenced by its bias. Conservatives should watch MSNBC and read the New York Times. Liberals should watch Fox News on occasion.

Remember: knowledge is power. Don’t let anyone steal yours.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Dordt Diamond Column: What Pacifism Means


(Not that the Diamond editors did a bad job of cutting it. The Diamond editors rawk. But when I post these columns here, I just copy and paste from the saved version I have on my computer.)

(More than you cared to know, eh?)

Pacifism might seem like a heavy topic for a Diamond column, but lately I feel like it’s been popping up everywhere. One of my best friends recently gave me a copy of Jesus for President, a pacifist manifesto by Christian activist Shane Claiborne. I read Claiborne’s earlier book, The Irresistible Revolution, as my optional book for CORE 300 last spring. Two springs ago, Tony Campolo argued for pacifism in a lecture at the B. J. Haan. And an increasing number of my peers at Dordt are pacifists.

This column is addressed to them. I hope that it will be a starting place for a vital conversation.

Coherent pacifism is a rejection of any kind of violence, by anyone, anywhere. Claiborne refers in his books to the “myth of redemptive violence.” He denies that violence can ever be a good or necessary thing. What are the implications of this belief?

The defining characteristic of government is a monopoly on violence. Whatever else it does, the state must be able to protect its people and maintain order, with force if necessary. If a state cannot stop armed groups within its borders from attacking the innocent, we call that state “failed.”

Therefore, the logical extension of Christian pacifism is a refusal to participate in the state – a kind of nonviolent Christian anarchism, if you will.

This is exactly what Claiborne is out to convince Christians to do – leave the government, the voting booth, the police force, and the military. “God isn’t working through places of power,” he writes in Jesus for President. “I don’t believe that God needs a commander-in-chief or a millionaire in Washington,” he wrote earlier in The Irresistible Revolution.

To which I would say: Of course he doesn’t. God doesn’t need anyone, anywhere. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what is God calling us to do as his followers in the world?

Does the Bible support Claiborne’s attitude toward government? I do not believe so. The Bible says that government – founded as it is on violence – is a good institution, an institution specifically set up by God. I Peter 2 says that the governors “are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong.” Romans 13 says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God. The one in God’s servant to do you good. ...he does not bear the sword for nothing.”

So if the government and the government’s sword are good things, why should we separate ourselves from them? Doesn’t Jesus’ command to be the “salt of the earth” apply to politics?

When John the Baptist first began his ministry, a group of Roman soldiers came to him and asked, “What should we do?” John did not answer, “Lay down your weapons and desert the army!” He told them, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). In other words, “Be good soldiers.”

I’ve reached my word limit. What say you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Absolutely True Stories

1) Conversation overheard in my 200-level political studies class yesterday:

Student 1: "Do you know what's on your shirt?"
Student 2: "I'm not sure - either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence."
Student 1: "Well, it says WE THE PEOPLE at the top, so it must be the Declaration."

(It was the Constitution.)

2) On Sunday, the White House Communications Director instructed the nation, "let’s not pretend that [Fox News is] a news network the way CNN is."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Open poll: is this blog becoming too cynical?

If it is, here's another absolutely true conversation I had during dinner with my roommates tonight:

Joel: "Do you think there were civilians on the Death Star?"
Unnamed Roommate: "The Death Star? You mean, like on Battlestar Galactica? [A show we have become addicted to lately.]"
Joel: "What?"
UR: "Battlestar Galactica."
Joel: "No, [name redacted.] The Death Star.
UR: "What's that?"
Joel: "Don't tell me you don't know what the Death Star is."
UR: "I was in Africa all summer, Joel. I didn't follow the news!"

If that conversation doesn't give you hope for humanity, I don't know what will.

The peace of Allah be upon you all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

OK, then.

It’s 9:00 AM. I’ve gotten one hour of sleep in the last twenty-five. Living the college dream, I guess.

Being super sleep-deprived is kind of fun sometimes. But there are drawbacks. Sometimes I have audio hallucinations. This morning in class, as I struggled to keep my head off the desk, I hallucinated that Professor Veenstra was saying that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Talk about hearing things, eh? I mean, that’s just bonkers.

Apparently, the entire world press corps was also working on 15-page papers last night, and also didn’t get any sleep, because they apparently are all sharing my hallucination. Fun times.

I know it’s not true. That would make no sense. But on the off chance that it’s actually true – that Barack Hussein Obama is the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner – I will post some comments here.

The last Saturday Night Live episode opened with a mock address from the Oval Office:

“There are those on the Right who are angry. They think I’m turning this great country into something that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. But, that’s just not the case. Because when you look at my record, it’s very clear what I’ve done so far. And that is: nothing.”

It’s a sad day when a Saturday Night Live satire is a more accurate barometer of reality than a decision by the Nobel committee.

During the 2008 election season, Andrew Ferguson had a brilliant piece about the Obama campaign over at the Weekly Standard. In part, he wrote:

What is unmistakable is the creepy kind of solipsism and the air of self-congratulation that clings to [Obama’s] campaign. “There is something happening,” he says in stump speeches. And what’s happening? “Change is happening.” How so? “The reason our campaign has been different is about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it.” And the way to change it is to join the campaign, which, once you join it, will change America. Because this is our moment. The time is now. Now is the time. Yes, we can. We bring change to the campaign because the campaign is about change. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Obama and his followers are perfecting postmodern reflexivity. It’s a campaign that’s about itself. The point of the campaign is the campaign.
Is it possible that, in the minds of the Nobel committee, the point of the Obama presidency is his presidency?

Don’t get me wrong. I like Barack Obama as a person. I disagree with him on some things; on other things, he’s doing a great job considering the hand he was dealt.

That said...Barack Hussein Obama has not yet accomplished a thing as President of the United States.

It’s not his fault he’s done nothing. He’s been president for nine months. He was president for TEN DAYS before the Nobel nomination deadline. The poor guy had no idea the committee was going to give him the prize. After all – why would they?

Let’s give the man a chance! Let him give his best shot at making peace in Palestine, at ending the war in Iraq, at stabilizing Afghanistan, at ending the nuclear programs in Iran or North Korea, at stopping the genocide in Darfur. THEN give him the prize. What will they give him now if he manages to accomplish any of those things? The papacy? (Just to be clear, Vatican – since you can’t tell these days, THAT’S A JOKE).

In 2007, when the Nobel committee gave Al Gore the Peace Prize for making a documentary about global warming, the Wall Street Journal printed a list of men and women around the world who were doing real work for peace and human rights, often putting their lives on the line in the process. I hope the Journal does that again this year.

Good grief. I’m going to bed. My earnest prayer this morning is this: Dear God, PLEASE let our president one day live up to the hype.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Memes Collide...

(This will probably be the first in a series.)

meme, n.: A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

Meme #1: Everyone is on his/her own path to God, so we shouldn’t criticize others’ religious practices or beliefs.

Meme #2: Civil disobedience is an effective and moral response to government violence.


For antiwar protesters, the cause isn’t lost
Washington Post
October 7, 2009

As the meeting progressed, there were signs of discord. ...Some planned to misidentify themselves to police; others said they would simply refuse to answer questions.

"Lying is dumb," one protester shouted.

"Just because my resistance is different than yours doesn't mean I'm dumb," another yelled back, standing now, clenching his fist. "We are all traveling down our own paths to peace."

Hope that brought a little mirth to your day.