I stopped watching the news several years ago for several reasons. First, while my intention of being an informed citizen was a good thing, the 24-hour news cycle was taking up too much space in my life and that was a bad thing. Second, I heard of a man that died prematurely due to stress. He had a good life by all definitions. He had a strong relationship with the Lord, a great marriage, a happy family, he was wealthy, and he was in pretty good health. So what caused all the stress in his life? The news media, and political news in particular. The coverage of American politics is intentionally designed to cause you stress.
The media has tremendous influence on American thought. Politically speaking, whomever the media likes receives preferential reporting, free airtime, and the perception of widespread popularity. Likewise, those whom the media dislikes receive negative coverage, limited airtime, and the perception of unpopularity. But the media has bigger plans than just helping or hurting a particular candidate. The media wants money. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” And conventional wisdom tells us that if you ever really want to know what somebody is up to, just follow the money trail. In the media, the money comes from advertisers. Advertisers pay to market their products and services on media outlets which have large audiences. Because of this, every media outlet’s goal is to maximize their audience at all times of day. This is the media’s real goal: to get you listening or watching as often as possible for as long as possible.
How do they accomplish this? There are a few techniques which the media have found to be effective in captivating large numbers of people. One of those is bad news. Genesis 8:21 states that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and this evil imagination enjoys hearing bad news. That’s why the Romans enjoyed watching people get ripped apart by lions, why people watch horror movies, why people slow down to observe the carnage of car wrecks, and why “if it bleeds it leads.” People like bad news and tune in to hear it and watch it.
Another technique is for the media to act as your guardian. Have you ever heard the phrases “on your side” or “your most trusted source” in the news media? The media likes to position itself as sympathetic to your lot in life and actively engaged in some hypothetical struggle on your behalf. One way they accomplish this, and particularly in the political news media, is by portraying their competition as your enemy. Every organization portrays itself as impartial while referring to other outlets as left-wing, right-wing, liberal, progressive, conservative, mainstream, drive-by, or some other term to remind you that they are on the “wrong” side. This leads you to believe that you cannot trust the enemy outlets spewing their dangerous lies and nonsensical propaganda to the poor ignorant saps in their audience, but you can have the utmost confidence in your preferred outlet because they’re on your team.
A closely related technique to acting as your guardian is monopolizing the truth. Media outlets often suggest that their competitors communicate inaccurate or incomplete information to their audiences. While they subtly accuse the competition of disinformation and misinformation, they portray themselves as holding the moral high ground and being purveyors of absolute truth. If they break a story earlier than everyone else, they act as if the other outlets were trying to spin it instead of report it. If they break a story later than everyone else, they act as if the delay were due to an abundance of journalistic caution and integrity. They act as if they had a team meticulously reviewing every aspect of the story to ensure absolute accuracy while their counterparts were just haphazardly reporting hearsay and throwing caution to the wind.
The media lives and dies on audience numbers. Audience size correlates directly with financial success, so they will do almost anything to earn and maintain high audience numbers. This includes reporting an abundance of bad news, pretending to be the audience’s guardian, monopolizing the truth, and any other means necessary. The sad reality is that when it comes to building and keeping an audience, practicality often trumps ethicality.
Furthermore, these techniques cause real-world problems for media consumers. The steady diet of bad news leads to depression and hopelessness. No matter how optimistic you are, if all you ever hear is bad news, sooner or later it will start to wear you down. Trusting the media to protect you shifts your reliance away from God. And allowing the media to determine who your enemies are is contrary to Ephesians 6:12, which tells us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but against demonic forces. Finally, accepting any media outlet as the source of truth is a horrible substitute for the absolute truth of God’s word.
That’s not to say that watching the news in and of itself is a bad thing. As I said earlier, being an informed citizen is a good thing. When I was on active duty, politics mattered a lot. Who was in office determined how much I earned, how dangerous my life would be, and to some extent, the morality of my actions. Likewise, politics is an important part of life for people who rely heavily upon the government. If you rely on the government to provide your food, healthcare, or income, then politics is an important part of your life. Furthermore, when the government reaches its tentacles into biblical, cultural, and social issues, such as life (abortion, assisted suicide, death penalty, euthanasia, etc.), gender (attempting to redefine the two biblical genders), and marriage (attempting to secularize a biblical institution), then politics matters a lot more. So wanting to know what’s happening in politics and in the world is understandable, but we have to keep everything in perspective. How do we do this? Here are a few tips:
Remember that you are a citizen of God’s kingdom residing in a particular country on assignment for a season. Who is on the throne matters far more than who is in office. And just like you don’t worry too much about the local news when you’re away from home, you don’t need to worry too much about the temporary news when you’re away from your eternal home.
Limit your intake of bad news. When you hear bad news, don’t listen to it repeatedly. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), so don’t allow yourself to continue hearing what you don’t want to put your faith in. Poison in the belly sickens the body, but poison in the ears sickens the soul. Hear the bad news once and then determine what you need to do with it. Does it make you sad for where the world is headed? Remind yourself that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33)! Does it cause you to fear for the safety of those you love or even your own safety? Meditate on God’s promises of protection in Psalm 91.
Don’t transfer your faith from God to the media. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You either trust God or something else. Rely on God as your Protector and trust Him as your source of truth. Remember that your enemy is the devil, not your neighbors.
Keep the media in its proper place. Learn what you need to, but don’t let your desire for information consume you. Turn off the news and come up for air. Your life may depend on it.