Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, January 27, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Life and Faith for the Years of Winter

Steve Bannon, of the Trump administration, says “the media should keep its mouth shut” about President Trump and his people. That is very strange coming from a man who spent his life building a media empire [Breitbart News] by not keeping his mouth shut. But I understand. I don’t trust media people, either. They get things wrong so often. Including interviews with me. And with Helen.

As she was retiring from teaching, the local newspaper sent a reporter to do an exit interview with her. Helen was impressed with the interest, personality, and spirit of the young woman who interviewed her. Not so much, as it turned out, with her writing. The published article was full of grammatical mistakes. The reporter even quoted Helen as saying, “Me and John…” That was just too egregious. She wrote a letter to the excellent but often beleaguered editor, Bill Lair, correcting that and all the other mistakes in the article. He published the letter under the title, “Teacher still correcting papers.”

We lived in Charleston, IL, and Eastern Illinois University faculty members often complained about the writing of reporters on the local newspaper. Editor Lair, an EIU grad himself, always told them, “They are EIU grads. They learned their language skills from you.”

Before God tricked me into the ministry, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be the next Ernie Pyle. I even went to the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at IU. I was entranced by journalistic muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens. I could think of no better way to be a citizen than reporting the truth. In those days, that meant being a newspaper or magazine reporter or editor. As it turned out, preaching was pretty much reporting the truth, too.

The “media,” of course, is no longer just newspapers. [Yes, “media” is plural, but “the” media is used singularly.] Indeed, newspapers are a very small part of current communications. Many people get all their news and views from “social”--often very unsocial—media, and talk—again, often very unsocial—radio, or from TV networks that are dedicated not to news but to propaganda. Much of “the media” seems dedicated not to reporting the truth but distorting the truth.

President Trump has a right to be upset when he thinks the media has misrepresented him. Just as I do. Just as Helen did. A presidential candidate or president has no more rights in a democracy, though, than does any other citizen. And none of us has a right to say that the media should not or cannot do its job.

Trump and his minions, however, want to do that. He wants muzzles put on the press if they don’t report the way he wants them to. The oldest political gambit in the book is to blame the media. Get the people focused on what the media is doing so that they won’t notice what you are doing. In his campaigning, Trump has vilified the press and even created danger for media people. Like our granddaughter.

She is a university student. She is not in journalism, but she writes so well that she was given a paid job as an investigative reporter with the university newspaper. She was sent to a Trump rally on campus, where she was harassed and threatened, and later stalked, not because of anything she had written, because she had not done any writing on Trump yet, but just because she wore a press badge.

I deplore Breitbart and Limbaugh and Fox and their ilk. I wish they would shut up. Or at least “straighten up and fly right.” They will not, however, do either. And in its own strange way, that’s okay. If you really want democracy, you must have free speech, and that means a free press. Yes, even if it means Steve Bannon. And reporters from EIU.

It’s a messy process, democracy, and we definitely can’t trust politicians to judge correctly what is acceptable to say. You just have to let everyone have their say and hope for the best. That, by the way, is why we must have an educated electorate, so folks can sort out the truth from the lies for themselves. But “for themselves” is the operative idea there. 

Thomas Jefferson said, “If I had to choose between newspapers without government or government without newspapers, I’d never hesitate to choose newspapers.” Right now, each one of us must be a newspaper, one that does not keep its mouth shut!

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus of Nazareth, in John 8:32.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Today is my son-in-law Patrick’s birthday. His first degree was in journalism and his first job was as a newspaper reporter, so this column is my birthday gift to him. Yes, it’s sort of cheap, but we also sent him… well, I’m keeping my mouth shut about it, lest you want one, too.

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