CNN and Fox News make their fortunes by showing us video of people breaking the Ten Commandments. Nothing sells advertising spots like moral rebellion and there is no shortage of breaking news. Suppose we told the media that they could only do news stories about people obeying God’s moral law. What would happen to the ratings? Reporting bad news is one of the enduring features of a free press, I suppose, and I’ll grant it’s necessity. Our nation’s founders enshrined freedom of the press in the First Amendment to check the government’s power. The press must speak the truth to that power, asking hard questions and keeping the people informed on the behavior and misbehavior of our politicians. In turn, we hold these politicians accountable at the ballot box.
But the press is not immune when it comes to abusing power in the pursuit of personal gain. So, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Sex sells and so does murder. Violence is an attention grabber, as is theft, armed robbery, angry arguments, home invasions, drug deals, sting operations, gossip, terrorist attacks, abductions, sexual assaults, beheadings, slander, and negative political attack ads. And it never ends. The 24-hour news cycle is an insatiable monster, always starved for more sin to report. Ratings soar when there is a school shooting or terrorist attack, pure and simple. And soaring ratings are good for business.
It is impossible to know how much crime and chaos is caused by people who know the cameras will show up. We can never measure how many terrorist attacks or character assassinations are the result of someone craving instant fame. How much of our generation’s sin is media-driven? We will never determine how many people committed crimes after being inspired by what they saw on television. But I do fear what it is doing to our national soul. I do not recall seeing and hearing and feeling so much anger, hostility, and “fighting words” in the public square. As we approach this year’s presidential election, our choices seem rather limited. We’ve heard a surplus of accusations, name-calling, misrepresentation, tantrums, half-truths, ad hominem arguments, red herrings, straw men, threats, intimidation, slander, and reputation-destroying tactics. And ratings for presidential debates have never been higher.
As a friend of mine recently said, this would be a good time to pray for our country and you might include the words “God help us” and “God deliver us” and also, “God forgive us.”17