Evangelical Christian leader Reverend Franklin Graham said that fake news is nothing new and traces back to the Bible itself. Graham defended President Donald Trump in a Facebook post Sunday, lamenting that “the news media has been lying.”
“Fake news is nothing new—it was going on in the Bible,” Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, explained. “When Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was placed in the tomb, He said He would rise in three days. The Pharisees had guards assigned to watch the tomb, and on the third day an angel from heaven came and rolled the stone away. The guards reported this to the religious leaders who instructed them that if anyone asked, they were to say that Jesus’ supporters had come and taken the body.”
“It was fake news to serve their own agenda,” Graham concluded. In contrast to the spreading of such lies — which Graham attributed to some, but not all, in the news media, and not to President Trump himself — the evangelical leader exhorted Americans to tell the truth, a biblical mandate.
Graham declared, “I would encourage the media to do what the Bible tells us, ‘You shall not circulate a false report’ (Exodus 23:1), and be truthful—you can never go wrong with that.” He concluded with a story from his own life: “When I was a little boy my mother told me to ‘tell the truth, even if it hurts.'”
The president of Samaritan’s Purse is right — indeed, he understates his case. Indeed, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king (in John 18:37), the Christ replies, “for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
“Fake news” isn’t just disobedience to a biblical mandate, it’s the opposite of what Jesus himself came to earth to do! But there is more to the phenomenon than just blaming one side or the other, and simple denunciations like this one barely scratch the surface.
The problem is that each person’s understanding and acceptance of the truth is shaded by their beliefs and attitudes. For instance, when The New York Times‘ Timothy Eagan wrote President Trump’s “One Month Report Card,” he told a story chocked full of facts, but with a clear slant denying anything but a liberal worldview.
Trump “tried to install as labor secretary someone who violated labor laws, wants to replace workers with robots and doesn’t believe burger-flippers have the right to a living wage,” Eagan wrote. There are many reasons why Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first nominee for secretary of Labor, withdrew his name. There was indeed a labor law violation. But the declaration that Puzder believed “burger-flippers” do not “have the right to a living wage” is a fundamentally dishonest way of approaching the minimum wage debate.
The Times itself has fit into the “fake news” category many times: when it reported that Aleppo was the capital of Syria; when it reported that the book of Romans gives homosexuals the death penalty. An editor even admitted that the New York and D.C. media “don’t quite get religion.”
Despite this twisting of the truth, Eagan did get a great deal right in his article on Trump’s first month in office. Here’s a sample:
[Trump] told a stunning and easily disproved lie on his first full day in power. He then sent his spokesman out to repeat that lie, and said the press would “pay a big price” for refusing to do the same. The pattern of taxpayer-financed mendacity continued nearly every day under the new regime, with lies about everything from the murder rate to the weather. …
[Trump] insisted, with no evidence, that three to five million people had voted illegally — which, if true, would constitute a huge crime, and one of the biggest election scandals ever. When pressed, a top counselor coined a term that came to define the new administration: “alternative facts.”
In these cases, Trump (and his administration) twisted the truth to fit his agenda. Sometimes, he has uttered hilariously wrong (and utterly unnecessary) statements, like saying the crowd size for his inauguration was bigger than Obama’s. It is no insult to his presidency to admit that Obama’s crowd was larger — after all, a pro-government president is more likely to attract a large crowd of D.C. bureaucrats than a man who campaigned on “draining the swamp.”
But instead of admitting the truth, Trump has become the Troll-In-Chief. It is perhaps one of his selling points that he does not let the truth to get in his way. Nevertheless, it is important to admit that Trump has presented his own version of fake news, and the media is right to call him out on it.
But Franklin Graham, despite his biblical commitment to the truth, criticized Senator John McCain’s defense of the media’s opposition to President Trump’s mendacities. Graham called McCain a “war hero” and conceded that “he’s correct—we need a free press.” But the evangelical leader immediately added, “But we also need an honest press.”
“President Donald J. Trump has been saying what we all know—that the news media has been lying. In today’s terminology, creating fake news,” Graham declared. Naturally, the evangelical leader is correct, but so is “the media.” President Trump and his administration have twisted the truth as well, and if Americans are to hold themselves to a biblical standard of truth, they should denounce lies on both sides of the aisle.
Fake news can constitute two different things: intentional lies and inadvertent one-sided misrepresentations of the truth. Both are bad, but the latter is more understandable. No one person can see the whole truth, and Christians should be more willing than most to admit that their own ideas are hopelessly inadequate compared to God’s perfect understanding of the world.
Presidents, members of the media, and pundits from all across the spectrum have a limited understanding of truth and frequently get the facts wrong. Christians should show forgiveness and understanding to go along with their fearless dedication to the truth. In addition to correcting “fake news,” we should understand our own limits and admit that we have all made mistakes. Only then can we work together to discover what the truth really is.
Senator John McCain is a war hero and I thank him for his service to our nation. This weekend he defended the media,…