The mail came late last Wednesday, so it wasn’t until after he had watched The News Hour that he got around to reading Dan Bailey’s editorial in the Poplar Park Times (PPT).
The editor of the local weekly was making a pitch to Poplar Parkers to support their local newspaper. He argued that, humble as it is, PPT is the most credible source of facts for the residents of that humble community.
He wrote that the Trib and Sun Times don’t even know that Poplar Park exists, and all Facebook is good for is an echo chamber in which “friends” reinforce each other with their shared world view. And, he added, his reporters abide by the professional standards of fairness, objectivity and balance as much as is humanly possible.
Finally, Bailey quoted Jim Lehrer who said, “Journalism, as practiced by some, has become akin to professional wrestling — something to watch rather than to believe.”
And then the editor of PPT listed some rules for journalism The News Hour’s former host held himself accountable to:
•Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
•Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
•Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
•Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories.
•Do not use anonymous sources. No one should be able to attack another anonymously.
•I am not in the entertainment business.
Pastor Mitty was going to bring up the editorial at the Saturday morning men’s fellowship, but Dominique beat him to the punch on pretty much the same topic.
“You guys know that I tend to vote Republican,” he began, “but Clarence Thomas has put the toxic icing on a toxic cake. It doesn’t matter if what he did was legal. It was not ethical, and it undermines not only his credibility but the trustworthiness of the whole Supreme Court.
“If the referees don’t call the game fairly, how can the fans trust the validity of the outcome indicated on the scoreboard? Judges are supposed to be objective. Thomas’ behavior undermines credibility and trust. News anchors are supposed to report the news fairly. Tucker Carlson’s duplicity threatens that trust.”
Dominique finished his tirade with a sigh. “Those guys,” he lamented, “have hijacked my party.”
Mitty never did get around to bringing up Dan Bailey’s editorial, but that afternoon he started working on his sermon. The lectionary had assigned the text for the next day as Matthew 28:16-20, the story about Jesus sending the apostles out to make disciples of all nations.
Pastor Walt groaned. “How in the world,” he asked himself, “can I report that story to my people avoiding George Santos’ fabrications and abiding by Jim Lehrer’s rules of journalism? How can I be a credible preacher?”
He happened to catch Father Bob Sullivan at home at St. Mary’s rectory, pressed speaker phone, and shared with the Franciscan his quandary.
After pondering the question for a good two minutes, Fr. Sullivan broke the silence.
“Well, to begin with Walt, giving a homily is not the same as reporting the news, right?”
“Well, the news is about facts, and homilies are about what we believe.”
“OK,” Mitty replied, “so the stories in the Christian Bible are not verifiable by the standards of academic history?”
“Right. Like tomorrow is Trinity Sunday, a doctrine that St. Patrick tried to convey with a shamrock, but that was an analogy, not an empirical proof.”
“Come to think of it,” Mitty added, “the text for tomorrow — I have it right here on the computer — reports, pun intended, ‘When the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Father Sullivan laughed. “Even the Bible is capable of balanced reporting!”
Both clergy ended the call with expressions of gratitude for having conversation partners who were willing to go below the surface on complex issues.
Before going back to writing his sermon, Mitty enumerated two rules of homiletics to himself. The first is that when trying to relate the Bible to everyday events, he should work hard at double-checking the facts of the events he would be citing.
And the second rule was to be credible, balanced and accurate in use of the Bible; to not cherry-pick passages that confirmed his biases, but to include all points of view contained in the diversity of texts in Scripture.
“Jim Lehrer would approve,” was his final thought before falling asleep.