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Just how true is our journalism?

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[Russell Chandler gave the following address to our "Truth & the 21st Century" conference in London in 1998.]

I'M SUPPOSED TO TALK TO YOU, professional journalists and editors, about truth and journalism in the 21st century. I feel about as comfortable as a condemned man called upon to lecture the firing squad on marksmanship!

You see, here I am, surrounded by working journalists, and I am six years beyond my religion-beat reporting days at The Los Angeles Times. But here goes anyway on the topic: A Biblical defense of Truth and traditional values of journalism in a postmodern world.

Let’s unpack that.

My life career verse is John 8:32, where Jesus says to those Jews who believed in him, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” His words are linked to verse 36, where Jesus continues, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

I believe that there is such a thing as Truth, and that it can be found and known. And that it can be defended. And, as I have written and continue to write, I am convinced that there is a liberating power in truth that sets us free–free both as journalists (freedom of the press); and free as Christian believers (freedom of religion; freedom in Jesus Christ; freedom in God’s Son).

But this postmodern world, like Pontius Pilate, questions whether truth indeed exists, and if it does, whether it can be known, defended and followed. “What is truth,” Pilate asked.

So, for a few minutes this morning I’d like for us to think together about the contrasts and the dichotomies between some of the prevailing notions of truth and journalism, and compared to traditional –and I believe, biblical–values of Truth and journalism.

There’s a story about a man who goes to a Catholic priest and tells him, “Father, I don’t go to church very much, but I have a big problem and I hope you can help me. I’ve been stealing things.”

“What kind of things?” asks the priest.

“All kinds of building materials. I steal lumber–2x4s, 4x8s, planks, boards, all kinds of wood. I just can’t stop Can you help me?”

“Yes,” says the priest, “I think I can. Have you ever made a novena”?

“No, father–but if you’ve got the plans, I’ve got the lumber!”

I’ve got the lumber this morning – eight planks, you might say, for the platform - not a religious ritual - I want to build to explore the state of truth and journalism as we stand at the dawn of a new millennium.

And, for ease of remembering, the key words describing these building blocks all start with the letter “D”:

    DEATH (Demise) of Truth
    DOUBLE, and Shifting, Standards
    DECEPTION, Fabrication
    DOCTORING, Spin, Arrogance
    DEALING: Compromise; Caving to Power
    DUMBING DOWN: Selective “Deselecting”
    DISTRUST and Denial

Plank No. 1: The postmodern world says “Truth, like God, is Dead.” Postmodern philosophy rejects all claims of objective truth. Lying is impossible since it presupposes objective reality, and there is none.

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