The facts-first model of journalism is the latest casualty to social justice warriors and the Twitter mob. It began with a spree of mass shootings on Sunday, August 4. Within a 24-hour period, mass shootings occurred in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Chicago, Illinois, but because the Dayton and Chicago shootings failed to fit the media narrative, they were largely ignored.
Two early Sunday morning mass shootings contributed to Chicago’s most violent weekend in 2019 with 66 people shot and 12 killed. Incredibly, this was largely unreported. After all, the two mass shootings were gang-related, and the record-breaking violence was largely black-on-black crime. As such, it didn’t fit the media narrative of a white president whose rhetoric is provoking right-wing white nationalists to target minorities.
Likewise, the shooting in Dayton, Ohio was quickly memory-holed when it was discovered that the shooter was an Antifa sympathizer who had tweeted, “Kill every fascist,” “Nazis deserve death and nothing else,” and “I want socialism, and I’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round understanding.” The shooter promoted extreme hatred of American border enforcement, demonized Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) resolution against antifa extremism, and responded to an essay titled “Yes Let’s Defeat or Impeach Trump—but What If He Doesn’t Leave the White House?” with the words “Arm, train, prepare.” Clearly, the Dayton shooter also did not fit the white nationalist narrative.
Having largely ignored three of Sunday’s four mass shootings, the media hammered their preferred narrative that mass shootings are occurring as a direct result of the president’s racist rhetoric. This narrative was particularly evident at MSNBC. During an interview with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC Deadline, USA Today columnist Raul Reyes noted President Trump’s prior use of the word “invasion” to describe the flow of illegal immigrants across the border and the word “infestation” when discussing cities that are overrun with MS-13 gang members. He then linked the president’s vocabulary to similar language found in the manifesto believed to have been written by the El Paso shooter who deliberately targeted Hispanics. Nicolle Wallace added to his comment, telling Reyes, “You now have a president, as you said, talking about exterminating Latinos.”
Similarly, former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi told Chris Jansing on MSNBC Deadline, “It’s become clear we are looking at a re-election strategy of racism… All of this becomes circular. All of this becomes aiding and abetting violence.” He also told Brian Williams on MSNBC 11th Hour, “It’s the little things and the language and messaging that matters. The president said that we will fly our flags at half mast until August 8th. That’s eight, eight. … The numbers eight, eight are very significant in the Neo-Nazi and white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter “h” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them, the numbers eight, eight together stand for heil Hitler. So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on eight, eight.”
Incredibly, Mika Brzezinski even accused the president of wanting mass shootings to occur. On MSNBC Morning Joe, she told her co-host, “You have to ask the question, Joe, and I’ll ask you, isn’t it okay to deduce that at this point this is what he wants? He is inciting hatred, inciting violence, inciting racism if he doesn’t unequivocally call it off and say, this is wrong and we stand together against this and we are doing this, this and this to help fight hate crimes. I mean this is a president who seems to want these things to happen. How else can this be explained?” Rather than pushed back, Joe Scarborough responded by saying, “As you know, he’s inciting hatred now, and he’s been inciting hatred up until yesterday because he sees that as a good political strategy.”
Contrary to the news media’s narrative, President Trump strongly condemned racism, white supremacy, and hatred in a speech, telling the nation, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.” After promising the FBI whatever further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism, the president identified five areas where change is necessary:
- “First, we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs.
- “Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society.”
- “Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.”
- “Fourth, we must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.”
- “Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.”
Despite fulfilling the news media’s collective request that he strongly condemn white supremacy and racism, the news media dismissed the president’s remarks as hollow, insincere, and insufficient. At CNN Don Lemon told Chris Cuomo, “We have also called on this president to say the words that he finally said today, but they ring hollow when he coddles white supremacists, or domestic terrorism, or those who perform those acts. So listen, I hope that this makes a difference, but how many times have you and I been sitting here on television saying, ‘Well, I hope this one changes things. I hope this one changes things,’ and then nothing happens?” Likewise, Jennifer Rubin wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled, “Trump’s Speech Would Be Laughable If It Weren’t so Infuriating,” in which she said the president’s call for the FBI to take action to prevent hate crimes “rings hollow.”
Similarly, the New York Times wrote an article examining President Trump’s history of spewing divisive language and questioning his ability to unify the country at this moment. Despite these themes within the body of the article, the New York Times experienced incredible backlash because of the title they applied to the piece. On Monday evening, New York Times print editor Tom Jolly tweeted an image of the upcoming article on the front page of Tuesday morning’s print edition, showing the headline “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.”
Angered by this factual headline, presidential candidates fumed on Twitter. Beto O’Rourke tweeted, “Unbelievable”; Kirsten Gillibrand wrote, “That’s not what happened,” Corey Booker chided, “Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT. Please do,” and Bill DeBlasio added, “Hey, @nytimes — what happened to ‘The Truth Is Worth It?’ Not the truth. Not worth it.”
On Tuesday, the hashtag #CancelNYT was trending, and according to Lizzie O’Leary at the Atlantic, a Times spokesperson confirmed that the paper saw a “higher volume” of subscription cancellations than normal on Tuesday. Social justice warriors were infuriated at the failure of the New York Times to properly contextualize its story in the headline. Broadcast journalist and executive producer Soledad O’Brien captured the general sentiment with her tweet, “*sigh* The @nytimes can be soo great—and then often it just sucks. An absurd headline. Problematic framing. Inaccurate. Non-contextual.” Similarly, Former Deputy Chief of Staff to Senator Harry Reid tweeted, “I resisted for a long time but I’m cancelling my NYT subscription today. Great reporters but terrible editorial judgment on headlines and social media, which is all most people read. It can’t be the paper of record anymore if it doesn’t accurately report the news.”
In other words, because the average person no longer reads articles or critically consumes news content, it is imperative that the New York Times supply in its headlines not just the facts, but also the answer to the questions that those facts raise. Anything short of this is not accurately reporting the news because people might come to the “wrong” conclusion. Emily Jashinsky at the Federalist observes, “The original headline factually encapsulated Trump’s speech. But because it didn’t also answer the question of ‘whether Trump was sincere in damning bigotry and white supremacy,’ it failed to meet the liberal standards it later acceded to.”
Incredibly, the Times succumbed to the pressure and changed the title to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns” for its late edition print. Online, this editorialized headline was further editorialized to read, “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls.” Never mind that Trump said, “[W]e must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
Apparently appeasing a specific partisan constituency is more important that accurately reflecting the content of the speech. To justify the change, the Times noted that there is a continuing debate over how news organizations should cover President Trump’s administration. It seems, the Times has concluded that the facts-first model of journalism is no longer sufficient, writing in its official explanation:
Times editors were concerned that the initial headline — “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism” — did not contextualize Mr. Trump’s message on Monday and decided to change it for later editions to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns.”
Many readers, including Democratic politicians and other critics of the president, condemned the first headline on Twitter.
“Headlines like this ignore all the context of #Trump’s actions and past remarks, make him suddenly look presidential,” Jerry Lanson, a professor emeritus of journalism at Emerson College, tweeted. “The Times should know better.”
Emily Jashinsky notes, “The left’s demand for ‘context’ (but only of the proper slant, of course) is predicated on the argument that Trump is exceptionally bad and thus deserves exceptional coverage. Implicit in that argument is that Trump warrants a shift in journalistic standards.” This is how Executive Editor Dean Baquet can conclude that the original headline was “a bad headline.” In truth, the original headline was not bad. It was factually accurate while encapsulating the essence of President Trump’s speech. Nevertheless, the Times now believes it is the paper’s responsibility to protect its readers from possibly drawing the “wrong” conclusions about the president’s true beliefs and motivations due to a lack of political framing and contextualization.
Such journalism is not reporting; it is opinion and analysis. What makes this so egregious is that this is our nation’s “paper of record.” When our nation’s paper of record becomes little more than a vessel for partisan propaganda, the state of news in our country must truly be in serious trouble. Indeed, there is a cultural war being waged right now for control over our nation’s news institutions and other platforms for disseminating truth.
Social justice warriors who believe in narratives and protecting people from inconvenient facts are paying attention. They are continually seeking to gain new ground while refusing to relinquish an inch. In this instance, they wasted no time to hold the New York Times to account for how it presented the news on August 6. What about us? Are we holding to account our nation’s most prominent institutions for disseminating truth? Are we even paying attention?
God’s Word has much to say about the importance of truth. Truth is not relative. It should not be distorted through contextualization in order to promote partisan ideology, nor should inconvenient facts be neglected to promote predetermined narratives. Instead, we are commanded to speak and uphold the truth (Eph. 4:25). In fact, Jesus taught that the truth will set us free, implying that when we believe lies we are in captivity (John 8:31–32).
Being an attribute of God, truth is something to be cherished and carefully guarded. Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, you [God] delight in truth,” and Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Until we demand truth from our respected institutions, we have no right to expect God’s blessing. Instead, Jeremiah 9:1–9 reveals that we should fear judgment. Throughout history God has judged nations for rejecting truth and embracing a culture of lies (Isa. 59:14–15; Jer. 5:1; 9:1–9; Amos 5:10).
If we lose the battle for truth in our nation, then we have lost the war. Whether we are focused on the security and future of our country or the attributes and commandments of the Lord, we must prioritize defending truth and holding accountable the institutions charged with accurately disseminating objective truth. It is time we stop ignoring controversies such as how the media covered the recent mass shootings and the changing of the New York Times headline. Such controversies are where the battle is being fought. It is time that we engage in the battle for truth!
To better understand how the news media is distorting truth and the spiritual implications of fake news, read Timothy Zebell’s book Culture of Lies: Understanding Fake News and Its Spiritual Ramifications.
1. Croft, Jay Deanna Hackney and Eric Levenson. “In One Weekend in Chicago, 66 People Were Shot, Including 12 Who Died, Police Say.” US. CNN, n.d. Last updated August 8, 2018, 2:03 p.m., ET. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/05/us/chicago-weekend-shootings/index.html.
2. Ngo, Andy. “Dayton Shooter Conner Betts May Be Antifa’s First Mass Killer.” Opinion. New York Post, August 6, 2019, 7:24 p.m. https://nypost.com/2019/08/06/dayton-shooter-may-be-antifas-first-mass-killer/.
4. Folley, Aris. “MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace Apologizes for Saying Trump Is Calling for ‘Exterminating Latinos.’” News. The Hill, August 6, 2019, 10:16 p.m., EDT. https://thehill.com/homenews/media/456474-msnbcs-nicolle-wallace-apologizes-for-saying-trump-is-calling-for.
5. Saavedra, Ryan (@RealSaavedra). “MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace falsely claims that Trump is ‘talking about exterminating Latinos’ This is a complete lie and is extremely dangerous rhetoric in today’s volatile atmosphere.” Twitter, August 6, 2019, 2:27 p.m. https://twitter.com/RealSaavedra/status/1158852075305914368.
6. Saavedra, Ryan. “MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace Falsely Claims Trump ‘Talking About Exterminating Latinos.’” August 6, 2019. https://www.dailywire.com/news/50314/msnbcs-nicolle-wallace-falsely-claims-trump-ryan-saavedra.
7. Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH). “‘It’s become clear we are looking at a re-election strategy of racism… All of this becomes circular. All of this becomes aiding and abetting violence. And now we’re looking a spiral downward until someone calls a stop to it’ – @FrankFigliuzzi1 w/ @ChrisJansing.” Twitter, August 12, 2019, 2:43 p.m. https://twitter.com/DeadlineWH/status/1161030422194786305.
8. Overstreet, Jason (@JasonOverstreet). “Good God. Chilling. @FrankFigliuzzi1.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 9:12 p.m. https://twitter.com/JasonOverstreet/status/1158591696931717120.
9. Concha, Joe. “NBC Analyst: Trump Re-Raising US Flags on Aug. 8 ‘Very Significant to the Neo-Nazi Movement.’” News. The Hill, August 7, 2019, 8:52 a.m., EDT. https://thehill.com/homenews/media/456499-nbc-analyst-trump-re-raising-us-flags-on-aug-8-very-significant-to-the-neo.
10. Ford, Adam (@Adam4d). “On ‘Morning Joe’ this morning, Mika Brzezinski actually accused the President of the United States of WANTING mass murders to happen. This is not some random fringe internet news outlet. This is our mainstream media, and one of the most-watched morning shows in the country.” Twitter, August 6, 2019, 12:04 p.m., https://twitter.com/Adam4d/status/1158816074256846852.
11. Dorman, Sam. “‘Morning Joe’ Host Claims Trump ‘Seems to Want’ White Nationalist Terror Attacks.” Media. Fox News, August 7, 2019. https://www.foxnews.com/media/morning-joe-host-claims-trump-wants-white-nationalist-inspired-attacks.
13. “Remarks by President Trump on the Mass Shootings in Texas and Ohio.” White House, August 5, 2019, 10:08 a.m., EDT. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-mass-shootings-texas-ohio/.
14. “Remarks by President Trump on the Mass Shootings in Texas and Ohio.”
15. “Don Lemon to Chris Cuomo: Trump’s Words Ring Hollow.” CNN video, 3:01. Posted by “CNN Tonight,” August 8, 2019. https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/08/06/el-paso-shooting-trump-cuomo-lemon-handoff-ctn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/cnn-tonight-highlights/.
16. Rubin, Jennifer. “Trump’s Speech Would Be Laughable If It Weren’t So Infuriating.” Opinion. Washington Post, August 5, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/05/im-too-busy-watching-what-hes-doing-hear-what-hes-saying/.
17. Crowley, Michael and Maggie Haberman. “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls.” Politics. New York Times, August 5, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/05/us/politics/trump-speech-mass-shootings-dayton-el-paso.html?module=inline.
18. O’Leary, Lizzie. “‘I Know People Want a Richer, More Thoughtful Explanation.’” Culture. The Atlantic, August 7, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/08/dean-baquet-new-york-times-headline-change-trump-racism/595669/.
19. Jolly, Tom (@TomJolly). “Tomorrow’s @nytimes tonight: @realDonaldTrump urges unity vs. racism and condemns ‘slaughters,’ but says little about gun control; China employs currency in trade feud, jolting markets. #nytimes.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 6:05 p.m. https://twitter.com/TomJolly/status/1158544589676040193.
20. O’Rourke, Beto (@BetoORourke). “Unbelievable.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 6:26 p.m. https://twitter.com/BetoORourke/status/1158549774490120193.
21. Gillibrand, Kirsten (@SenGillibrand). “That’s not what happened.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 6:48 p.m. https://twitter.com/SenGillibrand/status/1158555405624197126.
22. Booker, Cory (@CoryBooker). “Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT. Please do.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 6:55 p.m. https://twitter.com/CoryBooker/status/1158557177310851072.
23. De Blasio, Bill (@BilldeBlasio). “Hey, @nytimes — what happened to ‘the Truth Is Worth It?’ Not the truth. Not worth it.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 7:33 p.m. https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/1158566624464658432.
24. #cancelnyt. https://twitter.com/hashtag/cancelnyt?lang=en.
25. O’Leary, Lizzie. “‘I Know People Want a Richer, More Thoughtful Explanation.’”
26. O’Brien, Soledad (@soledadobrien). “*sigh* The @nytimes can be soo great—and then often it just sucks. An absurd headline. Problematic framing. Inaccurate. Non-contextual.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 6:24 p.m. https://twitter.com/soledadobrien/status/1158549258624262144.
27. Jentleson, Adam (@AJentleson). “I resisted for a long time but I’m cancelling my NYT subscription today. Great reporters but terrible editorial judgment on headlines and social media, which is all most people read. It can’t be the paper of record anymore if it doesn’t accurately report the news.” Twitter, August, 5, 2019, 7:18 p.m. https://twitter.com/ajentleson/status/1158562935201026048?s=11.
28. Jashinsky, Emily. “The Far-Reaching Implications of the New York Times’ Headline Swap.” The Federalist, August 9, 2019. https://thefederalist.com/2019/08/09/the-far-reaching-implications-of-the-new-york-times-headline-swap/.
29. Jolly, Tom (@TomJolly). “Tomorrow’s @nytimes tonight, second edition: @realDonaldTrump assails hate but not guns; China employs currency in trade feud, jolting markets. #nytimes.” Twitter, August 5, 2019, 7:12 p.m. https://twitter.com/TomJolly/status/1158561438602027009.
30. Culver, Jordan and Adrianna Rodriguez. “‘Headline Was Flawed’: New York Times Changed Headline about Trump Speech after Backlash.” USA Today, August 6, 2019, 12:10 a.m. Last updated August 6, 2019, 1:31 p.m. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/05/new-york-times-criticism-donald-trump-speech-headline/1929546001/.
31. New York Times. “A Times Headline About Trump Stoked Anger. A Top Editor Explains.” Reader Center. New York Times, August 6, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/06/reader-center/trump-mass-shootings-headline.html.
32. Jashinsky, “The Far-Reaching Implications of the New York Times’ Headline Swap.”
33. Concha, Joe. “NY Times Executive Editor: Early Trump ‘Unity’ Headline a ‘Bad’ One.” The Hill, August 6, 2019, 1:40 p.m., EDT. https://thehill.com/homenews/media/456387-ny-times-executive-editor-early-trump-unity-headline-a-bad-one.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.