I was 8 years of age – living on a farm in North Central Kansas – when my parents bought a Zenith black and white TV on which we could get two stations (KOLN – Lincoln, Nebraska, and WIBW – Topeka, Kansas) if we went to the TV each time we changed channels and turned the knob on top of the TV which would slowly turn (with a steady click-click sound) the antennae the direction of one of those two cities.
I was immediately hooked on the news. Over the years, I watched John Cameron Swayze, Douglas Edwards, Edward R. Murrow, well before "And that's the way it is" Walter Cronkite and the "good night, Chet"-"good night, David" Huntley-Brinkley reporting duo.
I have watched the news virtually every day from then to the present. I literally planned my day so that I would be in front of the TV from 5:30 to 6 p.m. every day to watch the national news. That continued through elementary school, high school, college, an MA degree, an M.Div., a Th.M and a Ph.D. (For the record, the reason I got three masters was because the Bible says "no man can have two masters!" So I got a third!)
Through the years, I often said, "I so wish there was a station that had only news!" Then it happened. Ted Turner established the Cable News Network – CNN – in 1980. It was a dream come true for me when – after decades of watching only 30 minutes of news – there was a network that offered 24-hour news.
But something began to change. I experience some disillusionment regarding the accurary of the reporting. It started in 1974, first with print journalism, when my brother, my first cousin and my brother's college roommate were killed in a plane crash. I was quite surprised to see how sloppy the reporting was regarding basic, fundamental facts, things so simple as their ages. I wondered, "How many other stories have I read in which the basic facts were in error?"
TRENDING: Hamas' plan for Israel
A decade later, I attended the Republican National Convention in Dallas. I experienced the convention firsthand. I even remember running into Roger Mudd at that convention. During my 10-second interchange with him, I stated how much I admired the profession of journalism.
But what I most remember from that convention was a protest rally of young adults outside (actually below) the CBS news booth located inside the Dallas Convention Center. The reason for the protest? CBS – and others – were stating things very differently from what was actually happening at the convention. The gap between reality and reporting was significant. Their bias was so obvious. That moment was defining for me.
In my naïveté, I had previously thought that misreporting might have been an aberration. Slowly, I began to see that it was the norm. There was seemingly a blatant, intentional bias.
I did not stop watching the news. I did, however, listen with a highly critical, analytical mind. I no longer "trusted" what I was hearing.
But it got worse. Much worse. The bias began to show more and more. By that time, conservative watchdog organizations were forming, demonstrating that my concerns were correctly based.
Still I continued to watch the news – every night. But with a growing cynicism. With time, I became increasingly well read and better versed on topics. And I saw the distinctive misrepresentation on the part of the three major news networks and – sadly – the 24-hour channel as well.
Still I continued to watch the news – every day.
Then came Fox New Channel. And MSNBC. And those are the two I watch. I watch MSNBC for its massive deception – merely to sharpen my debate skills. Then I turn to Fox, where – in spite of its repetitive themes (almost every broadcast covering the exact same topics) – I could gain some perspective as they frequently brought on people on both sides of the issue. And I counted on many other online sources.
In time I began to be interviewed myself. First, about my books. Then about other topics. Finally about various cultural issues, historical, theological, including marriage and religious liberty, the Da Vince Code and other issues. In all – as nearly as I can count – I have done approximately 1,150 interviews. Many of them were "softball" interviews on small friendly stations. Some of them, however, were hostile interviewers, before national audiences.
What I have learned is this: Objective journalism in national TV coverage – there is no nice way to say this – is almost gone.
And the few who claim such – once again, no nice way to say this – are out of contact with reality.
My frustration with NBC's Brian Williams is so much more than a helicopter not being shot or false Katrina reporting. My disappointment is that he has never been telling the truth – or rarely so. He has been sharing his bias, first by stories that are selected and those that are ignored and, secondly, by the way the story is told. He is not objective. He never has been. Nor are his competitors.
If they merely admitted: "We are biased. This is not the news. This is the news as we want it presented," I could accept their honesty. But no such honesty exists.
But what is worse is that they claim to be objective – and they actually think they are! They are oftentimes interviewed about the "objectivity required by their profession" with a straight face! But they are profoundly biased. And their bias shows. It is so obvious.
I have felt that for years that no reporter should be able to report on a political story without first revealing how he or she voted in the previous elections. Did he vote Republican? Democrat? Independent?
If a journalist is going to report on a political story, then first tell us for whom you voted, so we have the benefit of full disclosure of any potential conflict of interest or bias.
How would reporters do this? Very easy! Simply have the revealed information listed on a website – say www.reportersfulldisclosure.com – or something like that. Then the public would know the voting history and could see how that support for a party or candidate – or lack of support of a party or candidate – could be a reason to question the objectivity of the political reporting.
This disclosure would be easy to collect, if reporters voluntarily provided it. And the transparency would allow the listener to be alerted to any potential bias.
I am not suggesting that reporters do not have the right to vote, to have favorite parties or candidates. They do. And they should.
But they could merely offer the disclosure as a way of acknowledging ways in which they might unknowingly lack the capacity to be fully objective.
That is my objection to Brian Williams and his colleagues in the business. It is so much more than a helicopter that was not shot or the lack of evidence of a floating body in New Orleans. It is absence of fundamental honesty.
Yes, Brian Williams should be on leave. In fact, he should be fired. And so should most of his compatriots and competitors.
Slowly, Americans – like me – have been walking away from the "nightly news" and also from much of cable news.
We have found many sources – mostly online – that we trust. I can hear the howling, "but the Internet is loaded with biased and unprofessional reporters!" Yes. That is true. But so is broadcast and so much of cable news.
Walter Cronkite was once labeled "the most trusted man in America." I have no idea if he actually was or not. But tragically, many journalists who followed him have become some of "the least trusted voices in America." That grieves me.
Journalism is a noble profession. And America – as our Founding Fathers knew by the inclusion of the Fist Amendment – needs trusted, objective reporting. But we are not getting it. For that, they should be fired and hopefully replaced with a person without a strong political agenda or "slant" to their story. Or at least, if they continue reporting, disclose who they have voted for in past elections.
We deserve journalists who will acknowledge that it is hard to be truly objective and thus, in fairness to any latent bias, will disclose their voting histories and other presuppositions.
America deserves this.