First it was Shirley Sherrod, now Juan Williams; both victims of our sound-bite media culture. As Christians, we must look for the whole truth in every situation, because half-truths are worse than outright lies.
Not having come up professionally in the world of traditional print journalism, I’ve been mostly ambivalent toward the slow march of change that has irrevocably transformed the fourth estate and merged it with existing forms of internet media. Change is inevitable, and since it hasn’t take any money out of my pocket, I haven’t really been that concerned about it.
But there is one aspect of traditional journalism that I do value tremendously, and which I fear is beginning to slide into extinction — the idea of examining the context of a story to see it from all sides. If there is an Achilles heel for internet media — whether Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, or whatever — it’s the way that these media socialize us to form opinions and cast judgment on the stories of the day. The inherent immediacy of it all makes it hard for us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
As a result, we often end up regurgitating half-truths, literally not knowing what we’re talking about, and proving — sadly — the axiom that a lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth has even put its shoes on.
I find no better proof of this than the fact that NPR has fired conservative pundit Juan Williams after his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News where he made comments that appeared to be derogatory toward Muslims.
The key word here is “appeared.”
The part that offended NPR’s liberal sensibilities was Williams admitting that he gets nervous when he’s on a plane with someone who appears to be Muslim. But according to Slate columnist William Saletan, the video clip of that O’Reilly Factor appearance, which has made the rounds on several left-leaning websites, heavily edits Williams’ statement. What isn’t shown in the clip (but can be seen below) is where he also attacks O’Reilly’s logic and says that just because Timothy McVeigh and Fred Phelps are Christians doesn’t mean that you can categorically attach their misdeeds to Christianity as a whole.
In other words, the leftist websites only showed the part of the video that fit their version of the story.
This is exactly the same tactic perpetrated by Andrew Breitbart and other right-wingers against Shirley Sherrod, who was fired over comments she made at an NAACP gathering, where she admitted feelings of prejudice. Ultimately, as the full text of her speech showed, Ms. Sherrod chose to overcome her prejudice and did her best to assist the white farmer who needed help.
One would think that given the embarrassment suffered by the Obama administration over Sherrod’s firing, and the subsequent liberal furor over it, would be enough to help people remember to get the whole story when viewing a potentially controversial video clip.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. This is another example of a half-truth which has been wielded more viciously than an outright lie. And it makes me wonder why more Black folks aren’t outraged over this, like we were over Shirley Sherrod’s firing. Is it because Juan Williams is conservative, and therefore considered by many Blacks to be a traitor who doesn’t deserve our sympathy? Because as Dr. King reminded us, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We’ve got to be more discerning.
Even in less weighty matters, we’ve got to condition ourselves to look for the whole story. I’ve been giggling watching video clips of Jimmy McMillan at the New York gubernatorial debate, representing “The Rent Is Too Damn High Party.” His public performance was quite enthralling, I must admit. McMillan’s stoic demeanor and rapid-fire delivery was both amusing and oddly hypnotic, a cross between the staccato of Kirk Franklin and the cantankerous musings of Granddad from The Boondocks. Many of my Facebook friends think that guy is the funniest thing since Antoine Dodson and the viral hit “Bed Intruder” song that he inspired.
But how many of us have asked the obvious follow-up question … is the rent actually too high? More importantly, has McMillan’s viral fame helped to spread awareness of the needs of urban poor in New York, of which rent is just one problem among many? Or has the comedic element actually obscured the issues at play? Not being an NYC resident, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know that if we as Christians are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, we must be seeking these kinds of answers.
This vigilance to find the whole story is especially important as we seek the Scriptures for truth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard believers recite Scriptures out of context to support arguments that have nothing to do with what the Scripture is talking about.
How many of us have tried to cheer someone up with Jeremiah 29:11 — ” ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.” Does anyone ever read the whole chapter beforehand?
If we would, we would see that the Lord is speaking, through Jeremiah, to the surviving exiles of Jerusalem, who had been longing to return to their homeland. What we see in Jeremiah 29 is a gentle correction. He tells them to settle down and get comfortable in their exile, and that when the city prospers, they will also. And He tells them that they’ll be in Babylon for 70 years before they get to return to their beloved Jerusalem. Verse 11 should not be read as, “Cheer up, your situation is going to change!” but rather, “Cheer up, because God has purpose in your situation, even though you think it sucks.”
That subtle difference makes all the difference in the world. If we miss it, we don’t get the whole story. What we get instead is a half-truth. And when it comes to the gospel, it’s the same as it is in politics — half-truths are just as good as lies.
And, sadly, twice as common.