Be skeptical of media, aware of motivation behind publication of stories in order to understand truth

Phil Schurrer and Phil Schurrer

Rolling Stone magazine recently issued a statement acknowledging that “there now appear to be discrepancies in [the victim’s] account” of an alleged rape that took place on the University of Virginia campus, as reported several months ago by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Maybe the reporters, editors and staff of Rolling Stone are [or should be] taking remedial classes in Journalism 101, specifically regarding fact-checking, corroborating evidence and a certain amount of professional skepticism.

So should the Cavalier Daily, the UVA student newspaper. So should we all [remember the Duke University lacrosse team].

We should also question the media’s motivation, be it print or electronic.

Several years ago, a retired Toledo newscaster was a featured speaker at a workshop on public speaking. His evaluation of the news media — specifically the evening news — was memorable.

His position was that news programs are not designed to enlighten the public, to exercise free speech or to form a more informed electorate. No, the purpose of the evening news is simply to sell air time.

And the ultimate goal for the print media is to sell newspapers or magazines.

Once this goal is understood, everything else falls into place.

Journalism seems to have become a blood sport, with every reporter and editor racing and straining for the next big story, regardless of the facts or their implications.

It seems to have become a war and in war the first casualty is often the truth.

Therefore, a certain amount of skepticism is warranted: does this story fit with common sense?

Whose agenda is being served? Whose ox is being gored?

What are the ultimate consequences if this version of reality does indeed prove to be true? Or false?

The recent explosion of social media does little to assist those who pursue the truth. It merely magnifies the prevailing wind of public opinion.

But truth remains the truth, regardless of whether everyone believes it or no one believes it. It exists independently of public acceptance.

So all the demonstrations at the University of Virginia, the public relations pieces put out by the university administration and the head shaking and clucking of the public may have been misguided in this particular instance.

This is not to say campus rape does not occur. Nor does it provide an excuse for those who perpetrate such outrages.

But under our system, the offense is “alleged” until proven and the accused is innocent until found guilty.

In reality, the public reaction over an article that proved to be questionable at best may be a testament to our collective gullibility. It may also prove to be a barrier to the legal system.

Imagine trying to find a pool of independent jurors should the case have ever come to trial.

A single news source will probably not give us the complete picture.

It’s ironic that, with so many more news sources and outlets today, it has become more difficult for the citizen to discern reality — in other words, the truth.

Scripture tells us that the truth will set us free. But, as Lyndon Johnson reminded us, “Doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It is knowing what’s right.”

Or, in many cases, what’s true.