What should Christians do in a world of fake news? It’s a question I’ve heard frequently from listeners to my radio show “Washington Watch.” Media distortion is a real and present danger, as President Donald Trump knows better than anyone. But in the last several months, the problem has ballooned well beyond the White House gates. The relationship between Americans and the press is rockier than ever — and not just for conservatives.
As Harvard points out, the skepticism surrounding what used to be one of the country’s most respected institution is at an all-time high. A whopping 65 percent of Americans think the mainstream media is full of fake news, including 53 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents. An astounding 84 percent of voters said it’s hard to know what to believe online. Over the past two years, Gallup has clocked similar numbers across the country, pointing out that more people have “very little” confidence in newspapers. According to Gallup these are the lowest levels of confidence they’ve ever recorded in the 45 years.
This agenda of intentional deception is raising serious questions about the media — but the rising skepticism from the public doesn’t seem to be prompting the kind of soul-searching that’s necessary to snap the press back to respectability. Instead, the media often seems to be digging in deeper, casting its net of deception even wider. Two weeks ago, I was caught up in a headline war of my own when a 45-minute podcast was reduced to a five-word soundbite taken completely out of context. It was sensational and controversial, which is what the media intended when it took a comment I made in a broader conversation and turned it into a national caption that Christians excuse sin.
Like so many news outlets, Politico is desperately trying to understand evangelicals’ strong support for the president — who’s made good on his promises but carries plenty of moral baggage. In a lengthy interview, which lasted about 45 minutes, I made the point that Christians weren’t rationalizing or excusing bad behavior. Here’s the transcript from that conversation. I want you to see the raw transcript from the portion of the interview that other media outlets crafted narratives and headlines from that aren’t even close to what I said in this very straight forward podcast with Edward-Isaac Dovere:
Dovere: You know, we have a situation in which it seems this woman is claiming from an interview she did years ago, that she had sex with the president – well, not then the president, but with Donald Trump, three months after his son was born. So he’s married and with a porn star, that just seems like what would be a huge problem…
Perkins: Well, it’s not — I would not say it’s not a problem. But I would say… I think it’s important to understand is that evangelicals did not vote for Donald Trump based on his moral qualifications but based upon what he said he was going to do and who he was surrounding himself with. Now, that was in the context of a general election.
Perkins: When you had Hillary Clinton – who, you know, embraces abortion and the whole homosexual agenda — and herself does not have a pristine background with some of the stuff between her and Bill. So, that’s the context, you’ve got to put it in that context.
Dovere: That’s totally fair. I guess you know well that’s 2016 and you get the decisions that were made in 2016. Now it’s 2018. Does this give you pause at all?
Perkins: Well… I think he’s maturing as president — and back to what we said earlier, I think from a human being standpoint and a spiritual being standpoint, I think he is maturing as well because of the people he’s been around and the influences that he has brought into his life. Again, evangelical support is not unconditional. If the president were to all of the sudden revert back to some of that behavior as president, evangelical support will not be there. So it’s basically, we gave him a mulligan. You know, you get a do-over. You can start —
Dovere: A mulligan for 70 years of his life?
Perkins: I mean the guy — I mean this is what he’s committed to. And as long as he commits to that and continues on that, he will have the support of evangelicals.
Dovere: There are people who are not evangelicals who would say this — and there are some people who are evangelicals but whose politics don’t line up with yours who would say — it’s hypocritical to say that you believe in all the things you believe and–
Perkins: But what’s the option?
Perkins: What’s the option? That’s what I would ask, what are the options I have? Is one of the options to sit at home and allow Hillary Clinton to —
Dovere: No, no, no but in 2018 —
Perkins: OK, but why should I not support him now when he’s actually doing the things that I asked him to do? I mean I say me, but I mean we —
Dovere: Right, right.
Perkins: I mean, he’s done more to restore religious freedom given the background over the last eight years than any president we have ever had. He is actually doing what he said: he is keeping his promise. So I have no reason to say, ‘Alright, well, 10 years ago you said this, so I am going to drop my support.’ Again, it’s not unconditional, this President keeps his commitment and his promise to the evangelicals that supported him, and he continues to you know walk this straight and narrow if you will…”
I went on to explain how evangelicals could come to the point of supporting Mr. Trump, I told the reporter that we — of all people — understand grace and new beginnings. That message never made it to the majority of Americans. Instead, they opened their web browsers and Twitter feeds to outright lies. “Evangelicals trumpet morality while condoning the rankest sin,” was the lead from the Daily Kos. “It’s unlikely,” Salon scoffed, “that after a lifetime of disingenuousness Tony Perkins and other leaders of the Christian right will admit that their entire crusade was never about ‘values.'” The fake controversy exploded, with the New York Times fanning the flames: “Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.” “Rank hypocrites,” cried the Washington Post. The viciousness dripped from the Left’s megaphones, CNN and MSNBC, to print outlets like the New Orleans Times Picayune with a creative license usually reserved for fiction.
The debate raged on this week in editorial pages like USA Today. Fortunately, I had the chance to counter the spin in my own response. Evangelicals, I warned, are not offering blind allegiance.
You have to understand the motive behind these headlines. It’s not to uphold a biblical standard of morality. Instead, it’s designed to accomplish two objectives in the pursuit of snuffing out the flame of conservative, constitutional governance. The first objective is to discredit evangelicals and try to brand them with the Left’s scarlet letter H — hypocrite. That facilitates their second objective, which is to drive a wedge between the president and evangelical voters so that they don’t turn out in record numbers and vote with unity, like they did in 2016. Suppressing the evangelical vote would enable the Left to retake Congress, impeach the president, and pick up where Barack Obama left off with his pro-abortion, anti-Christian policies.
Thankfully, FRC has its own ways of cutting through the media’s lies and misrepresentations. Through this publication, along with my daily radio show, we were able to show the intentional distortion of the media. But this episode certainly underscores a lot of things, including the vigilance Christians need to have when they take in today’s headlines. It’s not enough to know the fake news is out there. As disciples of truth, we have to practice real discernment. Who can you trust? The Update and “Washington Watch” are two daily, reliable options for getting the news you care about from a Christian perspective. If you know people searching for credible commentary, share it! Click here for a station listing and Update sign-up.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.