Loving the Lurid

Living in Washington, it's a fact of life that one has to read the Washington Post. For better or worse, the Post--like most big-city newspapers--gives us a pretty good barometer of America's attitudes and cultural values. And this was surely the case just a few weeks ago. On the National Day of Prayer, my wife, Patty, and I were privileged to be part of one of the most historic occasions I've ever attended. Billy and Ruth Graham were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award our country gives for outstanding public service. It's only been given 114 times, including to George Washington, the first recipient. The ceremony took place in the Capitol Rotunda, and it was deeply moving. The entire Senate and House filed in, along with dignitaries from all over the world. Vice President Al Gore, Majority Leader Bob Dole, and Speaker Newt Gingrich all took part. Huge numbers of press were there to witness the culmination of the career of a man who's been a friend to 10 presidents, who's preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history. Now it happened that on the same day Graham received this award, talkmeister Phil Donahue announced his retirement. This is the man who's brought every kind of deviant imaginable into America's living rooms, including a male stripper who set fire to his jock strap. Unlike Graham, who leaves public life to great acclaim, Donahue quit because he bombed out in the ratings. How did the Washington Post carry these two stories? On the front page of the Post Style section we find a huge picture of Donahue, his assistants merrily pouring champagne over his head. A 2,000-plus-word story follows, chronicling Donahue's love affair with the lurid. Dr. Graham was shoved off into a corner on the same page featuring the Donahue story. A tiny photograph of him ran below Donahue's picture. The accompanying story ran just 650 words. Now, I don't want to bash the Post, because up to a point, it's simply reflecting America's cultural barometer. But our media elites are also partly the cause of our cultural coarsening. In his book Prodigal Press, Marvin Olasky notes that "readers of every news story are receiving information." But they're "also being taught, subtly or explicitly, a particular worldview . . . theistic, pantheistic, materialistic or whatever." Until the mid-nineteenth century, most American journalists emphasized God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. "Kings who disobeyed God were exposed as sinful," Olasky writes, and "lightning storms taught spiritual lessons." But the non-Christian journalists who came to dominate newspapers put out a very different product, Olasky notes. They "redefined reality to exclude the spiritual realm." And that's why we see Phil Donahue--a purveyor of the puerile--receiving more coverage than a man who's brought the gospel to millions. When we get frustrated with the slant our own newspapers take, we ought to remember that every story--and the context it's put in--reflects the worldview of the writer. And we should remember as well that there's a place where accurate accounts are kept on every event, great or small: It's called the Book of Life. And we can be sure that in this chronicle, Billy Graham most assuredly won't take second place to Phil Donahue.


Chuck Colson


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