When News is not News

I invite you to read two news articles:

ARTICLE #1 –

Eco-Terrorists Attack Clean Energy

The millennials have finally gotten off their couches, but unfortunately it was to get involved in illegal mischief. This Lancaster Against Pipelines group trespasses into energy projects in order to get themselves intentionally arrested. Their new Satan is the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, a natural gas conduit that will convey clean, cheap energy over several states. In October 2017, 23 were arrested, and in January three more. Atlantic Sunrise’s website demonstrates with factual data that, “Not only will construction create job opportunities, but the development is expected to increase economic activity by $1.6 billion in project regions.” But apparently their “green” enemies would prefer to ship jobs and investment overseas, to protest that which they do not understand, while depending on their parents to pay the mounting heating bills.

The company has had to hire outside security in order to protect their project. Several guards from Global Security repeatedly asked the LAP protesters to vacate the private property, but in the end they had to call the police to arrest these hoodlums for criminal trespassing. Atlantic Sunrise also alleged that their high-pressure tactics were tantamount to terrorism.

ARTICLE #2

War Against Christmas Rolls On:
14-year-old Christian arrested
for singing carols

The secular culture has been waging a war against Christmas for years. Already it’s not permitted for cashiers to say “Merry Christmas” to their customers. Public schools can’t state that Christmas is the commemoration of Jesus’ birth. The White House has a “holiday tree.” Nativity scenes are banned. And now the forces of leftist political correctness have claimed fresh victims. In December, a 14-year-old was arrested, and an adult who was with him was convicted and fined $200. What was their crime? They had taken home-made Christmas cookies to some people along a public road and just outside of a construction site. And they sang Christmas carols; but apparently “Away in a Manger” and “Joy to the World” are too religious for our secularized society. The workers had even asked them if they might have some of the cookies, but that meant nothing to the forces of the secular state.

AND NOW, our own analysis:

We are attracted to headlines that fit into our “confirmation bias”; that is, we tend to believe what they say if they confirm what we already believe, but reject them if they run contrary to our beliefs. Think of the news stories you have seen over the last few months (Did the Russians interfere in the 2016 election? Is so-and-so a sexual predator? Does global warming affect weather patterns?) and your first impression of these issues will probably slide in the direction of what you already believe. This is simply the way the mind works; if we had no confirmation bias at all, we could never function as humans!

What about the two articles above?

Believe it or not, both – the Eco-Terrorism one and the War against Christmas one – are my own write-ups of one and the same event that happened not far from us. The photo for article 1 is genuine, and I searched and found the image for article 2. Apart for some minor editorializing, both report facts. I first saw the news at THIS LINK. I would guess that your emotions were excited by seeing the one headline and not the other one, and that might be an example of confirmation bias. (And I too would have been emotionally up in arms about one rather than the other, showing my bias!).

Is there no relief from confirmation bias? There are three main options.

The first solution is to offer our confirmation bias little resistance, and select either article #1 or article #2 or some third version as the truth, rejecting the other as the product of media propaganda.

second option is to assume that neither story is true, because “Everything you read in the media is a lie!” Logically, this cynical approach is impossible to maintain for long, although some try.

third option is to display a healthy sense of skepticism and assume that both the article we resonate with and the article we don’t resonate with might not be telling the whole story, and that we should leave ourselves open to new facts and alternative interpretations. In the case of inflammatory headlines like the ones above, it is especially necessary to partially suspend judgment until we have more insight; it is an expression of the virtue of humility.

Many of the news posts I have read in Christian media outlets are shaped to appeal to the confirmation bias of their readers. They are hardly the only ones guilty of this, but as a believer, I think we Christians should be held to high standards of truth.

Let’s keep our eyes open and our minds as well!

RELATED POSTS: start with this link and you will find several essays on the same theme –

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on Truth and Social Media – Part I

“When News is not News,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica