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Dust Up Between “Christianity Today” and “Daily Wire” Provides A Teachable Moment

Christians who engage in public discourse should be both truthful and fair.

OPINION–At first glance, it’s not a bad idea for a story: Pick a prominent Christian organization, one that speaks regularly about cultural and political issues, and see if the political campaign contributions of its employees reveal anything its readers should know. A hidden bias, perhaps. Wokeness. A tendency toward ideologies of other kinds.

Finding information about political contributions, at least to federal campaigns, is easy. Just go to FEC.gov and search by “employer.” I have done it regularly when I’m researching an organization or writing profiles of prominent people. Revealing this information is “fair game,” and should be a part of a diligent reporter’s background research.

However, this exercise has also taught me that what the search typically reveals is a mishmash of factoids, but little insight, and it is often incomplete. The searches don’t reveal anything about state or local races, for example.

Nonetheless, there’s no shame in using this tool, and occasionally it does yield interesting results. “Daily Wire” reporter Megan Basham typed “Christianity Today” into the FEC search engine. She turned the results into a 900-word story. The story found that “between 2015 and 2022, nine Christianity Today employees made 73 political donations. All of them went to Democrats.”

She also provided helpful context. She wrote:

The Society of Professional Journalists holds that editorial staff should never contribute to candidates or campaigns. For reporters covering politics, the SPJ goes even further, cautioning that “almost no political activity is OK.” Most large secular news outlets, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and NPR, abide by these standards and have disciplined and/or fired reporters who flouted these rules. MSBNC even suspended host Keith Olbermann without pay due to three campaign donations, though his show was clearly marketed as opinion. Yet two editors at Christianity Today contributed to Democrat campaigns at the same time they were covering politics.

She’s right, and that’s why WORLD Magazine, where both Megan Basham (and I) got a lot of our journalistic experience, has a policy prohibiting reporters from donating to political campaigns.

Tim Dalrymple, the president of Christianity Today admitted to me that CT’s ethics policy had no such restriction. I asked him about this deficiency, and he wrote in a subsequent email: “To your encouragement that we should have a clause prohibiting political donations from our journalists, my response would be: We agree. Full stop.”

I commend Dalrymple and Christianity Today for admitting they made a mistake and plan to correct it.

My question now is: Will The Daily Wire do the same?

This question is relevant because the same FEC.gov website Megan Basham used also reveals that during that same period, Daily Wire employees made 46 political contributions, with 22 of those contributions going to Democrats. In fairness, most of these contributions were small, and most of them were made by staffers who were not on the editorial team. (That is also true of the Christianity Today employee contributions.) However, the largest of these contributions — $2,800 – was made by Ben Shapiro, to Republican Randy Feenstra. Feenstra defeated Republican incumbent Steve King for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 and was reelected in 2022.

Just for the record, I like Feenstra. He’s solidly pro-life and pro-family. He’s on the faculty of Iowa’s Dordt University, a Christian college I admire. But, according to Megan Basham, that’s not the point. She was right to quote the Society of Professional Journalists’ statement that “almost no political activity is OK.”

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A lot of people will view this story as the ultimate “inside baseball” story. As in: “Who cares?” It’s a fair question, but the answer is that we all should. Journalism is in a precarious spot. The credibility of mainstream journalism is at or near an all-time low. This crisis of confidence is harmful to public discourse, to other institutions of civil society, and ultimately to democracy itself.

But this crisis also presents an opportunity for those who hold high journalistic and ethical standards. Such standards will set them apart, will allow them to be signals that rise above the static and noise.

I’m grateful that Christianity Today seems to understand that and is willing to take criticism and make corrections, even when that criticism is not completely honest or fair.

It is my hope that The Daily Wire will make similar reforms. If not, it might soon discover itself well down the road to becoming what it professes to hate.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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