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Why Do We Say The Press is Prodigal?

Warren Cole Smith

Editor’s Note:  Below is a transcription of the video “Why Do We Say The Press Is Prodigal?”  This material is a summary of the material in “Part I” of Prodigal Press:  Confronting The Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media by Marvin Olasky and Warren Cole Smith. 

We say the press is prodigal because in many ways the media have behaved like the prodigal son in the famous biblical story.

He was once close to his father, but then ran away. The media have behaved that way as well. At one time, many newspapers and magazines in this country subscribed to something resembling a Christian worldview.

Of course, over time have moved very far away from that.

If you don’t believe me, consider this:  Henry Raymond was a newspaper editor in the 1850s in this country.  Many people today don’t know the name Henry Raymond, but they do know the name of the newspaper that this Bible believing Presbyterian founded. And that newspaper is The New York Times.

The New York Times in the 1870s, crusaded actively against abortion. Augustus St. Clair, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, went undercover in the abortion facilities of New York.  The stories he wrote about what he saw so outraged to the people of New York, that abortion was virtually eliminated in the city of New York.

The Times was not alone.  Between 1825 and 1845, about a hundred newspapers and magazines in this country explicitly identified themselves as Christian publications. One of the most prominent was one in Boston. It was called the Boston Recorder and it was edited by a man named the Nathaniel Willis. Nathaniel Willis was aggressive in his reporting and lively in his writing and made that newspaper one of the most popular of its era.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you that today, the Christian worldview does not hold sway over much of mainstream media.  The New York Times, for example, regularly editorializes in favor of abortion and same-sex marriage and other issues that Christians would find troubling, to say the least. And Joe Nocera, who is a columnist for The New York Times, once said Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people.  Now, whatever you think of the tea party movement, I think it is fair to say that use of the word jihad in that context reflects a very unsophisticated understanding of both Islam and religion generally.

Jill Abramson was named the first female editor of The New York Times in 2011. And during that year she made a lot of news herself.  She once said that when she was growing up, “in my home, The Times substituted for religion.  It was the absolute truth.”

I think that one quote from the editor of The New York Times (now former editor) tells us what has happened to American media in this country. It has replaced the truth of scripture with a subjective truth of the journalists’ own making.

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Warren Cole Smith
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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