Thank God for Journalists and News Professionals!

Thank God for Journalists and News Professionals!
by Rev. Brian D. McLaren (,
After the Holocaust, the world said, NEVER AGAIN! But then came Cambodia. Then came Rwanda. And now – Darfur, Sudan. Murder, rape, torture, destruction of villages, wells, and land – it’s an old, cruel story being repeated again … and again. Uncounted dead in Darfur – between 180,000 and 400,000. Over two million displaced, baking in refugee camps without adequate food, water, shelter, emergency medical care, basic security.
If it weren’t for the work of journalists and news professionals, we couldn’t care about these atrocities because we wouldn’t know about them. Thank God for journalists and news professionals. But please God – send us more, and better, because there’s so much more to be done!
It’s terrible enough that the Janjaweed militia are carrying out systematic genocide against the people of Darfur. It’s even worse that Sudanese government defends itself while its soldiers aid and abet the Janjaweed. They slaughtered thousands in Southern Sudan and got away with it; why not do it again in the west?
The tragedy of what’s happening over there is compounded when we realize that our government has been strangely, inexcusably silent and inactive on this issue. With all our talk about moral values, we seem to consider genocide a tolerable annoyance – if it’s happening in Africa, anyway.
Never again? Not on my watch? It’s our watch, people, and it’s happening again. And we need journalists and news professionals – now more than ever – to wake us up and not let us forget.
Our politicians must be commended for using the word “genocide.” But why do not follow through with the actions required by genocide? Everyone knows that if the U.S. flexed its international political and economic muscle, it could make a difference. Why are we acting
exactly as we did eleven years ago when the Rwandan genocide occured?
Our inactive government is – in many ways – the expected consequence of our news media whose conscience and integrity are being tested just as our national character and morality are.
If our news media were telling the truth – if they were showing stories, film footage, still photographs of grieving mothers, rape-savaged daughters, boys with eyes plucked out, men who have bled to death after having their scrotums slashed – the American people would be outraged and would demand action.
But what have our news media been covering in recent months while thousands in Darfur died? Michael Jackson. Tom Cruise. The Runaway Bride. Trials of the rich and famous. Petty bickering between polarized and paralyzed political parties and their religious mascots. More Michael Jackson. Fluff and stuff that too often simply doesn’t make a sliver of difference.
Except in ratings.
And ratings mean money. Is that what journalism has become? Just another fast way to make a buck?
Some of us remember terms like “the fourth estate” and “muckraking” – and times when journalism was about making a difference in the world, telling the truth, exposing lies, exposing hypocrisy, seeking justice. We remember when journalists brought down lying presidents, uncovered dirty tricks, confronted corrupt regimes. That almost sounds like a joke now.
Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses, and too often, there has been too much truth to his diagnosis. But have the mass media have assumed religion’s pharmaceutical role? Could journalists and news professionals, fixated on ratings-friendly triviality, actually be today’s virtual drug dealers, doling out the greatest tranquilizer ever invented to put public opinion into a deep, passive, mindless sleep?
To fixate on Michael Jackson week after week after week as if it were a major news story shows questionable judgment if not intelligence. But to ignore genocide in Darfur as if it were not a major news story – that shows something far worse.
But we can’t give up on news professionals – because lives depend on them. If they let their conscience guide them instead of ratings, then the truth will be shown about Darfur. And if the truth about Darfur is shown to enough people, enough times, politicians will feel a new wind blow.
As my friend Jim Wallis says, politicians will never stop lifting their wet fingers to test the wind of public opinion. But if journalists wake up … if news managers wake up … if they stop
worrying so much about how thin, sexy, straight-haired and young their female anchors are, and instead concern themselves about what they’re covering and not covering … then public opinion will change. And if public opinion changes, politicians won’t feel gentle summer breezes this
summer. They’ll feel a hurricane of outrage and a tornado of concern about hundreds of thousands dead and two million displaced in Darfur.
When the journalists wake up, the public will wake up. When the public wakes up, the politicians will wake up and spur our government to action we can be proud of.
As a Christian and a pastor, I consider all good work to be sacred – from teaching school to science, from agriculture to art, from manual labor to public policy, from business to home-making to health care. Journalism could and should be a high, noble calling – work of God’s
kingdom, in fact. But where do we find the journalists who see it that way? Where are the journalists and news directors who will not let the American people and government stay asleep while Darfur is depopulated?
Thank God, they’re out there. Often, reporters have had to push their news directors to devote even a few precious column inches or a few tens of seconds to Darfur, but they’ve pushed and they’ve done what they could. Again, all of us who now care about Darfur wouldn’t know or care about the genocide if it weren’t for what those few good journalists have done. Their stories, their photographs, their footage, their research have gotten through to many of us. And we want there to be more and more journalists like them, so more and more stories and photographs and segments will build momentum so lives can be saved.
So we must honor and encourage these news professionals wherever they’re found. We must hold them up as moral examples for others to follow.
And you can help. Whenever you find an article or hear a media segment drawing attention to the genocide in Darfur, please draw attention to it, and to the journalists who covered it, the news director who included it, the photographer or camera-person who made it visual and memorable. Let’s honor those journalists and news professionals who realize that it’s an immoral decision to pacify public opinion with ratings fluff while human beings die. Let’s honor those who know it’s a profoundly moral decision to wake up sleeping people and politicians with the truth that must be told so that lives can be saved.
Everybody dreams of someday being a hero. News professionals could become heroes in the coming days and weeks. It’s already too late for hundreds of thousands of people. But it’s not too late for two million more who are now at risk.
First the media … then the public … then the government … then we’ll see action.
If you’re a journalist or news director reading this, please – do what you can.
And if you’re a blogger – realize that you may be the only hope when news professionals fail us. Please use your power, your influence, to wake people up to what’s happening.
It is a sin to stand idly by when human blood is shed.
To learn more about Darfur and about what some of us in the religious community are seeking to do for Darfur, check out