Discipleship Questions for Partisan Reactions to News Coverage

The following is a correspondence from a while back that I wrote to two friends who had reached out to me for thoughts regarding a recent news event and its coverage. I no longer remember the particular news item that gave rise to their question. But this advice holds regardless and applies beyond it. I thought I would share.


A couple of discipleship-oriented thoughts come to mind, that I hope could be helpful. I don’t follow all of this stuff terribly close, as you can tell. So I’m less interested in commenting on any of the specifics on the matter. But I do have a pastoral heart for helping us navigate this arena, as part of our all-of-life discipleship. So, at least in that respect, hopefully these questions and thoughts can be helpful.

(1) How do your hearts respond to these stories? Do you find yourself increasing in anger or vitriol towards perceived political opponents? Do you find your heart going, “Yes! More fuel I can use to defend ‘my side’”? And what might this say about our heart idols?

(2) How can you guard yourself against allowing these sorts of stories to fuel or further cement partisan biases in yourself? For instance, let’s assume the stories above are true, and they evidence clear partisan bias and corruption. It would be a terrible irony then if other people’s partisan bias became justification for becoming entrenched in that very same thing myself, and drinking the same partisan poison I’m condemning them for drinking.

(3) There’s always two sides to every story (Prov 18:17). Have we done the work to listen to the “other side” of any stories? And not just listen, but honestly and charitably listen and consider them? Not listen to deconstruct their arguments, but genuinely consider another perspective?

(4) As people centered on the gospel, i.e., “the Word of truth,” we want to be people who care about truth. This means we should place a high value on making sure we are always trying to be objective. We are after the truth, not after what scores the most points for a particular “side.” (An almost sure way to tell if you’re partisan/not objective is if you’re always in lockstep with a particular side, and never or rarely deviate). How can we best guard our hearts towards remaining objective? Especially when we know our hearts’ tendencies (and not only so, but also psychological realities, e.g., confirmation bias, choosing paths of least resistance, etc.)

(5) Our culture is increasingly becoming a post-truth society. What I mean by that, at least in part, is that we no longer have shared, agreed-upon sources of information, e.g., journalists’ reporting. A lot of this is fueled by political interests; they want to discredit reporters who negatively report on them. On the other hand, media bias exists too. Neither of these is good for society. People are skeptical, and they use that skepticism as justification and license to appeal to even less trustworthy sources (e.g., conspiracy theories, fake news)—as if that’s any better! We’re developing into a society where we all trust whatever sources “seem right in our own eyes.” Whether we agree with a source is up to our “discernment” and how we deem something is “trustworthy” — basically, does it agree with my side and its narrative? Again, not good. So the question: How do we navigate a landscape that is so polarized and partisan without falling prey to it? How do we pursue the truth, with a healthy distrust in our own hearts’ inclinations to listen to what it wants to hear? Do we distrust our own hearts as much as we distrust the bias of others (e.g., media, etc.)

A Christian Assessment of News Consumption (with Jeffrey Bilbro)

In a world in which our consumption of news is increasingly polarized and sensational, and disinformation is all too common, how do we combat such unhealthy habits to form a better relationship with the news? And what, after all, is the news even for? What is a particularly Christian mode of engaging and consuming news? In his book, Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry Into the News, Jeffrey Bilbro provides a theological, even historical, perspective on the function and impact of the news in our lives, a diagnosis of our problem, and a reframing of how we might construct alternative practices.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)


Some key concepts and ideas from the book:

  1. “Macademized minds” (or fragmented attention)

Our attentions are overloaded; we are unable to attend in meaningful ways because there’s too much to attend to.

As a result, presentations of the news become competingly sensational in order to compete for our distracted attention.

Thus, we need to develop better habits for shaping what we give our attention to.

Continue reading