Discerning truth in a world of fake news
When people bemoan the fact there’s so much fake news in the world today, I’m reminded of a story the late BBC broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge used to tell about what he called “the media world of fantasy.” When the Berlin Wall was completed, two East German policemen decided to leap off the wall into West Berlin. A cameraman present at the occasion recalled the men had to jump three times before their performance was considered “visually satisfactory” enough to appear on the nightly news.
Print media are no better — and are sometimes worse. When I was writing for Cosmopolitan from the early 1970s into the 1990s, editor-inchief Helen Gurley Brown had a shameless list of “rules” on how to invent stories about “Cosmo girls” who were supposedly living the happy-go-lucky, sexually “free” lifestyle we were promoting. When fabricating stories about “ordinary” women (whom she called “civilians”), Helen wrote, “Try to locate some of the buildings, restaurants, nightclubs, parks, streets, as well as entire case histories, in cities other than New York, even if you deliberately have to ‘plant’ them elsewhere. (italics added.) Most writers live in New York; 92 percent of readers do not.” By making up these women and “planting” them in places like Cleveland and Des Moines, we made the sex revolution’s then-quiteshocking norms seem far more widespread and accepted than they actually were.
”The problem of evil,” said St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, “is that it is usually disguised as goodness.” Written in the tone of big sister talking to little sister, Cosmo’s unspoken message to the young reader was: “Everybody else is doing this—and it’s good, innocent fun. So why are you such a stick-in-the-mud? Relax, enjoy!”
The seductive marketing story we told at Cosmo —sex without commitment is glamorous — is still constantly being told and sold to young women today. And if a girl is feeling lonely, insecure, and afraid not to go along with the crowd, she’s more likely to be taken in by the story and tempted to buy all the stuff the sex profiteers are selling, from expensive perfumes and underwear to antianxiety pills and abortion.
Another of Helen’s rules read: “Unless you are a recognized authority on a subject, profound statements must be attributed to somebody appropriate (even if the writer has to invent the authority)” (italics added). In other words, it’s encouraged to invent an authority if you can’t find a real expert to say what you want them to say.
Even journalists who work hard to tell the truth can be deceived. On the Saturday night that the demand to repeal all abortion laws was inserted into the National Organization for Women’s political “Bill of Rights” by just 57 people, no reporter was present in the Chinese Room of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. to witness the big fight that took place. So when NOW’s president Betty Friedan proclaimed in a press conference the following Monday that abortion on demand was a sexual revolution “right” millions of American women wanted, the Washington Post dutifully reported her claim as if it were true, other reporters followed suit … and the rest, as they say, is history.
In short, as Americans we’re constantly sailing on a sea of fake news. How can we keep from drowning? Toward the end of his career, Muggeridge said that what he was more convinced of than of anything else was that “the only antidote to the media’s world of fantasy is the reality of Christ’s Kingdom proclaimed in the New Testament.”
And that, my friends, is the truth.
SUE ELLEN BROWDER, who was a featured speaker at Legatus’ 2018 Summit, has published hundreds of magazine articles. A Catholic convert, she lives in Lander, WY, where, when she’s not writing, she works as an assistant to the Byzantine-rite priest at Wyoming Catholic College. Her latest book is Sex and the Catholic Feminist (co-published by Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute).