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God's Politics

Brian McLarenIn 2005, I wrote these words in an article called “Thank God for Journalists and News Professionals!”

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?

Then I added …

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 has mass media 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 questionable 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.

…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.

In recent days, CNN has been showing a powerful feature called “The Killing Fields: Africa’s Misery, the World’s Shame,” telling the story of atrocities occurring in the Congo (one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Holocaust), Darfur (whose situation is still horrible – beyond precarious, and needing urgent international action), and surrounding regions.

Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, and Jeff Koinange deserve a long and heartfelt standing ovation for this heroic and needed work of ethical reporting. They show how journalism can serve, not simply ratings and dollars, but humanity. Thank you, Anderson, Sanjay, and Jeff. May God bless you and help you keep up this kind of good work. And may God help us all respond to the many miseries among two-thirds of the world’s people, whose stories, voices, and cries must be heard. They may not be celebrities, but each one is precious to God, and their stories matter, just as it matters how we listen and respond.

Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is an author and board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His most recent book is The Secret Message of Jesus (W Publishing, 2006), and his next book will be Jesus and the Suicide Machine (W Publishing, 2007).

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