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News That Is Not News

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By DONALD DeMARCO

Back in 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, The New York Times editorialized that the Supreme Court had brought “an end to the emotional and divisive public argument.” In retrospect, this oracular statement appears not only completely wrong-headed, but actually somewhat comical. If anything, the divisiveness of the abortion issue has greatly intensified over the past several decades.
Nonetheless, the Times seems to be clinging to its prediction of 46 years ago by refusing to report on the hundreds of thousands of people who have participated in the annual March for Life over that span of time. Like so many other newspapers, the Times is not really delivering the news of the times, but trying relentlessly to form opinion. It is not so much, as it boasts, “all the news that is fit to print,” but whatever fits a particular ideology. To a certain extent, the newspaper has become a “noosepaper.”
Neither the Supreme Court nor major circulation newspapers have the power to control people’s minds. As Abraham Lincoln once famously asserted, “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” There will always be a contingent of people who will stubbornly remain faithful to reality. There will always be stouthearted individuals who will notice the gross discrepancy between the news and what is really happening.
There was a time, however, when the newspaper restricted itself to conveying news. America’s first newspaper appeared in Boston on September 29, 1690. Its publisher, Benjamin Harrison, presented a wonderfully transparent standard for his fledgling enterprise. He agreed to provide, once a month, “an account of such considerable things as have arrived unto our Notice.” Aware that Providence might provide more newsworthy items than his monthly could record, he was prepared, “If any Glut of Occurrences happen,” to publish Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick more often. Thus, the responsibility for making news rested entirely in the hands of God. The newspaper was merely a conveyer of such occurrences.
This theological view of the news, most admirable in its own right, lingered on, if it did not dominate newspapers, for some time. James Parton (1822-1891) was an English-born American biographer who wrote books on the lives of Aaron Burr, Horace Greeley, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, and others. In 1866, with the newspaper in mind, he observed that “recording with exactness and power the thing that has come to pass, is Providence addressing men.”
A Southern Baptist clergyman before the Civil War used to say, when a newspaper was brought into his room, “Be kind enough to let me have it a few minutes, till I see how the Supreme Being is governing the world.” Much of today’s “news,” however, has its origin in the editorial room. God is no longer news.
Richard Weaver, an American scholar who taught at the University of Chicago, has described the modern newspaper rather accurately when he states that it has become “a man-made cosmos of events around us at the time” and that “faith in the printed word has raised journalists to the rank of oracles.” Such oracles, needless to say, usually lack vision.
What is now deemed “newsworthy” is hardly news, let alone reporting the activity of divine Providence. I recall sending an email to the ombudsman of the Toronto Star pointing out how one of its columnists recklessly bashed the Catholic Church in one of his columns. I received a return email informing me the Star gives its writers a great deal of latitude.
The latitude attitude! A rather thin justification for injustice? Here is an instance in which a defense is made that appears liberal on the outside, but contains an embarrassingly indefensible message on the inside. Too much “latitude” means the erasure of any standard of excellence.
Distinguished novelist Walker Percy sent and re-sent letters to the editor of The New York Times. Percy’s letters were pro-life. Therefore, what he had to say did not fit.
Other critical letters to the editor I have dispatched also went unanswered. Another Star journalist had this to say about John Paul II during World Youth Day: “I acknowledge the Pope as I do Billy Graham, Osama bin Laden, the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ronald McDonald — all celebrated for their singular tunnel vision.”
Personally, I am not sure why Ronald McDonald is criticized for having tunnel vision. We may well ask, however, who has the real “tunnel vision” and who speaks with a genuine latitude? The newspaper is not averse to using words to represent the opposite of what that mean.
And we cannot underestimate the power and the influence of newspapers. Thus, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg can tell the world that “we are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it” and, with the aid of the newspaper medium, the whole world responds.
St. Thomas Aquinas confessed that nearly all of his knowledge came from two sources that cannot lie: Nature and Scripture. These are two media through which the voice of divine Providence can be heard. He was fortunate not to have to deal with a self-serving and distorting mass media.
We, on the other hand, for whom the newspaper is part of our daily life, must be on the alert. Good literature, we might say, is news that outlives any dateline. It is not ephemeral; it endures. It is an important part of our education. When Shakespeare warned us that “all the glitters is not gold,” his wise maxim could easily be applied to the Sun and the Star and the Globe as well as to the Times.

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(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate Through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life, are posted on amazon.com.)

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