The News Media, Jerry Sandusky, and Illusion

During my undergraduate years, I took a class at American University called “News Media and Foreign Policy.” Essentially, the class focused on the effect that the news media has in shaping foreign policy.

Our primary textbook, entitled, News: The Politics of Illusion, by W. Lance Bennett, defines “political news” as information that “newsmakers (politicians and other political actors) promote as timely, important, or interesting[,] from which news organizations select, narrate, and package for transmission (via communication technologies) to people who consume it at a given time in history” (Bennett, 11).

Doris Graber, in “Adapting Political News to the Needs of Twenty-First Century Americans,” says that “news is not just any information, or even the most important information about the world; rather, the news tends to contain information that is timely, often sensational (scandals, violence, and human drama frequently dominate the news) and familiar (stories often drawing on familiar people or life experiences that give even distant events a close-to-home feeling)” (Bennett, 11).

Bennett’s assertion throughout his book is that politics and foreign policy do not happen in a vacuum. They are shaped by external forces, one of which is the news media. He argues that the news media plays a large role in how the United States interacts with the world and does not want the public to know how large its influence really is. They want the public to think they are merely reporting the facts without bias, rather than shaping the news and the audience’s perceptions of, and reactions to, the news as it occurs. Thus, the name of the book.

Now, what does this information have to do with Jerry Sandusky? Well, I’d like to argue that in the same way that the news media shapes U.S. national policy, media also shapes what we think about our own hearts. I also want to argue again that the mere volume of sensational articles that we see about evil, violence, and scandal make us immune to the sin in our own lives.

For example, read the following headlines on the Jerry Sandusky trial:

Lawyer: Jerry Sandusky still says he’s not guilty

Juror Says Panel Had Little Doubt on Sandusky’s Guilt

Sandusky Victim 1’s Mom Says Son Struggling

Matt Sandusky: Adopted Son’s Claims of Abuse by Father Make Case Even Uglier

Jerry Sandusky, the monster no one wanted to see

I could go on, but I digress.

The trial of Jerry Sandusky has captivated the national attention in a way that few stories do. Maybe it was because his story has all of the important elements of sensationalism that Graber mentions – scandal, violence, and human drama. Maybe it was his prominence that captured the spotlight. Maybe it was that he was on the staff of an extremely successful football program. Maybe it was the fact that he was alleged to have abused numerous young men. Maybe it was because people are outraged that he used his resources to take advantage of others. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because we feed on the guilt of others.

I do not want to minimize sexual abuse, truly I do not. It is an incredibly grievous sin to abuse anyone in any way – whether sexually, emotionally, or physically. My heart is absolutely broken for the men who endured his abuse as young boys. But when I saw Adam Shefter’s tweet on Saturday, I couldn’t let it go.

Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) 6/23/12 8:22 PM “Question posed at tonight’s dinner: would Jerry Sandusky be considered in the top 10 most revolting figures in this country’s history?”

Excuse me? This was dinner conversation? Is Jerry Sandusky in the top 10 most revolting figures in this country’s history? Really? [Side note, this is not a post aimed at Adam – I usually really appreciate his tweets]

Your answer to this question will depend on your definition of revolting, and your answer will reveal whose measuring stick you rely on.

My answer is no, absolutely not.

But for the grace of God, I could be in the same position and guilty of the same sin as Jerry Sandusky has committed. You could be as well. My husband could be. One of your parents could be.

I don’t think we take the time to really analyze our own hearts as we analyze the evil and guilt in the hearts of those we see in the news. The news promotes illusion in our own hearts, just as it creates an illusion of “merely reporting, not influencing” domestic and foreign policy.

We look at the depravity of the world and the pain that it causes and our hearts whisper “You’re better.” We see the sin that runs rampant and we think “My sin isn’t as bad, as consequential.” Or, maybe we think “My sin doesn’t hurt anyone else.” As important as it is to not compare our lives to the lives of others (see Contentment), it is equally important to refuse to compare the sin in our hearts with the sin (whether apparent or hidden) of others.

The Bible has much to say about our hearts, and thankfully, God knows them better than we do.

We are all sinners. Romans 3:10-12 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

The reality is this – all sin leads to death. Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jeremiah 17:9 says this of our hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

As a result, it is so important for us to heed the words of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Again, I am not diminishing Sandusky’s crimes or the incredible hurt he has inflicted. I am just convicted of all of the judgment that I aim out at the world as I read the news and I want to do a better job of examining my own heart before I cast judgment on anyone else. I want to be able to approach the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart. And I know that but for His grace, I could be living an entirely different life. I too could be an abuser, a murder, a philanderer. I just don’t ever want to be in a place where I easily forget who I would be or could be without Christ.

Don’t be led astray and deceived. Keep a close watch on your heart.


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