As Catholics, we believe in truth with a capital T. We believe there is an overarching true story about the universe and our place in it, revealed to us by Jesus Christ and the Prophets, through Scripture and the teachings of the Church. This is an immense comfort and source of hope for the world.
As citizens of the world, responsible for making day-to-day decisions about our lives and responsibilities, we rely on truth with a small t. That means we believe there are such things as objective facts that can be empirically determined and that opinions — to be valid — should be based on such facts.
This seems like such common sense. Yet today, there is a global assault on objective truth. US President Donald Trump did not start the “fake news” assault on our understanding of the world. It had been going on for years through the undermining of any notion that some things are indeed “true” and can be relied on. Yet, through his continual war on mainstream media, he has taken it to a new level, with enthusiastic assistance from fellow travellers throughout the world.
Today, people often give as much credence to the bizarre emails in blue text they receive randomly in their in-box as they do to the New York Times. As professional communicators — particularly as Catholic communicators devoted to the cause of Truth — this should be more than alarming.
Everyone has his or her favourite story about journalism done badly. Considering the volume of daily output by the world’s mass media, it would be surprising if there weren’t mistakes made. Yet, mainstream media — with its professional devotion to getting things right, checking sources, ensuring accuracy and fairness — is still well above and beyond what passes for news on most of the on-line world today. If it were not for professionals at the Globe and Mail, CBC, Toronto Star, Edmonton Journal (plug in here the name of your favourite news outlet), our understanding of the world would be far dimmer than it is.
As Catholic communicators we know this and continue to work cooperatively with mainstream media, even when we are aware of ingrained biases against religion or the occasional sloppiness regarding facts. Even a flawed professional media is far more valuable than the alternative. So let’s be a little more careful about what we’re calling “fake news.” We hurt ourselves and our society when we don’t make the distinction.
Joseph Sinasac is Publishing Director of Novalis Publishing and Past President of ARCCC.