Montana Voices: Billings church sits in judgment on media coverage

By David Crisp/Last Best News

Without saying a word, a friend handed me a folded copy of the front section of Sunday’s Billings Gazette.

No words were needed. The copy was folded to an ad that spoke volumes.

It was titled, innocuously, “Congratulations to President Donald J. Trump.” The ad, placed by Oasis Community Church on Old Hardin Road, offered prayers for the new president and expressed support for his agenda. But it also attacked the “Obama nightmare” and, brutally, mainstream media.

“They have been unfair, twisted his words, even outright lied about our President,” the ad said. “They did not do that with Obama or Hillary.”

Well, being fair to two out of three ain’t bad. But the implication that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton got a media pass is a stretch. A study by the Shorenstein Center of Media, Politics and Public Policy examined 2016 election coverage by 10 major news outlets. The study found that Trump got more press coverage than Clinton, that a smaller percentage of his coverage was negative and that her scandals got more coverage than his.

study by the Pew Research Center of the 2012 election found that, once “horserace” stories were removed, Obama and Mitt Romney received almost exactly the same percentage of positive and negative stories.

Those figures don’t even take into account media sources outside the mainstream, such as talk radio, where coverage of Obama and Clinton has been almost 100 percent negative for many years. I know; I heard far too much of it.

But Oasis Community Church wasn’t done with mainstream journalists. “It is obvious they were and still are prejudiced in their reporting,” the ad said. “This is wrong. They are Traitors to the American People.”

Dishonest? Sometimes. Incompetent? Sure. Prejudiced? That’s a given. But traitors? Gentlemen, draw your weapons.

What hurts most are the alternative news sources the church suggested seeking out: the Drudge Report, trunews.com, infowars.com, stevequale.com and “other good quality news sites.”

What a list. The Drudge Report is usually classified as a conservative site, but that isn’t obvious to visitors as casual as this one. In reality, Matt Drudge does very little original reporting. His site mostly aggregates news from mainstream sources.

On Sunday, the top stories came from Agence France Presse, Axios (a new site founded by a co-founder of Politico), Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Bloomberg and the New York Post. That’s about as mainstream as it gets.

When Drudge does get outside the mainstream, he writes headlines like this: “Entire school in Jamaica gets possessed by evil demon” and “4 Men Dressed Up As Animals, Raped Young Boy At Sex Parties, Cops Claim…” Drudge also has a fairly long history of botched and misreported stories; see Wikipedia for a roundup.

Trunews was new to this reader, but it also offers a menu of stories aggregated from other sources, including RT, the Russia-owned news service. The selection is designed “to offer Christians a positive alternative to the anti-Christian bigotry of the mainstream news media,” the site says.

The site also offers a prayer request link, promising to refer prayer requests to “our prayer team.”

Infowars is the website associated with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose fans may include Donald Trump. Jones’ views have perhaps best been summarized by the New Yorker: “Jones’s amazing reputation arises mainly from his high-volume insistence that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, “false flag” ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns).”

The last site on the list apparently was intended to refer to Steve Quayle, a radio host who thinks global elites want to exterminate 90 percent of the human population and whose website features scintillating stories like this one: “Merkel of the North? Canada’s commie PM tweets to Muslim immigrants they’re welcome: NOTICE HOW DIVERSITY PRODUCES PERVERSITY, EVERYWHERE IT’S EMBRACED?”

OK, maybe churches aren’t the best place to go for advice on the news. Their concern is not for news but for the Good News. But I was still curious about why so many evangelicals—some 80 percent, according to polls—voted for Trump, a man who has a long history of adultery, dishonesty and taking advantage of investors, customers and contractors.

After all, I am old enough to remember when conservative Christians argued against voting for Ronald Reagan because he had been divorced. Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign was derailed by out-of-wedlock dalliances, and multiple marriages may have torpedoed Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential hopes. Even John F. Kennedy (whose philandering was little known at the time) was considered too Catholic to be president.

I fired off a couple of emails about all this to Oasis Pastor John Kyle, whose books include “Do You Have Demon Troubles.” I got back this unsigned response: “President Trump may have done some of those things you say, however he is not doing them now. He has changed. … Have you ever sinned? We all have.”

Gulp. As it happens, I ran across a list of the seven deadly sins just this week, and I was a bit shocked to realize that I commit, or think about committing, just about every one of those sins on a regular basis.

“I will pray for you David that you might understand if you truly want to,” the email from the church concluded.

Apparently, I need all of the prayers I can get. And maybe those old moral standards for political candidates were unnecessarily strict. We ought to have learned a long time ago that confusing statesmanship with sainthood does nobody any good.

Besides, a lot of those old presidents retained their reputations because of lax reporting, not high moral standards. Still, when I consider that the president and his top two unofficial advisers have nine marriages between them, I have to wonder if something is going on there besides poor chemistry.

As Thomas Jefferson, who apparently had a few dalliances himself, once wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

David Crisp is a longtime Billings journalist and columnist for Last Best News.