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February 11, 2014

Marvin Olasky, Yale '71, Releases 25th Anniversary Edition of Groundbreaking Book

A quarter century ago, Marvin Olasky wrote Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media. Last year, with the help of journalist and colleague Warren Smith, Olasky, Yale '71, released the 25th anniversary, revised edition of the book, which continues to remain relevant, even in a vastly different media world.

"When Prodigal Press came out in 1988, it was a seminal book and had a huge impact on a generation of young Christian journalists," said Smith. "But in the past 25 years, much has happened. Cable news has proliferated. The Internet has dramatically changed both the news and the advertising environment. Satellite and Internet radio has tens of millions of daily listeners in the U.S. alone."

Olasky is editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine and the Distinguished Chair in Journalism and Public Policy at Patrick Henry College, while Smith is vice-president of WORLD News Group and the associate publisher at WORLD Magazine. In Prodigal Press, they reveal the bias within mainstream media, and also call out Christian journalists who play P.T. Barnum for God. The revised version takes cultural and technological changes into account and includes an appendix itemizing examples of media bias year-by-year from 1988 to the present.

A few years ago, Olasky and interns at WORLD sifted through Associated Press articles on current events, and noted how the views of conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular, were conspicuously absent from the stories. Told from a liberal perspective, the news feed left out some of the hard and, at times, uncomfortable fiscal, moral, and ethical facts.

In an interview with BreakPoint, Olasky recalled how he slanted articles in the Boston Globe 40 years ago. A former member of the Communist Party USA, Olasky wrote about class warfare from a biased perspective.

"The editors loved it," Olasky said. "As a member of the Communist Party, I had no problem working for the Boston Globe."

But that doesn't mean that now, as a Christian journalist, Olasky thinks the pendulum needs to swing fully in the opposite direction. What he purports is writing and reporting in a way that tells the whole truth.

"Over the past quarter-century, I've learned more about the importance of offering salt, not sugar. We print what we believe to be true, not what we'd like to be true," Olasky writes.

Olasky calls it "journalistic humility," which attempts to convey God's perspective, rather than give readers what they want to hear: "We distinguish between issues on which the Bible is clear and those on which it isn't. We also distinguish between journalism and propaganda: we're not willing to lie because someone thinks it will help God's cause."

In the BreakPoint interview, Olasky also noted that Christian journalism needs to reflect the "infinitely interesting" world the Lord created. While reporting ought to be done from a Christian worldview, it should also be shared in an entertaining and arresting way. That means also engaging the technology, but also being mindful of "the devil in the electronics."

"Talented Christians now, perhaps for the first time in the electronic age, have the opportunity to show on television the extent of Christ's lordship on public-policy questions and in every aspect of life," write Olasky and Smith.

The authors also share the good and the bad of the secular and Christian media. Even going back to biblical times, they show where biblical P.R. went wrong and where pure "godly relations" prevailed.

Christian journalism is a vocation that can have a profound impact, whether it's done well or poorly, they say.

"God does have a preferred medium: the Word," write Olasky and Smith. And how that Word is incorporated and how words are used to reflect what is true makes all the difference in what the culture ultimately comes to know about the events and issues of the day.

"If Christians are willing to report faithfully that God is sovereign, that Satan is active but under control, that man pursues evil by nature but can be transformed, and that God does answer prayers in the way that is best for our growth in grace—then, with God's grace, Christians will have the most insightful and exciting news publications and programs in the United States."
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