If you’re a Christian with a public ministry or outreach of any kind, especially one with an impact on our culture, politics or the law, the media is not your friend, it’s your enemy. In fact, the media is not only your enemy, it is actively and openly your enemy. They want you charbroiled and hung out to dry. Even Fox News and the so-called ‘conservative talk radio’ should be viewed as guilty until proven innocent. That may not sound very American but this isn’t a court room. This is a fight for the Kingdom and our lives. That simple fact should change everything you think about the media. Anyone who isn’t a blood-bought, born-again Christian is automatically in the enemy camp by default, whether they believe it or not, whether they’re a good person or not. Since the vast majority of the media, in some cases over 90%, are unsaved or agnostic in one way or the other they are the enemy.
This may sound like an exaggeration but I assure you it’s not. If anything I’ve understated the magnitude of their opposition to Christians. If you give them an interview they will twist your words in the worst possible way they can to make it sound as if you said something you never intended. They will take your comments out of context and use them to implicate you as bigoted, hateful, intolerant and ignorant. And the more you talk, the worse it will be because they’ll have more to twist and use against you. Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who faced down the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), learned this lesson the hard way when the New York Times took his remarks out of context to paint him as a racist.
Many years ago one of my favorite TV shows was ‘Babylon 5’, about a space station five miles long floating in neutral territory as an interstellar trading post and diplomatic meeting place. There was one episode in particular I found especially intriguing. It was called ‘The Illusion of Truth’. In this episode a news team from Earth came to Babylon 5 to interview the command staff and some of the alien Ambassadors who lived there. The Captain told everyone to keep their answers short and simple, not to give them anything to use against them, but it didn’t work. At the end of the episode it showed the ‘finished report’ by the news team. They had taken everything completely out of context and twisted what they saw until it was nothing like what actually happened. But…the report was plausible and sounded realistic enough if you didn’t know any better. In other words, it had the illusion of truth.
That’s what you’re dealing with today. Our media will do the same thing with every single word you say, everything you let them film – everything. When they’re done editing it, it won’t look anything like the real truth but it will have the illusion of truth. The worst part is, because it’s your own words it’s almost impossible to defend yourself or correct the record to any meaningful degree. Even if you could it wouldn’t do any good because the initial impression will have already taken root in the public’s mind. Finally, retractions or corrections, if you can ever get the media to publish them, are always placed in a throw-away line at the tail end of the report. “Blah, blah, blah, blah, and oh yes, Mister Bozo issued a denial of our report after we already showed you his own words.”
They will make Christians sound like the bad guys no matter what. Deal with it.
And the answer is…
First, recognize the source of the problem and our response to that source. Once you’ve accomplished that you can turn toward dealing with the actual problem itself.
The source of the problem is Satan. The Bible calls him the ‘prince of the power of the air’. The actual quote is found in Ephesians and I want to look at the whole thing to put it in context and really break it down for you before we move on.
Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
In this passage, Paul is speaking to the believers in the city of Ephesus, reminding them they were once sinners before they were saved and they were following the ‘course of this world’. This phrase means they were fitting in with the crowd, going along to get along, doing the same thing everyone else was doing. Isn’t that what most people do? Didn’t you before you were saved? I certainly did. And notice, Paul says following the course of the world means you’re also following the prince of the power of the air – Satan.
Satan, and his angels, are the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience. This is referring to disobedience to God. Paul then reminds the Ephesians a second time that they once lived according to the passions of the flesh and the body (as opposed to living according to the spirit of God). This made them ‘by nature’ … that is by birth, by inclination … children of wrath. The wrath of course is the wrath of God. Finally, Paul says this is like the rest of mankind. The rest of mankind is anyone who’s not a Christian. Anyone, the rest of mankind, who isn’t saved by the Blood of the Lamb is a child of wrath who is following in the course of the world and the prince of the power of the air.
Television and radio signals travel through the air. Even today with cable television those signals are bounced from one microwave tower to another through the air. The air is Satan’s ‘sphere of influence’. America and the Soviet Union had spheres of influence during the Cold War. Anything that moved in those spheres was influenced by them; not controlled necessarily, but definitely influenced. The same thing applies in the spiritual warfare between God and Satan. Satan’s sphere of influence is the air and anything that moves through it is influenced by him and his angels; not controlled necessarily, but definitely influenced.
This has been true from the very beginning of broadcast technology, and guess what kind of people are drawn to a godless, Satan-influenced sphere of activity? Atheists, agnostics, communists, socialists, progressives, liberals; in short, broadcast reporters. Every broadcaster in the world is working within Satan’s sphere of influence. Newspaper reporters weren’t originally in that sphere of influence but the power of broadcasting eventually overtook and corrupted the world of print just as thoroughly as the world of broadcasting.
Since the vast majority of reporters are now ‘children of God’s wrath’ working in Satan’s sphere of influence, they belong to Satan, just like the Pharisees Jesus upbraided in John 8:44 -
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The Father of Lies is one of Satan’s major titles. You could almost say it’s his main title. If reporters belong to the devil, Satan, who is a liar, what does that make them? That’s right, liars. Remember earlier when I said they would twist your words? They’ll do worse than that. If they can’t find anything to twist out of shape, they’ll simply make it up, they’ll lie! And trust me it won’t be by accident. They lie consciously and deliberately with malice forethought.
So, the source of our problem with the media is Satan, which means the problem is bigger and uglier than you thought. But knowing the source gives us the insight to deal with it.
Point number one: don’t try to evangelize reporters, or sway them, or reason with them, or appeal to their ‘better natures’. They have none. (Trying to evangelize a reporter is like trying to teach a pig to fly; it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Jesus Himself didn’t waste any time on the Pharisees. He only got one convert, Nicodemus, and even he had to hide it to stay out of trouble. If you insist on evangelizing reporters I won’t try to stop you and if you actually get one I’ll be the first to stand up and applaud, but my job in the Kingdom isn’t evangelism and I’m guessing that anyone this book appeals to won’t be an evangelist either.) The more time you spend with reporters trying to get them to see your point of view, the more time they’ll have to hit you with questions designed to throw you off base and provoke you into saying something you didn’t mean or intend to say. Then they’ll use it against before you can so much as spit. They can’t be reasoned with because they see themselves as advocates for their point of view. They’ll be trying to change your mind or destroy you or both. You can’t reason with someone like that. And anyone who belongs to Satan doesn’t have a better nature. By definition the only people who actually have a better nature are those who are saved, and the better nature is the Holy Spirit living within them.
Point number two: don’t give any interviews to any reporters – period! Once you let your words get out of your possession you lose control over them. Even innocent editing done with the best intentions in the world can inadvertently twist your words into an unrecoverable disaster. Turn down every request for an interview. Don’t give them any ‘background’ for their report. Don’t chat with them ‘off the record’. Don’t give them your impressions on any topic.
The only, I repeat only exception to this rule is if the reporter is a Christian you absolutely know and trust. If it’s a person you know only by reputation be careful about trusting them. Sad to say, these days some ‘Christian reporters’ aren’t all that Christian. If there is any doubt in your mind, don’t. But if you know you can trust them there are still a couple of rules to follow: ask them ahead of time for a list of the questions they’ll be asking you. The point of an interview is to elicit information not play gotcha. If they’re not willing to give you the questions don’t do the interview. Next, if it’s a video-taped interview, ask them to run it unedited (also referred to as ‘live to tape’) or give you ‘final cut’ on the edited results. If it’s a print interview ask for final approval before it goes to print or online. If they’re not willing to provide either of these requests, don’t do the interview. This may sound a little harsh but your message is your message. Don’t let anyone else put their spin or slant on it.
Don’t chance it.
But, but, but…if we don’t talk to reporters how can we get our message out? How can we respond if our message becomes popular and people want to know more about it?
That brings me to point number three: issue press releases or better yet, pre-recorded videos. The way you do this is simple. Watch the news, writing down any questions the talking heads are asking each other about you and your message. Read everything about yourself you can get your hands on, in print and online. Find out what people want to know, what points they’re not clear on, what issues they want or need more information about.
Once you’ve collected it all, go through it with a fine-tooth comb. Throw out for any distractions or issues that aren’t germane to your message. It doesn’t matter how much time the talking heads spend on it, if it doesn’t bear on your message ignore it. Anything that pulls you off message works for Satan and against God. Be ruthless about it. You’re not going to make the reporters happy anyway so who cares what they’re interested in? Stay on message.
Next, compile the remaining questions into broad categories. What those categories are will be determined by your message. For instance: if your message is about abortion you might get a variety of questions about sidewalk counseling, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and so forth. Those really fall under the category of freedom of speech. Lump them all together and instead of addressing each one individually, getting bogged down in details, you can focus on ‘liberty in Christ’ which is where we get freedom of speech and answer an entire group of questions at one blow. Again, your categories will depend on your ministry or outreach.
Make sure you never ever apologize for anything. They’ll beat you to death with it if you do. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen some conservative or Christian say something impolitic or un-PC then turn around and apologize for saying it. The media practically eviscerates them for it because the cowardice being shown is like blood in the water to a shark. They’ll attack every time. If you don’t believe me just ask Paula Dean. Her career was ruined because she apologized for something that happened years ago when she should have counter-attacked by asking the media how they got ahold of the deposition where she made her unfortunate comments. If she’d gotten on her high horse about invasion of privacy they still would have raked her over the coals but she might have saved her career.
This means you have to exercise extreme diligence to make sure everything you say is honest and truthful. Civility is nice too but I’ll take honesty and truthfulness over civility and manners any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Let’s face it, Jesus wasn’t exactly playing nice when He called the Pharisees a nest of vipers and hypocrites. He was blunt and insulting right to their faces. He didn’t apologize for it though because every word of it was true. Make sure your words are equally true. Don’t worry if they get mad at something you say since they will anyway. Worry that it’s the truth.
If it turns out something you said wasn’t the truth, man up and admit it, in the kind of controlled format I’m discussing here of course, but admit it quickly, honestly and forthrightly. Richard Nixon didn’t lose the Presidency because of Watergate, he lost it because of the cover-up. A quick apology cuts that off at the pass. Just remember though, any apology will be a major setback to your cause or message. Move heaven and earth to ensure you don’t have to go down that road.
Once you’ve assembled all the categories, decide how you want to answer each one, bearing in mind that your answer not only has to address the question or questions, it also has to further your message and more importantly, advance the Kingdom. Write your answers down. Print them out. Put them in your pocket and take them with you. Examine them at different times of the day. What I think in the morning is very different from what I might think at the end of a long day at work. You’d be surprised what can come to mind based simply on what time it is.
Massage your answers. Re-write them again and again until you’re satisfied. Notice how all this avoids that deer-in-the-headlights look when you’re hit with an unexpected question in a live interview and you come down with a bad case of hoof-in-mouth disease. This method gives you the time to actually craft an intelligent, well thought out response.
Once you’ve settled on the wording it’s time to consider the medium for your press release. When a reporter calls for an interview your only answer should be, “Wait for my press release.” Now it’s time to issue it; you can choose a printed format (email, snail mail, Facebook post, etc.) or a recorded format (audio or video).
The advantage of the printed format is that you’ve already been perfecting your response in printed form. All you have to do is transfer it, copy it to Facebook or whatever and you’re good to go. It’s quick and simple, doesn’t require any additional effort and is definitely faster than converting it to a recorded format. It’s also cheaper. This is an important consideration for most Christian ministries and outreach efforts. The phrase ‘poor as church mice’ became a cliché for good reason after all.
The disadvantage is obvious; fewer people take time to read these days, unless it’s 140 characters full of abbreviations and emoticons on Twitter. Getting people to read your response to popular questions about you and your cause is going to be an uphill struggle at best. Putting it in written form for several paragraphs (or more) makes it even harder, no matter how well written it is. Which brings up the other format for your press release.
Millions of people post all kinds of videos on YouTube and so do I. I use a video format because it has such a tremendous impact on people. The old saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is especially true with video. But YouTube, owned by Google, is a left-leaning web site with a history of pulling videos they regard as too far to the right or too Christian. All it takes is one or two complaints from so-called ‘trolls’ and they’ll yank your video faster than you can blink. Typically you’re not given any advance notice either. Getting your video or your channel(s) restored can be a time consuming effort. I post on YouTube but I also post on my personal web site www.preachingpolitics.com (shameless plug). That way I’m in sole command of the content with no worries about losing control to faceless trolls who might want to silence me.
A web site is going to cost you for the domain name, for the web site hosting, technical support and a variety of other costs depending on how involved you want to get. You’ll need a decent video camera ($500-$1000) along with video editing software, audio editing software (even for video, believe me), an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client, compression software, HTML resource materials and video display software, usually Flash or something similar. This is just the bare minimum. Some of this you can download for free, some you’ll have to buy. You’ll also need a green screen (or blue) as well as someplace quiet to record and lights; lots and lots of lights. Needless to say there is a huge learning curve to putting all this together. Be aware it’s also very time consuming.
The end result is quite liberating though. After this book is published, if anyone wants to interview me about it, pro or con, I’ll refuse, telling them, “See my website for a video answer in a few days.” I’ll put it together, edited and polished, uploaded and ready for viewing not only be the media but by anyone who comes to the site. This is a huge advantage that can’t be overstated enough. If the media copy my video and edit it for their broadcast, it will be obvious to anyone who has seen the original on my web site. The media know this and it acts as a brake on their more nefarious impulses. Incidentally you can use a personal web site for your printed responses to achieve the same effect as well. I strongly urge you to do so regardless of the format you wind up using.
There are several reasons for using this type of controlled-format, press-release answer to questions from the media, some I’ve already touched on but let's recap them. First, it avoids the dangers of an unrehearsed answer to an unexpected question. Second, it prevents you from saying ‘too much’ and thereby giving them extra material they can take out of context. Third, while it doesn’t prevent malicious editing, it makes it impossible to conceal. Fourth, it takes the control of your message away from them and keeps it where it belongs, with you. Fifth, and finally, it forces them to report on and respond to what you actually said. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. By preventing the media from veering off into side issues unrelated to your message you force them to cover you on your terms. The Left has a history of changing the terms of the debate in order to win the debate. ‘Whoever defines the terminology or the rules of the debate automatically wins’ is practically an axiom on the political left. They use it all the time. Now it’s our turn. Force them to meet you on your terms and you’ll have, as they say, the home field advantage.
I’ve seen too many Christians get slaughtered by the media. They’re well-intentioned, Godly people, filled with the Spirit, doing everything in their power to do the right thing, praying for guidance, sticking to principles and morality but utterly and frighteningly naïve about the sheer viciousness of the modern media. Therefore I believe this chapter alone is well worth the price of this book when it's published.
Don’t let it go to waste. Use it.