BY BOB HOSTETLER
Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, ignited a firestorm of controversy in April with a statement he wrote for The New York Times. In it, Jordan confessed to suppressing "numerous awful things that could not be reported" about Saddam Hussein's regime "because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff."
Mr. Jordan admitted that CNN's reporting from Baghdad had been incomplete. He acknowledged that he and others knew far more than they revealed to viewers about acts of torture, brutality, and murder performed by the Iraqi regime. He did not say why he considered it important to maintain a Baghdad bureau that didn't report truthfully. He did notexplain why, for all those years, CNN was unable to paint even a generally accurate portrait of the Hussein regime when its executives and journalists apparently knew the horrible truth. He did not indicate why viewers should trust CNN's reporting from anywhere in the world now, given what we know about their willingness to ignore and suppress the truth in exchange for journalistic privilege in Baghdad.
Hard on the heels of Mr. Jordan's confession comes news of a Time magazine memo informing Time's bureau chiefs of a major cover story on Christian missionaries who are operating in Muslim countries. The language of the memo itself foreshadows Time's likely approach: "a major piece on the flood of Christian missionaries, most of them evangelical…a radical crew of proselytizers…doing some kind of other work as a cover or pretext…hard-core evangelicals…from the least invasive…to the most." The memo goes on to refer to "hard-core Evangelical crowd," "hard-core Christians," and "hard-core missionaries." No need to wonder where Time is coming from, is there?
While Time's memo recognized "that this can be very dangerous work and in at least one instance will be willing to accept assumed names or whatever else is necessary to protect our subjects," it then says, "However, we will need photographs to make the [article] work, so we will need to have at least one stance where people are willing to have their pictures taken." Moreover, the memo actually asks bureau chiefs for information on "one or more Evangelical (conservative Protestant) missionaries in Muslim countries in your locale,preferably working in politically unstable or sensitive areas." In other words, their intention appears to be to focus on missionaries who would be most subject to danger if they came to the attention of Muslim authorities or mobs.
So let me get this straight. Eason Jordan and CNN felt an obligation to protect Iraqis (while maintaining a lucrative and prestigious journalistic presence in Baghdad) by shading and suppressing the truth, but Time is anxious to expose the efforts of Christian missionaries who are laboring in "politically unstable or sensitive areas." CNN let some stories go untold rather than jeopardize the lives of Iraqis (or their own corporate interests, take your pick); Time doesn't have to tell the story of missionaries who willingly live in hostile areas, but thinks it's a good idea to expose what these "hard-core" folks are doing. Am I the only one who sees a twisted set of values here?
Since Time's motivation is not to protect their journalistic privilege in any of these Muslim countries, what is their motive? I don't know, but their own memo gives a hint. It displays an awareness of "a tactic called 'tentmaking,'" in which Christians move to a country or community where, often, preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ is illegal. There, the Christians seek to live and work among people who have never heard what those missionaries believe to be the truth about Jesus Christ. They pray for their neighbors. They develop genuine friendships with them. And if, after years of living amid an antagonistic culture, their presence, prayers, and friendship result in a single neighbor discovering the joy and peace that comes with faith in Christ, they consider all their sacrifices worthwhile. But the Time memo puts it this way: "Essentially, [tentmaking] means doing some kind of other work as a cover or pretext, when your real goal is preaching." That statement reveals either Time's editorial bias (Christians in general, and missionaries in particular, are despicable) or the degree to which they are uninformed (tentmakers don't usually preach; that's the very nature of that kind of missionary effort). Take your pick.
The contrast between Eason Jordan's "confession" and Time's cover story initiative may also show the philosophy of some decision-makers in American journalism, who apparently believe that suppressing the truth-and reporting a brutal dictator's lies as fact, as CNN did more than once-is justifiable if done in the name of CNN, but that Christians who go to live in Muslim countries at great personal sacrifice ought to be exposed as "radical…proselytizers," even if doing so places them at risk.
I think that's a revealing and appalling contrast. Because I happen to know and love a handful of these exceptional, self-sacrificing tentmakers who have gone to Muslim countries-from Butler County, in fact-but I'm not telling Time. And I hope no one else does, either.
Copyright © 2003, Bob Hostetler