Faith

Fake News Strikes the Vatican

Even the pope can be subject to journalistic dishonesty — but integrity should honored

Hillary Clinton last month called the now-infamous “fake news” an “epidemic” with “real world consequences.”

Although her statement seemed to suggest that Donald Trump won the 2016 election because of false stories about Clinton, the issue of fake news is much broader than a political excuse. Increasingly, the breadth and reach of fake news is affecting more than just politics.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

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In December 2016, it was falsely reported that Pope Francis condemned the phenomenon of fake news as a sin. In reality, he simply confirmed the well-accepted Judeo-Christian belief that lying is a sin.

Now, there is a fast-spreading story that the pope is encouraging the merging of Christianity and Islam into one religion — a unification of the worship of Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Jehovah, and Allah. The Vatican has denounced the quotes and declared them completely false.

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We are inundated with information. In our present time, news is in a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week cycle. We get updates constantly on our phones, computers, televisions. “Breaking news” demands our attention. And it’s more than just the journalists — we also face the opinions of others shared through social media and on websites of all kinds. Context is often buried beneath the intent of whatever the headline needs to be for the moment.

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Winston Churchill famously said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

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There is a destructive, exhausting cycle of a fabrication made public, the frenzy of response and the contagion to the masses, and then a seemingly endless amount of effort spent debunking the disinformation.

Sometimes, the truth is boring. And currently, there are a number of people — not necessarily professional journalists — who are bored. There’s too much time to make up stories that are too terrible to be true. And there is lightning-fast speed at our fingertips with the ability to post misinformation within seconds.

At the age of 10, I learned that lying is serious business. I lied to my parents and got caught. I remember the weight of understanding that not only had I done wrong, I had damaged the relationship with my family. Trust is powerful but extremely delicate. Once it has been bruised, it takes a long time to heal.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

There has been a similar but vastly broader contamination between the media and the public with the surge of fake news. There is so much pressure to break a story that little time is spent on confirming the facts. There are personal vendettas and opinions bleeding into straight journalism. Too many retractions and explanations have been made; trust has been broken. This, interestingly, leads to conspiracy theories, which evolve into more fake news.

The reality? Lying breeds lying. Lying wreaks havoc and hurt.

What can we do as individuals to prevent the influence of fake news? We can control our resources of information and eliminate the spread of lies. If it isn’t true — there’s no need to like or share it. We can also pray for our media resources. Rather than denounce and dislike them, we can pray that they hold to the highest standards of integrity and honesty both personally and professionally.

The tragedy of sin began in the Garden of Eden with the belief in a simple lie. The smallest lie may carry heavy consequences. The time has come to reset our standard of information, demand the facts, and hold our news organizations accountable to the truth.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:32

Katie Nations, married for 15 years, is a working mother of three young children. She lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

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