Union University
Union University Dept of Language

Evangelogia



(un)Sound Bite

by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

February 3, 2011 - The ubiquity of mottos, taglines, or slogans over the airwaves is perhaps what contributes to their being largely ignored. They impress themselves deeply upon the subconscious, but they are generally not an occasion for sustained reflection. This is precisely why they are so dangerous. The seemingly innocuous slogan becomes part of the very fabric of the listener’s mode of thought without the latter’s conscious awareness. Thus, the listener’s mental landscape is shaped by whatever content is implied by the motto itself. As an example of the subtle danger, consider a tagline recently broadcast by Fox News Radio: “We report; you decide!”

On the face of it, this motto expresses an underlying journalistic philosophy. Listeners are supposed to believe that Fox News Radio is like an indiscriminate mirror. It merely reflects what is happening in the world in an entirely dispassionate, objective, unbiased way. This, of course, is false but beside the point. For the emphatic character of the claim that Fox merely “reports” is conjoined with the rather odd admonition for listeners to “decide.”

Decision makes sense in certain contexts. And given Fox’s disproportionate interest in political matters, one might naturally be inclined to hear this tagline in harmony with the sound of a vote falling into the ballot box. We (Fox News Radio) report about the candidates and issues, you decide how to vote on them.

Sensible as this is, the use of this motto is not, in fact, restricted to the election cycle. Recently, for example, it immediately followed a news report on a winter storm causing havoc in Chicago. “We report; you decide!” Decide what? Being told there’s snow in Chicago does not typically prompt listeners in West Tennessee to respond decisively. So what is going on here?

Embedded within the motto is a posture of mind that is antithetical to a Christian understanding of the world. The slogan’s tacit suggestion is that listeners are situated so as to determine (or “decide”) what is true or false (or what to believe) for themselves.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Fox News Radio says, “You are free to decide the truth for yourself.”

The inversion of the relationship between freedom and truth is devastating to the human soul. The message of the Gospel is that the Truth incarnate in Jesus Christ frees us from self-bondage. But the Enlightenment wisdom of the secular West (of which Fox Radio News is merely one instance among many) elevates the self over and against the truth. Thus, self-bondage becomes perpetual, and a genuine encounter with the truth becomes increasingly impossible – as the subtle tagline perpetually reinforces the lie.