Alex Trebek is the Canadian-born host of the TV game show Jeopardy and is reportedly a committed Christian. He has also been battling pancreatic cancer. A few weeks ago, the news on our local TV station here in British Columbia (on the Global TV network) reported that there had been “mind-boggling” progress in the fight against his disease. The report quoted Trebek as saying, his fans’ “good thoughts…could be an important part of this.”
I became curious about what the ellipsis (…) represented, what had been left out of Trebek’s statement, so I looked it up online. It turned out that what Trebek had actually said was: “I told the doctors, this has to be more than just chemo. I’ve had a couple million people out there who expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy and their prayers. The doctors said it could very well be an important part of this.”
The Global news people might have edited Trebek’s statement on their own, or they might have been following the lead of the NBC network in the US, which reported that Trebek had said, “I’ve got a couple million people out there who have expressed good thoughts… I told the doctors this has to be more than just the chemo.”
On the other hand, ABC News apparently reported the full quote.
Television news tends to present the news in brief “sound bites,” so statements are commonly shortened. But why did at least two major television networks choose to leave out “prayers” and attribute Trebek’s good results to only “good thoughts”? Did they think that “prayers” are simply the same thing as “good thoughts,” a purely human endeavor? Did they think that the idea of prayer would offend some viewers? Was it a deliberate editing choice? Or did the edit simply reflect the reporters’ secular mindset?
The difference between the two statements is truly mind-boggling. Can people’s “good thoughts” actually cure cancer? Human encouragement can have a positive effect, but it seems unlikely that it can cure cancer. Can the God who created and rules the universe cure cancer? Undoubtedly.
What is perhaps most disturbing is the likelihood that there is no great conspiracy here. The reporters most likely did not even recognize that they were imposing their own secular mindset onto other people. They should perhaps reflect that in George Orwell’s frightening novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the tasks assigned to the protagonist Winston Smith was to remove all references to God from literature. When humans make the rules, only God can overrule the power of a totalitarian state.
Journalists rightly proclaim the importance of free and independent news media. But that is as much a responsibility as it is a right. It is of little benefit if the news media are free and independent but impose their own biases on what they report. It is not just totalitarian states that can threaten freedom of expression. A free and independent news media can only exist if journalists diligently pursue truth and report the news accurately, fairly, and objectively.
The struggle for objectivity is an ongoing one. There have been times and places where journalism has been even less objective than it is presently—the era of “yellow journalism” in American newspapers in the late 1800s, or perhaps the British tabloids in the 20th century.
But there have also been times when the media were more objective. Homespun philosopher Red Green, also a Canadian, recently commented, “Walter Cronkite used to tell people what had happened. He didn’t tell them what they should think about it.”