Marvin Olasky is a biased journalist.
World magazine's editor freely admits that he often asks his reporters to ditch traditional journalistic standards of fairness and objectivity. Instead, he says journalists should write the stories that God wants them to write, the way God wants them written. The goal is "true objectivity" or "the God's-eye view."
"Biblically, there is no neutrality. ... Christian reporters should give equal space to a variety of perspectives only when the Bible is unclear," argues Olasky, in his book "Telling the Truth." "A solidly Christian news publication should not be balanced. Its goal should be provocative and evocative, colorful and gripping, Bible-based news analysis."
Olasky calls this "directed reporting" or, with a laugh, "biblical sensationalism." Many others - including Christians - call it heresy. This doesn't surprise him, since he says most of what he sees "that is called 'Christian journalism' is merely baptized secularism."
The University of Texas journalism professor is best known as a historian whose work on poverty, abortion and other cultural issues have influenced Newt Gingrich and others during the GOP surge in the 1990s. But in the claustrophobic world of Christian publishing, Olasky is known as a rebel who keeps splashing ink in the faces of dignified church leaders. Some say he runs the evangelical version of The American Spectator.
Recent articles claimed that a trio of powerful groups was quietly preparing a "gender-neutral" revision of the New International Version Bible translation. World's slant was captured in headlines such as "The Stealth Bible" and "The Feminist Seduction of the Evangelical Church." After weeks of warfare, the International Bible Society said it would abandon plans to revise the text, return traditional gender references to its New International Readers Version and ask a British publisher to pull an inclusive-language NIV. World's critics did not, however, withdraw a formal complaint to the Evangelical Press Association ethics committee.
Echoing specific language in the EPA code, the 10-page complaint claims: "Rather than avoiding distortion and sensationalism, World employed them. Utmost care was not exercised. Opposing views were not treated honestly and fairly. And World seems to be unconscious of its duty to protect the good names and reputations of Zondervan Publishing House, International Bible Society and Committee on Bible Translation."
World's editors say their facts are solid. However, noting the public- relations language in the complaint, Olasky admits that World is guilty of being pushy and of covering stories that others are not willing to risk printing. The controversy has underlined the "distinction between ... journalists and public relations officials," says a World response to the complaint. Ethics committee members face a "historic decision: they have the power to promote independent Christian journalism or to stifle it."
The problem is that the media marketplace includes at least three clashing versions of what is "good journalism," let alone good "Christian journalism." They are:
* A modern American model that preaches "objectivity" or, at the very least, insists that journalists should provide a fair balance of viewpoints. Many conservatives - including Olasky - believe that most American media have abandoned this model.
* A classically European model in which media admit their subjectivity and advocate specific viewpoints. Ironically, while this approach is usually identified with overtly progressive publications, or covertly progressive mainstream media, Olasky's "directed reporting" concept offers a conservative Christian version of this approach.
* A public relations, or church press, model that promotes "good news" that strengthens institutions and causes. It may even justify efforts to hide news or coerce publications to bypass embarrassing stories. The result is what one pro calls "happy little Christian stories."
If those who use other approaches disagree with his style or slant, then Olasky thinks they should start breaking some of these stories on their own. Meanwhile, World will keep giving its readers what they pay for - an openly conservative, "biblical" take on the news.
"We're hearing about quite a few other developments in Bible publishing that are very interesting and, after all that's happened, we'll certainly be looking into them," he said. "There are a lot of stories out there to be written and we're going to keep writing them."