Scandal and Allegation: Is It News or Just Gossip?

Sex scandals and harassment allegations seem to be all the rage these days. From the accusations made against Roy Moore to the misadventures of news anchor Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein before them, and now Senator Al Franken and a host of others, America seems to be awash with salacious allegations against public figures of every kind.

The idea of the media trying people in the so-called court of public opinion is nothing new. The media has long enjoyed playing the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, and sometimes the executioner that ends political careers. But is every scandal and allegation really news, or is it just gossip at best, slander at worst, and generally a distraction from the weightier matters that we should be paying attention to?

Perhaps we should first ask the question, “what is news?” I have long contended that real news should be defined as “actionable intelligence,” that is to say, factual information about the affairs of our society, and the greater world around us, presented in a manner that enables us to correctly understand, and intelligently interact with, both our society and the world at large.

With that definition in mind, I suppose that a public official being caught engaging in some sort of immoral behavior is indeed news. However, it only becomes news after sufficient credible evidence has been obtained and the burden of proof met. Even then, it is only news to the degree that it provides us with actionable intelligence. In the case of public officials and candidates for elective office, actionable intelligence would be confirmed facts that enable us to determine the person’s moral character and personal integrity, thus informing us of their suitability for a position of public trust.

Frankly, the conduct of other public figures and famous personalities is really none of our concern since we don’t employ them or have a personal relationship with them. That makes any talk about their scandalous activities plain old-fashioned gossip.

Nevertheless, elected officials are our employees and we are responsible for them. We are placing the welfare of future generations in their hands. Therefore, we have a fiduciary duty to guard the public trust against individuals who lack the appropriate moral character and personal integrity.

In our legal system, an accuser must meet the burden of proof with sufficient, credible evidence, or corroborating testimony. And contrary to what I heard someone suggest at the height of the Roy Moore allegations, multiple people making similar accusations is not corroborating testimony. Corroborating testimony is when two or more credible witnesses testify to the same facts regarding the same case.

Scandalous rumors, hearsay, and unsubstantiated allegations are not evidence in a court of law, nor are they news. If criminal charges are filed, a civil suit brought, or responsible investigative journalism produces credible evidence that meets the burden of proof and substantiates the claim, then it is news. Until such time, the matter is only an unsubstantiated allegation and the repeating of it is mere gossip at best or slander at worst.

Reporters, newspapers, and television news networks may choose to demean their profession by reporting gossip, rumor, speculation, insinuation, and allegation, but there is no reason for the public to listen to it, not even if we think the allegations are true or want them to be true because they are damning to our political adversaries. In fact, it is the duty of every Christian to guard our ears against the hearing of such gossip, and if we do happen to hear it, to make sure we do not repeat it, thereby potentially becoming a party to slander. Remember, we are accountable for every idle word (Mat 12:36).

I actually find the current outrage over sex scandals and harassment allegations quite hypocritical and a distraction from weightier matters.

In a society where women have declared themselves liberated to sleep with, and procreate with, whoever they want, whenever they want; where a generation has been raised on entertainment that normalizes sexual activity apart from love and marriage; where sexual deviancy has been celebrated as diversity; and where the Creator has been rejected as the rightful arbiter of morality for His creation, it is thoroughly hypocritical to act scandalized when that society awash in immorality produces the natural result of sexual harassment. When you open the door to some immorality, don’t be surprised if you get it all, including the part you don’t want.

While sexual harassment is indeed wrong, it isn’t the problem, it’s just one of the many symptoms of a society adrift on the sea of moral relativism.

The current obsession with sexual harassment allegations is actually a distraction from the greater body of immorality infecting our society. It puts us in danger of thinking that if we can just stop this one social ill, then society will be safe for a civilized people. This issue has us straining at gnats while we’re swallowing camels.

When politicians lie to get elected, break their covenant oath to support the Constitution, steal from some to redistribute wealth to others through socialistic programs, turn future generations into debt slaves, compel the secular humanistic indoctrination of children in government schools, entangle us in foreign alliances and perpetual war, and generally subvert liberty through an army of bureaucracies that govern nearly every aspect of our lives, a few sex scandals among our elected officials is the least of our problems.

But I digress.

The message of this article is that the reporting, and repeating, of unsubstantiated allegations, sexual or otherwise, is really just gossip at best, and in some cases, outright slander. Partaking in the reports of scandal and allegation presented as so-called “news,” and the endless speculation about the same rehearsed on talk radio, is not only morally wrong but spiritually damaging. Everyone who entertains and engages in gossip is made smaller by it.

Sadly, this kind of thing is not limited to the mainstream media but has become the stock and trade of much of so-called conservative talk radio, blogs, and conservative news sites. It’s one reason that some people don’t want to be around conservatives. Much of the political right has become so focused on the negative, criticisms, and defamatory allegations against anyone perceived to be a political enemy, that they’re just plain unpleasant to be around and sometimes impossible to have an intelligent discussion with.

In addition to the fact that gossip, slander, and striving contentions are morally wrong and unchristian, at least according to the Bible, they are also fruitless. How many on the left have ever been won over to the right by proving that their beloved Democrats are guilty of more scandalous activities than the Republicans (if indeed that argument can actually be made that is)?

From the years that conservative talk shows spent dwelling on Bill Clinton’s sexcapades, to conspiracy theories about the Clinton’s and Menia, Arkansas, to conservatives circulating that photo of Michelle Obama with a purported “male bulge” (ever hear of Photoshop?) that supposedly proved Barack was a homo married to a man, to now championing the moral lapses of Al Franken as proof of the depravity of the left and the virtue of the right, how much has this “exposing” of the left ever done to convert even one person from liberalism to Christian Constitutionalism? In truth, all it’s done is deepen the divide and feed the spirit of hatred and strife.

Whether the right’s allegations against their political adversaries are true, false, or just plain absurd, they never win any converts to the conservative cause. The only people conservatives are impressing are themselves.

For the God-honoring Constitutionist, it should be enough that we identify the policies of liberal candidates as unbiblical, unconstitutional, and unwise. That is sufficient reason not to vote for them. The only time that damning allegations against a candidate should be of concern to conservatives is if such accusations are proven to be true of someone whose political policies are sound, but their conduct has revealed that they lack the necessary integrity to hold the office.

But again, I digress.

The point is that the reporting of unproven allegations against public figures is not news, but mere gossip that degrades the hearer as much as the teller of the tale. Even when the truth of the matter is established, that knowledge is only useful for the purpose of determining which of the candidates on our ballot possess the character appropriate to the office of trust. The disseminating and rehearsing of such information for any other purpose only feeds the monster of division, hatred, and strife which opens the door to confusion and every evil work (James 3:14-16). Right now, that monster is eating our lunch.

Whether the allegations emanate from the dominant media or the scandals are being rehearsed in conservative forums, if it is not edifying, Christians should run from it, not revel in it.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

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