Two weeks ago this website reported on the December 15th Study Edition of the Watchtower, which slammed the media for propagating “untruths” and printing “misleading statements and outright lies about Jehovah’s servants.”
To drive home this point and leave Witnesses (and members of the public) under no ambiguity on the matter, the latest Awake! magazine urges further skepticism under the title “Can You Trust The News Media?”
In a four-page article the magazine (downloadable on this link) makes a number of criticisms that could be equally levelled at Watchtower’s own literature. For example, one paragraph highlights the media’s record for dishonesty, completely disregarding the fact that Watchtower literature has at times been found to deliberately misrepresent the organization’s own history.
And in a paragraph on “omission,” Awake! writers complain of how “journalists often exclude details that would introduce complications or unresolved issues.” As this website has previously argued, Watchtower writers have become masters at keeping their followers in the dark by withholding information so that readers will only hear one side of the story. It is for this reason that this website was threatened with legal action by Watchtower’s lawyers in December 2012 for publishing a secret elders’ letter that the organization didn’t want ordinary Witnesses to see.
Tests of credibility
True, the article urges some balance. “While it is wise not to believe everything we read in the news, it does not follow that there is nothing we can trust,” it observes on page 7. “The key may be to have a healthy skepticism, while keeping an open mind.”
But then, having urged the virtues of “healthy skepticism,” the magazine goes on to list a number of tests that readers should apply to the media, without acknowledging that these should be equally applied to Watchtower literature. To illustrate why this is so, I will go through these tests one-by-one.
“PROVIDER: Does the report come from a credible, authoritative person or organization? Does the program or publication have a reputation for seriousness or for sensationalism? Who provide the funds for the news source?” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
Can it honestly be said that Watchtower publications have a reputation for seriousness rather than sensationalism when they have been announcing the end of the world as being “imminent” since 1914? Can the recent Watchtower urging Witnesses to “close ranks against Satan” truly be considered as being serious and non-sensationalist? And if funding is such an issue, how are we to regard publications both written and funded by an organization that uses the same to solicit our unquestioned allegiance and, if possible, donations?
“SOURCES: Is there evidence of thorough research? Is the story based on just one source? Are the sources reliable, fair, and objective? Are they balanced, or have they been selected to convey only one point of view?” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
As mentioned, JWfacts.com has an excellent article with a comprehensive list of examples of Watchtower writers employing misquotes to misrepresent what a source is saying by making it seem as though they are supportive of Watchtower’s viewpoint when they are not.
To cite just one example, in the book Life – How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? the well-known evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying that his book, The Selfish Gene, “should be read almost as though it were science fiction.”
In fact, what Professor Dawkins wrote was, ”This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction. It is designed to appeal to the imagination. But it is not science fiction: it is science. Cliché or not, ‘stranger than fiction’ expresses exactly how I feel about the truth.”
And so Dawkins wrote something that was subsequently twisted by Watchtower in an attempt to discredit his work. This perfectly demonstrates the intellectual dishonesty frequently employed by Watchtower writers despite them bemoaning the same of others.
“PURPOSE: Ask yourself: ‘Is the news item primarily to inform or entertain? Is it trying to sell or support something?’” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
Again, you might well ask yourself this question of what you read of Watchtower literature. Is the information designed to educate you on what the bible says, or is it ultimately aimed at “selling” the benefits of loyalty to a human organization and obeying its instructions “whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not”? (w13 11/15 p.20)
“TONE: When the tone of a news item is angry, spiteful, or highly critical, it suggests that an attack is under way and not a reasoned argument.” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
Are we allowed to classify the stigmatization of apostates as “mentally diseased” and “gangrenous” as “angry, spiteful, or highly critical,” or does such name-calling represent a “reasoned argument?”
“CONSISTENCY: Are the facts consistent with those in other articles or reports? If stories contradict one another, be careful!” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
Of all magazines and periodicals in the world, the Awake! magazine is in no position to be arguing on the need for consistency – as will hopefully be obvious after watching this brief video…
“TIMELINESS: Is the information recent enough to be acceptable? Something thought to be correct 20 years ago may be discounted today. On the other hand, if the news item is a breaking story, it may lack complete and comprehensive information.” – December 2013 Awake! – page 7.
Unlike with the other tests of credibility, the above is rather more cryptic and indecipherable. I would suggest that only the writer knows what examples he is referring to in bemoaning the lack of “timeliness” in the media.
Suffice it to say that the reminder that “something thought to be correct 20 years ago may be discounted today” evokes thoughts of Watchtower’s constantly shifting doctrinal interpretations, or “new light.”
And whether or not a newspaper reports on a breaking story or not is irrelevant to its credibility so long as any details given are factual, and any ambiguity in knowing the full details is expressed as such. Rarely, if ever, does Watchtower express any ambiguity when divulging “news” of its latest understandings of scripture.
“Batten down the hatches!”
In discussing this new Awake! magazine, one poster on the jehovahs-witness.net forum made this comment…
“They’re laying down sandbags to protect themselves from the incoming storm of media attention from the Conti loss…”
While the outcome of the Conti appeal is still uncertain, the sandbags metaphor does resonate. As reported earlier this week, Watchtower is now facing 11 child abuse lawsuits from just one law firm, and some of these cases have already received modest exposure in the media.
Regardless of the outcome of the Conti appeal, it looks like Watchtower is now resigned to an increased barrage of media reports exposing its terrible track record of mishandling child abuse.
If that is so, it would make sense for them to try to insulate their followers against any negative reports, however true or well-founded these may turn out to be. The best way to do this is to urge Jehovah’s Witnesses to adopt a default position of being critical of whatever they hear on TV or read in the newspapers, and no doubt many Witnesses will obediently respond in this way.
The only problem is, the more Watchtower slams the media the more cult-like they will appear to well-informed outsiders – including those members of the public frequently called on by Witnesses who must be raising an eyebrow as they pick up their latest copy of Awake! with its anti-media ramblings.