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In a recent post, Baylor University professor and founder of the popular blog "Christ and Pop Culture," Alan Noble, accused Fox News' Todd Starnes of effectively lying to his viewers by withholding important information in two stories the columnist recently covered, falsely giving an exaggerated "impression that the government is at war with Christians."
In the Dec. 25 story "VA hospital bans Christmas cards," Starnes wrote that "bedridden veterans at the VA hospital" had been denied receiving Christmas cards written by elementary school students because the letters "violated VA policy."
In Starnes' story, the VA explained its policy in this statement:
"In order to be respectful of our veterans' religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding."
However, Noble explained that after "a quick Google search" he found another Fox story with an extended VA statement.
In the local news version, the VA's gave an extended statement explaining that after "the review is complete, the holiday cards that reference religious and/or secular tones are then distributed by Chaplaincy Service on a one-on-one basis if the patient agrees to the religious reference in the holiday card donation. The holiday cards that are distributed freely to patients across the Health Care System."
Noble summarized that the two extra sentences showed that "the VA does not ban Christmas cards. They determine the religious tone of each card and then the Chaplaincy Service asks each patient if they want a card with certain religious references. The veteran can then decide if they want a 'Merry Christmas' or a 'Happy Holidays' card."
Starnes had further buried information about the story, Noble alleged, by reporting that "the school teacher was wrongly informed that the VA would not accept religious cards. However, the teacher was later contacted by the VA and told of their policy, and Starnes knew of the actual policy when he wrote his article, since he quoted from the VA's official statement!"
The professor, who also criticized a Starnes story claiming that a "Georgia Hospital Bans Christmas Carols" for asserting "deceptive" statements, told The Christian Post earlier this week that Christians should be sufficiently concerned about ensuring that stories about religious liberty in the U.S. were accurate.
"There are some instances in the last years particularly where the government has overstepped its bounds and restricted religious liberty and so there is a genuine concern there," said Noble. "One of the reasons I was motivated to write this [blog post] is that there are good reasons to be concerned about the government to overstepping its grounds for religious liberty and we can't have the right kind of conversations or express the concerns effectively if we are overstating our claims."
Noble explained on his blog that he felt it was important to call out Starnes because he was an "extremely outspoken Christian" who "is cited and shared by notable Christian figures."
"Part of [his popularity] may be that there's been so little persecution in the United States that Christians are anticipating it...they know it's coming so they are constantly on watch and very sensitive to it," said Noble. "The other main reason may be that in the United States at this time, movements and people groups are attracted to victimhood as a way of advocacy."
Noble stressed that it was vital that Christians ensure they did not fall into the trap of only hearing what they wanted to hear about a particular issue or belief.
"I think there's a broader problem of confirmation bias where if we're primed to believe that the government is persecuting us and if we see headline that the government is, than we're much more likely to not be critical of whether it is or not, especially if it comes from someone that is very explicitly Christian," he said.
While Noble stressed that he did not want to speculate on Starnes' individual motives, he noted in a more general sense that because the business model of many news organizations is based on "page views, ad revenue and subscriptions" it was vital that Christians realize that many reporters and columnists had an "economic incentive to tell our readers what they want to hear and readers have an incentive not to check [the veracity of the story.]"
"If it confirms everything I believe, what incentive do I have to check that?" he said. "This becomes a big problem and this happens [on conservative and liberal websites.]"
Noble suggested that before Christians share a particularly outrageous story on social media, they should do a 60 second internet search to verify that the article was indeed depicting the full story.
"If we are only reading things that only confirm what we believe and they never challenge us and never push us, than we're probably not reading the right thing," he said.
Todd Starnes could not be reached for comment.