CNN's Snuff Film

In the first century before Christ, a slave named Spartacus led an unsuccessful revolt against Rome. As a warning to other would-be rebels, Roman soldiers crucified 6,000 slaves along the road to Rome. Their bodies were left hanging on crosses for all to see.

The Romans are remembered for their cruelty. But at least they weren’t guilty of the kind of hypocrisy CNN is now engaging in.

As most of you know, CNN recently aired a video showing a terrorist sniper taking aim and killing an American soldier. The video was a gift from a terrorist group.

CNN said the network understood that some viewers would be deeply upset. However, CNN’s goal, “as always,” was “to present the unvarnished truth as best we can.”

Is that right? I can hardly wait for CNN to broadcast a videotape showing “the unvarnished truth” about, say, partial-birth abortion.

CNN has forgotten, if it ever knew, that for television, any real truth is impossible. British media critic Malcolm Muggeridge noted that “the one thing television can’t do is express ideas.” By translating life into an image, television “is falsifying life.”

Francis Schaeffer agreed. Far from offering truth, he said, “every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the event. He sees . . . an edited image of that event,” one that gives an illusion of objectivity and truth.

And as Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis notes, with television, reality becomes the image, “whether or not that image corresponds to any objective state of affairs—and we are not challenged to engage in this analysis.”

This is dangerous. Groothuis quotes a college professor who complains that his students “tend to have an image-based standard of truth.” Because of that, if the professor invites them to provide evidence supporting or contradicting their views, students look at him as if he came from another planet. This is because, he says, it’s “foreign for them to think in terms of truth, logic, consistency, and evidence.”

This erosion in the ability to reason from images is something to remember when we’re tempted to get all of our news from the tube—especially from CNN.

After all, the insurgents could have given CNN films of themselves blowing up Iraqi children or beheading journalists. Instead, they are heard discussing how to avoid killing innocent people. We’re not invited to recall the thousands of innocents the insurgents have tortured and murdered over the past two years. So much for the “unvarnished truth.”

Finally, and most appalling, CNN deliberately gave aid to the enemy of freedom-loving people everywhere. After all, do they really think Islamic radicals would hand over a videotape that would hurt their own cause? Of course not. They had to know the horrific impact their snuff film would have on the families of servicemen—or upon those considering joining the war against Islamo-fascism: It would have the same impact as the sight of those crucified slaves in ancient Rome. To claim otherwise suggests CNN editors are not playing with a full deck—or are engaging in the rankest hypocrisy.

When we watch television, we need to remember the scriptural call to “test everything.” That certainly applies to network news claiming to give us the truth.


From BreakPoint®, October 26, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.