Positive power: Despite levels of mistrust, media can be a force for good

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Journalist Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe), left, questions Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) in "State of Play."


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In 1996, Art Rascon had a life-changing interview with an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rascon, a broadcast journalist who is LDS, was working on a piece for CBS News about the growing phenomenon of religion on the Internet and how religious organizations were using cyberspace to spread their message. After talking with various Christian groups, he was granted an interview with Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve, now a member of the First Presidency of the LDS Church. Rascon recounted their conversation in his 1998 book, "On Assignment: The Stories Behind the Stories."

During their visit, President Eyring repeated many things Rascon had already heard about the negative influence of the media.

"The media," Rascon quoted President Eyring in his book, "with its books, magazines, radio and television, is one of the adversary's most powerful tools of spiritual destruction."

"I couldn't argue with his observation," Rascon said.

But President Eyring's next words left a lasting impression on the young journalist.

"Despite the media's degrading values, we must remember something," President Eyring continued. "The media is also the Lord's tool of bringing good into the world. We must utilize that purpose, and it's partly your responsibility to make that happen. The Lord has placed you in a position to influence for a reason."

Rascon said President Eyring went on to say, "The two greatest influences for good in the lives of the children of men in the next century will be in the fields of communication and education."

Research and popular culture suggest the public doesn't trust the media, but Rascon and others have seen evidence that the mass media can be a force for good.

"His words had such a tremendous influence on me. They came during a time when I was considering leaving the business because of questionable ethics that are sometimes involved in the business of gathering news and the overall ugliness of the media," said Rascon, now an anchorman with the ABC affiliate in Houston. "What it did to me at that time, and still does to me now, is help me recognize that each of us can play a part in developing a stronger, more morally based media, in whatever way we can do it. That's why I stuck with it. The media overall has a tremendous influence, whether for good or evil, and we can do our part in trying to make it a good thing."

The negative media

In the 1994 Disney film "Iron Will," lead character Will Stoneman physically pummels reporter Harry Kingsley for using him and his family to sell newspapers and for printing pictures that would make his mother worry.

In the 2011 movie "Soul Surfer," after 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton loses her arm in a shark attack, filmmakers portray the descent of the press as a second shark attack because "it thrust them into the limelight and changed their lives," producer David Blackwell said in a 2011 interview with Variety Magazine.

Even when Russell Crowe saved the day as an investigative reporter in the 2009 film "State of Play," he's depicted as a long-haired newshound who practices questionable ethics and has a landfill for a desk.

Such media portrayals reflect some accurate perceptions, according to research.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has tracked views of press performance since 1985. Overall ratings are heavily negative, according to a 2011 study. The research shows that 66 percent of Americans say news stories are often inaccurate, 77 percent think news organizations tend to favor one side, and 80 percent say powerful people and organizations often influence news organizations.

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