The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

Part

The Washington Post

Trump ousts Tillerson, will replace him as secretary of state with CIA chief Pompeo

by Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, John Hudson and Carol D. Leonnig

The New York Times

Under Pompeo, a Foreign Policy That Fits the President’s Worldview

by David E. Sanger

Part

Part

The New York Times

It’s True: False News Spreads Faster and Wider. And Humans Are to Blame.

by Steve Lohr

Science

The spread of true and false news online

by Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral

The Briefing

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018

Tags: Audio, C.I.A., Donald Trump, Great Britain, Rex Tillerson, Russia, Theresa May, Truth

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It's Wednesday, March 14, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Personnel changes in Trump administration signal the importance of worldview

Any shake up in the President's cabinet is big news, but it is particularly big news when the cabinet position at the center of the story is the United States secretary of state. In order to understand why, let's just remind ourselves that according to our historic constitutional order, the secretary of state is the first among equals in the cabinet, or in one very real sense, the first among un-equals. The secretary of state has various constitutional duties, but is most thought of by Americans as the nation's chief diplomat. But, as you're looking at the story that came yesterday, we need to be reminded that the secretary of state is actually in the constitutional line of succession in the event there is a vacancy in the presidency.

As we look to the story, the Washington Post reported it this way. "President Trump ousted secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and plans to nominate CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation's top diplomat orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate outreach that includes possible talks with North Korea." The following paragraph is this, "Trump and Tillerson have had a fraught relationship for many months. Trump told reporters yesterday that he ultimately decided to fire the secretary, because they disagreed over strategy in key areas of foreign policy such as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the approach to North Korea, and the overall tone of US Diplomacy."

By the time the story unfolded yesterday, there was a disagreement between the Department of State and the White House as to the timeline. Eventually how the story developed, but the bottom line was clear, the United States secretary of state was ousted from the position. That's the prerogative of the President of the United States. At the same time, the President signaled that he intends not only a new secretary of state, but a new direction in American foreign policy.

As ethical disclosure, I need to mention that a close family member serves on the staff of the US Secretary of State, but as we're looking at this story, the facts that are reported in the mainstream media are quite enough to tell us what's going on here. One of those interesting aspects of this development was made clear in a headline story on the New York Times yesterday  "Under Pompeo, a foreign policy that fits the President's worldview." Well, this story is clearly a parallel to the announcement about the dismissal of the secretary of state. It's about the President's intended next secretary, Mike Pompeo, who is currently director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

From a Christian worldview perspective, what we need to note here is that the word "Worldview" even appears in this headline story in the New York Times. What this story tells us is that President Trump has decided to appoint a new secretary of state largely because Mr. Pompeo shares his view of the world. There's that worldview. Even as we are looking at the story unfolding, we recognize that we have known for some time what might be the differences between the worldview of Secretary Tillerson and of President Trump. That the articles also, yesterday, point to the congruence between the worldview of CIA director and President Trump looking to the future. That congruence has to do with the fact that both of them tend to look at the hot spots of the world and specifically Iran and North Korea, in very similar terms. Furthermore, as a worldview dimension, we are told that the proposed new secretary and the president of the United States share a general view of what should be the tone and shape of American foreign policy.

The New York Times article by David E. Sanger said yesterday "The sudden firing of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former Exxon mobile chief executive, who never managed to capture the role of chief diplomat, makes room for a true believer in President Trump's America first views, and a bitter critic of the Iran nuclear deal, but also a deep skeptic about whether negotiations will convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal."

Now, at this point, it's probably helpful for us as we're thinking of worldview analysis to remind ourselves of the two individuals at the center of this story, Secretary of State Tillerson and CIA director Pompeo, and then to remind ourselves of the experiences, the formative worldview experiences that brought these two men to the current hour. As we're thinking of the background of Secretary of State Tillerson, let's just remind ourselves that he spent many years as the CEO of one of the world's largest international corporations, Exxon Mobile. That not only had he served as CEO, but almost his entire professional career came in the context of this multinational global organization. One of the world's largest corporate and business interests.

When it comes to Mike Pompeo, his background is in the military and then it is in the law. Then, it was as an elected representative from the state of Kansas. His particular interests and worldview had been reflected in the fact that his first position in the Trump administration has been as director of the espionage, and spy, and intelligence gathering organization, the Central Intelligence Agency. Just to state the obvious, when you reflect upon the reality, those two backgrounds would lead to very different worldviews, very different understandings of America's role in the world, and the purposes and ends of American foreign policy. They might also lead to two different worldviews when it comes to understanding how to deal with threats on the global stage. Given his background, we can understand why Secretary of state Tillerson might represent a view of the world that would lead to a more traditional United States foreign policy, whereas Mr. Pompeo's experience and worldview might lead him to a view of the world closer to that that has been articulated by President Trump.

Part

An old Soviet plot reappears as Russian espionage looms over Britain

As we imagine the distinctions in worldview that may had been most urgently in play here, it might be the critical issue was neither North Korea, nor Iran, but rather, Russia. This takes us to a very different news story. This time from the United Kingdom. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, "UK Prime Minister Theresa May said it was highly likely Russia was behind the poisoning of a former spy summoning the country's ambassador for an explanation and threatening retaliation for what she called an 'Indiscriminate and reckless act'", The Wall Street Journal went on to report that the British Prime Minister told Parliament on Monday that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned last week with a military grade nerve agent of the Novichok class, a deadly chemical weapon developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970's and 80's.

The Prime Minister said, "Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent, and allowed it to get into the hands of others." As we analyze that statement, we need to recognize that what's embedded in those words is the fact that the prime minister of Great Britain believes clearly that Russia was behind this attack described as an attempted murder on a man and his daughter, now living in Britain. The background to the story is important, because the man and his daughter, both poisoned we now know by nerve gas, were in the United Kingdom, because the man, the father had been as a Russian citizen, a British spy. He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to prison, but he was released to the United Kingdom by Russia in a prisoner exchange some years ago.

The lead in the New York Times got right to the point, "Britain's Prime Minister said that it is highly likely that Moscow was to blame for the poisoning of a former Russian spy attacked with a nerve agent near his home in southern England, and she warns of possible reprisals." Now, the reality of evil in the world is impossible for any morally sane individual to deny, but when we're looking at the story as it is unfolding right now in Britain, it simply under scores the fact that we are dealing with evil repeatedly coming to us in state form. There could really be no question that the state responsible is Russia and that's because we have seen this story play out over, and over, and over again. It's almost as if the news stories coming to us in the last several days from Britain are a part not only of the Cold War, but of one of the classic spy thrillers of the era, because we are talking here about the British Prime Minister accusing the Russians in public as she is speaking before the British parliament of the attempted murder of an individual who had been known to have spied for Britain against Russia, but was now in England under the protection of Great Britain.

We have seen this pattern, we have seen this kind of assassination, or attempted assassination time and time again. This is an old plot and Russia, or the Soviet Union, has been at the center of this plot for decades now, and often, here's another interesting twist, these assassinations, murders, and suspicious deaths have taken place either in London, or close to London in Great Britain.

Business Insider yesterday reminded us of the series of deaths that included Steven Moss, 2003, a British lawyer who had an apparent heart attack. He died in 2003, but US intelligence officials believe he may have been assassinated. Steven Curtis, 2004, a lawyer who represented and imprisoned Russian oil tycoon killed in a helicopter in England in 2006. Again, US intelligence suspects that Russia played a hand in his death. Igor Ponomarev. He died shortly before another Russian right before he was due to meet with someone investigating Russian activities in Italy. Again, US intelligence officials believe he was likely assassinated. Most famously of all in recent years, Alexander Litvinenko. He died in 2006. As the report says, "Litvinenko's death made international headlines after the defector was poisoned in 2006. It contributed to hostile relations between Russia and Britain. Polonium, a radioactive element, was slipped into a cup of tea that he drank. Russia has always denied any part in his death despite a public inquiry formally accusing two Russians of actually carrying out the killing on behalf of Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Yuri Goloubev, in 2007, he was an oil tycoon and was a friend to a jailed Russian oligarch dissident, and according to press reports, he died in 2006. His obituary said that he felt unwell and then subsequently died peacefully. US Intelligence again suspects foul play. You go down the list, 15 different names just in fairly recent years. All of them found themselves on the wrong side of the Russian president and they died. They died under circumstances that were documented as murder, including the use of that agent polonium that was given to a man in a cup of tea, and we also have those "Natural causes" that appear upon investigation to have been suspiciously unnatural.

In any event, the very least that is documented is the fact that even as some of these cases have been proved beyond any reasonable doubt, and other cases, there is a very strange series of coincidences. All of these deaths to the convenience of those in political power in Russia.

Current news reports indicate that the spy and his daughter are currently in what's described as a critical, but stable medical situation. That's a story that is clearly still unfolding. Both, as we're thinking about the two persons who have been attacked with a nerve agent. Let's just remind ourselves those are amongst the deadliest chemical agents known to humanity. They are outlawed by international law and if nothing else, the statement made by the British Prime Minister yesterday, indicates the limitations of international law. You can even have an international agency, as history will record, stating that it has to it satisfaction demonstrated that Russia has eliminated its stockpile of chemical weapons, but then, oddly enough, one of those chemical weapons shows up.

Theresa May was speaking with diplomatic clarity when she said on Monday that either Russia did this or Russia has allowed some of the nerve agents it was supposed to have destroyed to fall into the hands of others, who very conveniently for Russia decided to use them in attempting to murder someone who was considered to be an enemy of the political powers in Moscow. One true test of the character of a nation and its government is what happens to its enemies. There are those who oppose the United States and that's true of any presidential administration. But, in the United States, they are given free rein to make their case in public, to organize opposition, and to state their views clearly. In the American system, they also have the freedom to declare themselves a candidate for office, and run against the president of the United State. But, in Russia, there is no real opposing candidate. There are no real opposing political parties. The enemies of the Russian regime tend rather conveniently, to those political powers, to disappear. Often, to disappear by death.

Part

Lies speed ahead of the truth according to new scientific study

So, even as that story underlined the reality of good and evil rather spectacularly so in our world today, Christians also have to keep ever in mind the distinction between the truth and the lie. All of this becomes important with the major scientific research project that was published last week in the journal Science. As one of the scientists behind the research reported in the New York Times on Sunday, the bottom line is this, lies spread online faster than the truth. The subhead in the article? "Lies diffuse farther, faster, and more broadly than the truth does." One of the most famous quotes attributed to the American author Mark Twain, is one that is reported variously, but comes down to this. "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." It is very interesting to see this report in the journal Science. It's interesting to see a summary of the report in the New York Times and furthermore, the New York Times gave not only one opinion piece to this research, but also a full news article.

But, as you're looking to the research, just keep in the mind the fact that that distinction between truth and the lie, the true and the false, well, it's pervasive throughout this story. It makes no sense without that distinction and yet, we're talking about a modern world that has done its best, at least many amongst the intellectual elites and culture shapers to deny that the truth even exists, or that there is a meaningful distinction between truth and a lie. The Christian worldview insists of course there is. Then, you have the secular worldview saying "Well, okay, if there is a difference, why is it that lies seem to be more popular and spread more quickly than the truth?" Well, the Christian Worldview would come back and say in response to this research we shouldn't have been surprised, and it's not because we were warned by Mark Twain a century ago. It's because we understand the pervasive power of a lie in a fallen world.

The truth is, that we as human beings actually love lies. Paul in Romans Chapter one, describing the most foundational human sin, says that we as human creatures have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. He's talking there about Genesis three. He's talking about the very first sin. He's talking about what Adam and Eve committed. He is talking about the sin of which we are all guilty. Exchanging the truth of God for a lie. That's what it means to be a sinner. So, now you have science, that academic journal, and the New York Times, and many in the culture, and the major media saying "What's going on here? Why is it that a lie spreads more quickly than the truth? Why are lies, false stories, what some people now like to call fake news, why are these news stories so popular?" The documentation in the story is pretty clear, but what's also clear in these articles is that when it comes to the influence of these news stories, it may not amount to all that much. It might be, especially in the age of nearly instant gratification on social media, that people share stories they really don't believe. Or, they share stories just because something may appear to be interesting.

But, in any event, there is a diminishment of the concern for truth and for truthfulness. That's clear. Professor Sinan Aral at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that's MIT, concluded his article about the research that he and his colleagues had undertaken with these words, "Some notion of truth is central to the proper functioning of nearly every realm of human endeavor. If we allow the world to be consumed by falsity, we are inviting catastrophe." Well, that's one of the most profoundly true statements, no irony intended, that we are ever likely to confront in the New York Times or in any other realm of human discourse. Yes, some notion of truth is central to the proper functioning of nearly every realm of human endeavor. But, here's where the Christian has to correct, it won't simply do to say that some notion of truth is central. It must be the right understanding of truth.

The modern intellectual elites, the post-modernists, the relativists, they all have some notion of truth. But, the reality is, without an understanding of truth as revealed, and objective, and knowable, well, without that understanding of truth, everything becomes falsity. Professor Aral went on to say, and you'll remember these words, "If we allow the world to be consumed by falsity, we are inviting catastrophe." But, I would simply have to say to the professor, catastrophe is what has happened. Steve [inaudible 00:18:52] reporting on the same research tells us this, "False claims are 70% more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter. True stories are rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top one percent of false stories were routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people" and, he said, "It took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1500 people."

Now, here, some people aware of the technological factors might say "Maybe the technology itself is to blame, maybe we can let human beings off the hook. Maybe most of these identified as false stories, maybe most of these lies are being spread, and multiplied by bots." It turns out, that is simply not sustainable as a truth claim. As a matter of fact, the bots we are told, can accelerate false news, but the multiplication and the spread of the false news? Well, that's basically human. Professor Aral, who wrote the opinion piece in the New York Times has cited in this news article, listen to his words, he said "It's sort of disheartening at first to realize how much we humans are responsible. It's not really the robots that are to blame."

I don't know if Professor Aral has any awareness of just how parallel his statements are to what is revealed in scripture. The catastrophe he warns of has taken place. In Christian theology, we know it as the fall of the human race. The exchange of truth for a lie, that is exactly what has taken place. It's Paul's indictment of the very core of human sinfulness. And, the fact that we humans rather than robots are actually to blame, well, the Bible tells us that we as human beings love the darkness rather than the light. Furthermore, we are told that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That, professor, is the explanation for this entire picture. But, understanding this picture requires us to affirm the distinction between truth and a lie.

Regrettably, no, let's use the professor's word. Catastrophically, no secular worldview can hold that distinction for long.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to Twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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