In recent decades, the Commonwealth of Virginia has served as a barometer for the entire nation. Once a solidly “red” state, Virginia has become a “purple” state thanks to massive political and demographic transitions. Virginia’s boundary with Washington D.C. is the gravitational force that pulls Virginia from the right to the center-left. Thus, in every presidential election cycle, the political pundits and campaign operatives all ask the same crucial question: “Which way will Virginia go?”
In recent days, however, Virginia is the subject of disturbing headlines that cascade from the national news media—headlines that the citizens of Virginia did not foresee.
It all started in the early part of last week when the Commonwealth’s Governor, Ralph Northam, advocated for a radical abortion bill that would legalize abortion up to the moment of birth—indeed, in this horrifying interview, Governor Northam appeared to support infanticide. By the end of the week, the headlines took an unprecedented turn.
The personal page from the Governor’s 1984 yearbook surfaced. The page disclosed a picture of a man in blackface and another wearing the robes of the Ku Klux Klan. By Friday night, the governor apologized for his presence in the photograph though he could not remember which person he was.
The story did not end there.
On Saturday, the Governor held one of the most bizarre press conferences in American political history. Northam changed his tune, declaring that he was neither of the individuals pictured. His apology only extended to the presence of the photograph on his personal page in the yearbook of the Eastern Virginia Medical School. Moreover, Northam admitted that at some point between 1984 and 1987, he did participate in a party where impersonated Michael Jackson in blackface. Despite this admission and growing political pressure, the Governor insists he will not resign. By Sunday night, however, the Democratic Party, at both the state and national levels, decided that it needed Ralph Northam to step aside. Democratic leaders have called upon Northam to vacate the governor’s mansion and make way for the Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax.
The story, as you now might expect, took another bizarre turn.
By Monday, press reports surfaced of sexual assault allegations against the Lieutenant Governor. The headline in The Washington Post read, “Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denies sex assault allegation from 2004.” Theresa Vargas from The Washington Post reported, “Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement early Monday denying a sexual assault allegation that appeared on the same conservative website that posted a racist photograph from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page.”
The Washington Post reported that the woman who levied these accusations against Fairfax did indeed consent to kissing, but the episode ended with a forceful act that left her “crying and shaking.” By midnight on Monday, Fairfax released another statement that the Washington Post had for several months investigated the accusation but could not prove the woman’s testimony because of inconsistencies within the allegation and the absence of corroborating evidence. Thus, The Washington Post “made the considered decision not to publish the story.”
Then, in yet another bizarre turn, the Washington Post explained that though they did not originally publish the story, it denied that there had been inconsistencies with the woman’s claim.
The stories swirling out of Virginia has everyone on the defensive: The Governor has appeared in racist photographs, the Lieutenant Governor has been accused of sexual assault, and The Washington Post is defending its decision to not run the story of credible sexual assault accusations in the first place.
Amid this firestorm and chaotic tumult, several important questions arise with tremendous worldview significance: If there were no inconsistencies or a lack of corroborating evidence, why did The Washington Post fail to report sexual assault allegations against the second highest official in the Commonwealth of Virginia? Moreover, why did The Washington Post run numerous other stories of sexual assault allegations based on highly circumstantial and uncorroborated evidence—stories like the ones The Washington Post published about the then nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh?
Why the difference? Why did The Washington Post print a story in one case but not in another? The Washington Post will now have to defend its apparent double-standard: In one case involving a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, The Washington Post ran accusations based on circumstantial and unsubstantiated claims. In another case involving the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, The Washington Post exhibited restraint, even though the paper admitted that the evidence against Fairfax was strong and did not contain irregularities.
In this fast-paced and volatile political environment, many politicians and news outlets rush to judgment. The political left and the mainstream news outlets excoriated Kavanaugh and delivered a guilty verdict before any trial. Will those same infallible judges follow suit on a case where there is now an admission of a sexual relationship between this woman and the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia? Will they follow the logic of their own reasoning and accusations? These are massive quandaries that raise another equally important question: How does anyone come to a responsible conclusion?
This is a palpable morality tale lived out and developing before our eyes. The morally significant actors in Virginia are not just the Governor nor the Lieutenant Governor, but the reporters, editors, and publishers of the magazines and newspapers who have taken up the solemn responsibility of reporting the news. News outlets like The Washington Post bear a significant moral responsibility for the information they dispense. We know exactly the message The Washington Post intended to send in the case of Judge Kavanaugh. What will be the message they send in the case of the Virginia Lieutenant Governor?
Christians understand that all of life in one sense is a succession of morality tales. Few make the moral nature of those tales so immediately apparent as we see in this story, still unfolding.
This article draws from the February 5th edition of The Briefing. To listen to the full episode, click here. To subscribe to The Briefing--Dr. Mohler's daily podcast that serves as an analysis of news and events--click here.