Tuesday, May 25, 2021
It's Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Threat to the International Order: Belarusian President Lukashenko, Known as “Europe’s Last Dictator,” Forces Down a Civilian Flight
The biblical worldview makes very clear that at the very foundation of human society, there has to be a certain respect for order. That order is to be contrasted with disorder. And this is even in the design of creation. Genesis 1 tells us about the Creator bringing order out of disorder, increasing order. And when it comes to human society, we have to have a certain amount of trust that is based upon the stability of order. And if that doesn't exist, then just about no kind of human interaction or relationship is safe. Threats to the international order are thus a threat to human flourishing. And that's exactly what we see right now on multiple fronts. But on Sunday, one of those particular fronts became headline news.
It came down to an airplane. In this case, it came down to Ryanair Flight 4978. It was scheduled to leave Athens, Greece and to arrive in its destination of Vilnius, Lithuania. But shortly before it would have landed in Vilnius, the schedule airliner found itself making a U-turn on the order of the government of Belarus. Belarus is a country that is currently headed by a man often described as the last classic dictator in Europe. His name is Alexander Lukashenko. And one of the political enemies of the totalitarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko happened to be on that flight along with a young woman who was accompanying him. The orders to the plane from the government of Belarus were absolutely clear. And just in case the message wasn't adequately received and might not be obeyed, the government of Belarus sent into the air a MiG-29 fighter jet that also made the message abundantly clear. The airliner had to land in Minsk in Belarus.
It landed. And of course at that point, we now know that it was one person basically targeted on the flight, and the woman who was accompanying him was also arrested. And as many in the international media have made clear, looking at the man who was arrested, a 26-year-old blogger named Roman Protasevich, The likelihood is that as he said to some upon the descent of the airplane into Belarus, this might well be for him a death sentence. Let's understand what we're dealing with here. Civil aviation is one of the most highly regulated systems on the entire planet. It was based upon a series of agreements that were worked out in the age of sail, when ships navigating the oceans had to have the order of a certain set of international rules by which that kind of transit, transportation, and of course, cargo could be conveyed safely.
Throughout much of a sea voyage, a ship is outside of any normal national boundaries or national jurisdiction. And furthermore, you have countries that have tried to assert jurisdiction, in some cases throughout virtual oceans or seas. But there is no real question that nations have a jurisdiction when it comes to their own airspace. And thus, we have the international agreements whereby civil aviation, that is civilian airliners, may pass through the national airspace of nations and it's to the advantage of all nations. But that means that the freedom and the safety of those airplanes have to be taken into consideration. There has to be mutual respect. One of the most foundational and fundamental issues when it comes to civil aviation is that nations do not interfere with the safe and scheduled transit of civilian airliners through their airspace. But in the situation of Ryanair 4978, it's abundantly clear exactly what happened.
The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, had a political enemy on this flight. Now, in order for this to take place, understand how many pieces of a puzzle had to fall into place. For example, consider the fact that a rather massive intelligence operation had to be undertaken here in order to follow the young man, Roman Protasevich, wherever he might go, in this case, remember the flight originated in Athens, Greece. And there is the very strong suspicion, indeed is more than a suspicion, that a significant number of intelligence officers associated with something like the KGB, representing of course the government of Belarus, but also, it is highly suspected, the Russian government, they were on the plane. They were treated differently than the rest of the passengers once the plane had landed in Minsk and the authorities there undertook to search the passengers and their baggage. The reason given by the government of Belarus, when it came to the forced landing of the plane, was that they said it was facing a bomb threat. But there is no credible bomb threat.
Instead, this was a transparent effort undertaken upon the intelligence information that an enemy of the regime, a blogger of all things, who dares to oppose this dictator, he was on this flight along with a young woman. And thus the entire flight, all of its passengers, pilots, and crew, they were all required to land in Minsk and they were threatened with a MiG-29 jet. And you had a dictatorial government here who then took the young man and the young woman with him into captivity. They were arrested at the airport. The government of Belarus made a show of trying to examine the luggage for a suspected bomb. But of course there wasn't any such bomb because there really wasn't any such threat.
The pilots of the Ryanair flight did the right thing. They really didn't have any choice. First of all, there was the legal order that came from the government to Belarus. There was the bomb threat, or the supposed bomb threat. Then there was the presence of a MiG-29 sending a very unmistakable message of enforcement. But beyond that, there was also memory. And pilots of course have a memory of what took place in 1983, when a Korean civil airliner flying for Korean Air, a 747, was blasted out of the air by a Soviet jet, and in this case, another fighter. The memory among civilian airlines of that incident, which led to a massive number of deaths, is very much imprinted. And that's why there is no doubt that the pilots of this Ryanair 737 knew that they had to land that plane. And they did so. But even as they did so, with a terrified set of passengers who didn't understand what was going on, the very idea that they were landing because of a supposed bomb threat would hardly settle the nerves.
We're looking at a part of the world that is actually a symptom of the breakdown of international order. Civil aviation for most airlines is forbidden right now over Ukraine, the neighbor of Belarus. And in Ukraine in the year 2014, a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down in Ukrainian airspace with the loss of 298 people. And it was shot down as a part of the conflict between Ukraine and a very aggressive Russia, its neighbor. Russia is the common denominator in so many of these problems and in the instability and totalitarian temptations in this region. Alexander Lukashenko has been in office since 1994, he's now in his sixth term. But the international community doesn't consider the elections that have kept him in office, especially the election of 2020, to be legitimate in any sense.
Lukashenko is also known for having very fond memories of the Soviet Union. When he did take power in Belarus, he actually began to use Soviet symbolism and to try to revivify Soviet imagery, to try to basically recreate something like the Soviet Union from his base there in Belarus. It is also clear that Lukashenko is closely aligned with Vladimir Putin. And there you are looking at someone else who is basically setting himself up as an autocrat with elections that really don't matter and a constitution that is just contorted in order to meet the need of keeping Vladimir Putin in power in Russia.
The European Union leadership responded actually quite quickly and understandably, calling what had taken place in Belarus a hijacking of a civilian airliner. That's a very strong term, but you really are looking at something that's far more important than most people looking at the headlines would understand. If you do not have respect for civilian airliners, you do not have respect for the international order. If you don't have respect for the international order, you become basically a pirate state.
And it's for that reason that the European Union put sanctions on Belarus just yesterday, saying that European airlines are neither to cooperate in flights to or from Belarus, nor are they to allow their airliners to fly through European airspace. Belorussian airliners are not to be allowed to fly through the space of European Union states. Understand what this could mean. It could mean that if you have a patchwork quilt of nations, and some of them are basically pirate nations when it comes to civil aviation, airliners are going to have to fly through very different airspace and you'll have very narrow air corridors. It basically could shut down, not only flights to and from say, Belarus, but flights between Asia and Europe or even between Asia and the United States.
The international order, based upon norms, such as freedom of navigation in the seas, such as the freedom of civil aviation in the air, you have a modern order that depends upon this kind of order. And if that order is destroyed, the modern world turns into very much like a medieval picture. We are living in an increasingly dangerous world. Just think of actors as nations and threats as represented by North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, and the list doesn't stop there. Christians understand that the presence of order is a testimony to a requisite level of trust. If that trust disappears, the order disappears with it. And then the world becomes an even more dangerous place. At the end of the 20th century, there were people who actually thought we were entering a new enduring stable world order, but these events make very clear that we're actually entering a new and very dangerous period on planet earth.
And Christians understand that there is more at stake than civil aviation, more at stake than even international relations, when you think about the stark alternatives between order and disorder.
Are There Any Conservatives Left in the Newsroom? The Mainstream Media Is Dominated by the Far Left
But speaking of disorder, next we turn to look at the American media landscape. Hugh Hewitt, a columnist for The Washington Post, is out this week with a very important argument, basically making the case that in the United States, the dominant mainstream, even elite media, are really representing what he calls the left, left ,left, the far left wing of the Democratic Party. And he backs up this argument with very solid analysis. And this is really important as we understand the cultural landscape in the United States, given the dominance of the media. Hugh Hewitt points to the fact that there are Americans who are vaccine hesitant, and he points to the fact that that is not only a medical crisis, it points to the fact that it is also a media crisis. Millions of Americans just don't trust what they hear from the media, because they know that so much of it is coming quite literally out of left field.
In his Washington Post piece, Hugh Hewitt says that the news media is "far, far left and an extension of the Democratic Party." He goes on to say, "Most people know this to be so. No wonder the collective chorus of elite media has difficulty making a dent except on the like-minded. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a hundred times, shame on me." Later in his article, Hewitt mentions having interviewed Thomas Edsall, first of The Washington Post, now with The New York Times. And Edsall indicated that by his estimation Democrats outnumbered Republicans in elite media newsrooms by a margin of between 15-and-25 to 1. That's 15 to 25 on the left for every 1 on the right. And, adds Hewitt, that was in 2006. The picture's not better now, to say the very least.
But in a very interesting way, Hugh Hewitt brings in Jane Coaston. She is herself on the opinion team of The New York Times. And in his article and on his radio program and in a recent podcast, Hugh Hewitt mentions his conversation with Jane Coaston. Jane Coaston is not a conservative. She's basically identified as a libertarian. She's African-American. She identifies as a lesbian. She's a former speech writer for the Human Rights Campaign. She is not a conservative, but she does care what conservatives think, and she knows that conservatives are out there. And she's interested enough in conservatism in the United States to know the difference between libertarians, neoconservatives, traditional conservatives. Well, you get the picture. She's very unique in the mainstream media. But she also, in her conversation with Hugh Hewitt, indicated by her own intuition as an insider what the percentages might be if we could read the minds and read the votes of the people who are largely in control of shaping opinion through the mainstream media.
Coaston and Hewitt estimated that the media sample represented here is about 5,000 people doing all this influencing. They're the major purveyors of news, newscasting, opinion pieces, the editing and publishing, and particularly the writing and reporting that takes place in America's mainstream media. Of those 5,000 people, Jane Coaston estimated that about 2%, she said, would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Again, 2%. Now, remember that just under half of the American people, just looking at the aggregate numbers, voted for Donald Trump. But you're not looking at something like 52% to 48%. You're looking at 98% to 2% by her intuition and estimation.
Coaston very honestly estimated that the vast majority of those in this group of about 5,000 opinion-shapers would be pro-choice or pro-abortion. Pro-abortion rights was her term. She said, just estimating, something like 78%. when looking at something like how many in the elite media favored the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she said, "Oh, 3%." How about Amy Coney Barrett? Something like 5%. Neil Gorsuch? Something like 6%. Notice that we're talking about nothing here higher than 6%.
Now you might say, this is just one very well informed intuition, just one person's intuition. But it's more than that. It's speaking from experience inside the empire of the mainstream media in the United States. And even if these numbers are off by some percentage, the very fact that they are as radically presented as they are here, indicates why so many conservatives in the United States have come long ago to the conclusion that when you're talking about the mainstream media in this country, you're not just talking left. You're not just talking about leaning left. You're talking about committed in a hard and very clear way to the left, left, left, as Hugh Hewitt describes it.
Major Matters of Morality Raised by Headlines about the Media in Recent Days: Big Controversies in Chicago, New York, and London
But then just when you think that the complicated issues of race and media and culture and morality in the United States, intersecting with politics couldn't get any stranger, just consider the fact that the incumbent mayor of the city of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who by the way, is African-American and a woman and identifies as LGBTQ, she said last week that she will not do one-on-one interviews with reporters who are white. You heard that, right? The mayor of one of America's largest cities said that she will no longer do so-called sit-down or one-to-one interviews with members of the media who are white.
As the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said, "This was no rhetorical slip." Ms. Lightfoot said in a two-page written statement that, "I will be exclusively providing one-on-one interviews with journalists of color." As the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal commented, "She justified her decision as a response to 'the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press core, and yes, the city hall press corps specifically.'" Now just imagine if this situation were reversed, and imagine how untenable it would be. But we're in the strangest time of both media and racial politics in the United States that this becomes plausible, or at least is plausible in the eyes of mayor Lori Lightfoot. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said, "This should be shocking, but the surprise is how little criticism her statement has received. Perhaps," said the board, "it's simply taboo these days to criticize a black politician who invokes race as a sword and shield."
But while we're looking at the media and worldview issues, we can't fail to talk about a true scandal in the media these days. And we're talking about the scandal having to do with the brothers Cuomo. This would mean New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is now in his third term, and his brother, Chris Cuomo, who was one of the leading anchors for news programs, but also, we should say, very clearly opinion, on CNN. The scandal has to do with the fact that first of all, when you say Andrew Cuomo, you're saying scandal. The governor of New York is now under investigation in two separate scandals, one of them having to do with misrepresentation by his administration of deaths that took place in nursing homes, according to the governor's own policy, during the context of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second scandal has to do with accusations from several women of sexual harassment or misconduct by the New York governor.
The latter situation is actually very much to the fore in the controversy about Andrew Cuomo's brother, Chris Cuomo, who by the way, is the younger brother. Their father was Mario Cuomo, a very famous figure in the Democratic left, and also a former governor of New York State. But the controversy has to do with the fact that CNN has had to acknowledge that its own journalist, or at least the one presented as a journalist, Chris Cuomo, was actually involved with meetings of the governor's staff in strategy about how he should handle the media and deal with the ever-increasing scandals in his administration.
As The New York Times reported, "The CNN primetime host, Chris Cuomo, offered public relations advice to his brother, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, after a series of sexual harassment allegations threatened the governor's political career earlier this year, an unusual breach of traditional barriers between lawmakers and journalists." Last week, CNN said, according to the Times, that the conversations were "inappropriate" and that Chris Cuomo would refrain from any similar discussions with the governor's staff. The paper then said, "But the network said it would take no disciplinary action against the anchor, whose program was CNN's highest rated show in the first quarter of the year."
Now, if you were watching CNN at all during the early months of the pandemic, you saw that CNN had already altered its ethics policy to allow Chris Cuomo to have his brother, the governor of New York, on as a guest. And it's being argued by CNN, with a straight face we presume, that this was to show the authenticity of the family relationship between these two brothers in a time of national hardship. But actually, Chris Cuomo went overboard, effusively bragging on his brother, holding his brother's management of the pandemic up as an example, a partisan example against others.
But we now know that there were several points at which something was going on that represents a severe breach of journalistic ethics, the very fact that Andrew Cuomo was on Chris Cuomo show, and the fact that it did turn political. There are also investigations into whether or not Cuomo gave his family privileged access to tests. But in any event, it is the fact that here you had a major CNN figure presented as a journalist who was actually in strategy sessions along with not only the governor, his brother, but members of the governor's staff. In any other situation, this would be considered terminal in journalistic ethics, but CNN says it's taking no disciplinary action. Don't worry. It will never happen again.
Christians, understanding what it means to live in a sinful world as sinful human beings, understand why we not only have the necessity of an international order. We also have the necessity of something like professional ethics. And in this case, it is clear that repeatedly, ongoingly, you had a very significant breach of journalistic ethics, and apparently without effect, which means, again, that as you're looking in a fallen world, it turns out that there's one set of rules for just about everyone else and an individual set of rules for anyone whose last name, at least at this point, is Cuomo.
But next, finally, as we're thinking about how major matters of morality in politics and culture are made clear in controversies about the media, we need to go across the Atlantic and move from the United States to Britain, where the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the biggest media empire there, the flagship of media in Great Britain has had to announce an apology for an interview that took place back in November of 1995. In this case with the then-BBC journalist Martin Bashir interviewing the Princess of Wales, Diana. It became one of the most famous interviews in all of modern broadcast history. It changed the history of England.
But now the BBC has had to admit that Bashir had presented to Princess Diana faked banking statements he knew to be faked, purportedly indicating that she was being spied upon, and that was supposedly one of the reasons why Princess Diana gave Bashir the interview. Whether or not that was the fundamental issue is unimportant in the sense that the BBC is now acknowledging that she was presented with what those in the network knew were faked documents, faked bank statements. Now, all of this conversation today for Christians does not mean that we can avoid the media. Even if we don't consume the media directly, the mainstream media, the elite media, the about 5,000 people that Hugh Hewitt and Jane Coaston referred to, they have an inordinate control over the entire national and global conversation, the way that the narratives are told the way, that reality is presented.
You don't have to even read The New York Times directly. You don't even have to watch CNN or say, CBS, directly. Nonetheless, given the power of the mainstream media in this country, it shapes the national conversation. People who don't even watch the programs or read the newspapers are talking about the issues in the terms that the mainstream media dictates. That's why Christians need to understand that our engagement with the media is laden with worldview importance and the stewardship of our attention and our thinking. And in a society like ours, in which the media pat themselves on the back saying that it's their self-declared responsibility to hold everyone else accountable, who holds the media accountable? That's a huge question, and at this point, clearly an unanswered question.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow 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.