A chat with Cal Thomas
BACKSTORY | On the Moral Majority, Christians in media, and Julie Andrews
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I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know of Cal Thomas. In 1984, in the interest of balancing its opinion pages, the Los Angeles Times agreed to run Thomas’ column, which would become the most widely read column in America. In our cover essay, “Infamous scribblers,” in this issue, Thomas looks back on how the news business has changed since he landed his first media job as an NBC News copy boy in 1961. I followed up with a few more questions:
Journalists have a responsibility to be fair, which is increasingly rare in media today. What has America lost as a result? They have lost Truth, which has been replaced almost exclusively by opinion from a secular progressive perspective. It is why trust in the media is near a record low. Objectivity is impossible since we all have worldviews. Fairness is another matter, and it means reporting what one sees without an agenda or beginning with a narrative and then looking for information that fits that narrative.
You once served as vice president of the Moral Majority, founded in 1979 by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. Now the very name of the organization has become a byword among many American elites. How would you gauge the historical impact of the group, and to what extent have its concerns been borne out today? It helped register many people who had disdained politics, which was good. It also created a fusion of the two kingdoms, one of which Jesus said was “not of this world.” This has led to the idolization of Donald Trump and a glossing over of his character in ways evangelicals did not apply to Bill Clinton when they said character and behavior mattered most. The experience taught me a lot, Biblically and politically. The late Ed Dobson and I wrote about it in an earlier book, Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America.
It could be argued that you’ve been accepted as a Christian in mainstream media in the same way liberals generally accepted Billy Graham in public life: You’re an institution—a holdover from another era who made your reputation in a time when Christianity was still acceptable. What do you think are the chances that there will ever be another “you” in mainstream media? Would secular media accept that now? God raises up people to accomplish His goals. As for being a believer and succeeding in this business, I think you have to read everything others read and know what they know. Then it’s important to join organizations they belong to and let them see you don’t behave like a drooling fanatic. The Christian faith has intellectual depth, which C.S. Lewis and many others have demonstrated. I tell aspiring journalists to get in the door, have a servant spirit, and let their light shine through. A Christian also can suggest stories that actually lead to real solutions, rather than the familiar rhetorical combat one sees on TV. Be good at your craft and you will gain respect, if not always acceptance of your beliefs.
Now that you’ve written A Watchman in the Night, a newsy memoir that spans your decades in journalism, what does the future hold for you, both professionally and personally? Personally, it means the time is getting closer for my entry into the presence of the One I have tried to serve faithfully my entire career. Professionally, as newspapers decline due to lack of readership by younger people, I would like to hang on for a couple more years. I’ve already accomplished my greatest professional goal: meeting and interviewing Julie Andrews. It took me 40 years to wear her down until she finally said yes. My first love was show business. Now that the news has become show business, it seems I’ve arrived.
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