Reporting is hard business. It takes a disciplined mind. It's hard to be objective. A good reporter must divorce himself from all his pre-suppositions, prejudices, pre-conceived notions. He has the responsibility to his readers or viewers to report facts as best as he can determine them. He has no business reporting hearsay, opinion, or other part-truths unless he identifies them as such. It takes concentration and a high regard for truth.
Distributing any truth requires the same integrity as that which is necessary for the good journalist. It, too, calls for intense concentration, an unbiased mind, a desire not only to know the truth, but to use it for good whenever and wherever possible. No person has the right to distribute untruth, hearsay, gossip.
The Scriptures assign an attitude for those who would dare speak of things to others publicly. For instance, ``If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God'' (1 Pet. 4:11), addresses the tendencies to report opinions and is God's warning against such. ``There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak'' (Eccles. 3:7) speaks to the tendency to want to speak more than the occasion calls for, a constant problem for all of us it seems. ``But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine'' (Titus 2:1) calls to mind the necessity of adorning the doctrine of Christ with a disposition toward correctness, making sure that you do not speak opinion or promote your own surmisings.
The Scriptures also warns about speaking things to others privately as well. ``Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt'' (Titus 2:8) reminds us to make sure that our speech has just the right flavor, that we make sure we do our best to say palatable things in every situation. ``A fool is full of words,'' says the wise man (Eccles. 10:14), indicating that you become suspicious when you say too much about a thing. ``A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger'' (Prov. 15:1) tells us about how to handle controversial matters and is a passage everyone would do well to commit to memory.
Then there are those private reporters, those who speak in hushed tones and report in secret, those who seemingly take great delight in spreading rumors and other hurtful information. A Gossip is a newsmonger, one who carries about information that is mostly undocumented in nature and unproductive in effect. It is speech which is seldom intended to edify and will usually include such things as idle talk, tattling, rumors. Sadly, most everyone has participated in it at one time or the other. And even more sadly, many have done so with full knowledge of what they were doing.
``Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!'' (Jas. 3:5). It takes only a small amount of kindling to start a huge conflagration and the skilled gossip knows just how to do it. He may just lift an eyebrow or crook his mouth. He may offer some innuendo or half-truth. He may start some rumor in a place where he knows it will spread like wildfire. He may write something without confirming the source or examining all the facts just because the rumor he is reporting fits what he wants to report.
Gossip is ugly. Gossip is sinful. But gossip is effective, too. ``Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor; so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor'' (Eccles. 10:1). A man's reputation, which may have taken years to build, can be destroyed by one little, well-placed rumor, just as the ointment which may have taken months to prepare can be destroyed when one little stink-fly lands in the potion. It is a serious thing to report information which is not true or pass along what has never been proven. But people do it all the time. And get away with it.
Two things would help.
Don't repeat anything you don't know for sure. The world of gossip operates on a chain reaction. When the chain is broken, the gossip stops.
Remember you are responsible for what you tell. No matter where you got it, it's still your responsibility. Just don't re-tell and you won't have to worry about it. Make sure it needs to be told before you tell it.
By Dee Bowman