Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Liberty University and the dinosaur attitude towards blogging

I have not been staying on top of the Ergun Caner situation. Mostly, I've been following it, just like you.

Who has been staying on top of it?


Bloggers.

Bloggers like our own Squirrel (who got himself mentioned in Christianity Today for it), and this guy, and this guy, and on and on.

Caner's employer, Liberty University, at first brushed it off. Bafflingly, dean Elmer Towns said this concerning the charge that Caner lied about his history: "It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue." Huh? Lying, not a moral or ethical issue? See now, I would have said it was. But maybe that's me.

Towns also said, "We don't see any way that bloggers will damage Liberty."

Fast-forward: now, LU is indeed investigating Caner.

But to make sure everyone is absolutely clear, LU issued this statement yesterday:
“Liberty University does not evaluate personnel based upon blogs.
“However, in light of the fact that mainstream media have recently raised questions, the provost of Liberty University is appointing a committee to look into these matters.”
Ohhhh.

That's funny to me on many levels. At the very least, it makes no sense.

First, I'm sure all my longtime readers will share a chuckle over LU's childlike faith and credulity with regard to "mainstream media." Behind this seems to lurk the attitude ot the 50s and 60s, when there was only (Christian-hating far-lefty) Walter Cronkite and a couple of others, and "mainstream media" held the mythic position of being the Gold Standard for news.

Those days are gone, long gone. People now look back unfondly at the death-grip that CBSABCNBC and the various Timeses used to have on the flow of information. With Algore's invention of the internet, the doors flew open, and real live people flooded out.

In case after case, bloggers have scooped or corrected the mainstream media. Ask Dan Rather. Well, don't bother, he's still in denial. But when CBS was perverting information to try to "get" President Bush, bloggers saw through it.

I recall the lockstep pack journalism of the days of The Nameless One. hard, independent questions were asked exceedingly rarely, and only under extreme pressure. Any reporter who got out of line and asked something challenging got a red-faced chewing out from TNO himself.

I recall the last election season, the extremely selective reporting, the entire MSM completely taking a pass on its duty to vet Obama's background.

I'm following the news now, where only one agency (Fox) occasionally asks a challenging question, and gets isolated and excoriated as a result.

Yeah, the mainstream media. They are the guarantors of objectivity and accuracy.

And I'm the king of Pluto.

What is more, saying "blogs" is like saying "communication," or "what people write." They might as well said, "Liberty University does not evaluate personnel based upon communication," or "based upon what people write" — except that that would sound, you know, stupid.

Which is precisely what it is. Stupid.

Look, if you're in a room, and someone says something dismissive about "blogs," and everyone rolls his eyes and nods sagely, you are in a room full of people who actually don't know anything about blogs.

Because you can't make any meaningful generalization about blogs, except that people write them, and they are unfiltered.

Are blogs meaningful? Accurate? Responsible? Contentful? Reliable?

Well, let me ask you this: are conversations meaningful? Accurate? Responsible? Contentful? Reliable?

Is human communication meaningful? Accurate? Responsible? Contentful? Reliable?

You'd say, "It all depends on who you are talking with."

Exactly.

Was that so hard?

Someone explain that to Liberty — and to pastors and writers and others who sniff disdainfully at "blogs."

Postscript: I notice that those who complain most disdainfully about blogs and bloggers in general — as if they were cuss-words — are often those about whom inconvenient truths have been blogged. Not always, but often.

Weird, huh?

46 comments:

Tom Chantry said...

On the one hand I can understand the "We don't listen to blogs" mentality. It's just too easy to start a blog and say anything. If I wanted to I could start an anonymous blog entitled "DJPwatchblog" and start posting outrageous things about you. "DJP: Democrat in Disguise"; "DJP caught abusing a kitten - says "All cats must die!"; "An Investigation into DJP's Latent Amillenialism." You get the idea.

If you're a big enough target that lots of people want to take aim at you (and Liberty U certainly qualifies) then you may be tempted to ignore the squalling from the blogosphere.

However, this case demonstrates why that is a bad idea. Once again, the bloggers were ahead of the curve.

Two details should have tipped them off. In the first place, the bloggers were documenting everything they said. Video and audio evidence of the Caner claims was being posted all over the net; taking down Mohammad Kahn's youtube account did nothing about that. Court documents were also published. This was obviously not a case of "ticked off anonymous watch blogger makes stuff up."

Secondly, the "bloggers" driving this bus included a few men with reputations that go way beyond their blogs - reputations that they would obviously protect from the accusation of unsubstantiated mudslinging. James White is well known to Liberty; theological adversary or not he is someone they should know to take seriously. Wade Burleson is a former trustee of the SBC's International Missionary Board and a two-time president of the Oklahoma convention.

So maybe they haven't heard of Jason Smathers, or of Debbie Kaufman, or even of our beloved Squirrel. They have heard of James and Wade, and to ignore them as "bloggers - and we don't listen to bloggers" is absurd.

That's why your initial take on this story is spot-on. Liberty, the school of Falwell, has MSM tunnel-vision. Some might be surprised by that. Those who always wondered why Falwell was so good at posing for the cameras will not.

Fred Butler said...

Yep. Tom is correct. Bloggers are seen as little, anonymous people with just an opinion. It is the same dismissive attitude by the MSM. They aren't of any viable worth while reputation to be taken seriously.

Believe me, I have encountered crank "Watch" bloggers. What I have noticed, however, is how the goofy ones who have a chip on their shoulder and put up something like a "DJPWatchBlog", generally accuse their target of weird, off the wall stuff. Nothing substantial that if anyone who had the time to look over the so-called "evidence" would say is meaningful.

There is a crank who has been going after John MacArthur for a few years now. I have a whole page devoted to refuting the guy who thinks John is involved with the NWO and Al Mohler is an undercover change agent sent to infiltrate churches by the U.N. Those accusations alone go to show you I can refute the guy meaningfully because he is a crank. He places a nutty interpretative spin on stuff, cherry picks citations from website articles as his "proof" to the conspiracy, etc. Refuting the guy with the truth is like shooting fish in a barrel.

If Mohammad Khan was a crank (we'll leave out his Islam for the sake of argument) presenting weird, off the wall stuff about Caner, then it would be easily refuted when held up against what is truth. The fact that LU and Caner dismiss the guy, and then other, sober minded brethren like James White and the Gene (that Squirrel fellow) who are not prone to chasing conspiracy theories and have absolutely no track record of raising false accusations against other Christians, should be more than enough to take notice that there are some serious issues to resolve and questions to answers to everyone's satisfaction.

To ignore the situation and pretend it is just a bunch of rogue, Calvinist bloggers who have a vendetta against Ergun Caner is only driving them closer to the cliff of their demise.

DJP said...

BTW, what Tom hypotheticalized has been done. Not about kitties and eschatology (yet); but there was at least one blog created to "watch" me individually, and another to do the same to Pyro.

Al said...

I imagine that Dr. Towns means that Bloggers fail to measure up to the biblical standard of "two or three witnesses." The MSM on the other hand have editors, which ensures accuracy and truthfulness...

If Squirrel had a group blog I am sure Dr. Towns would have taken sharper action.

al sends

DJP said...

... which ensures accuracy and truthfulness....

Does it, now?

Stefan said...

Dan:

I get what you're saying, and they're all excellent points.

To put things into an ironic perspective, the counsel I received was for my own good, when I was still a new Christian (and a new Calvinist!), and had just unwittingly plunged headlong into an ongoing denominational dispute on the false dichotomy of anabaptist identity versus reformed theology, in a denominational web forum.

The Squirrel said...

You know, Fred actually blogged about Caner before I did...

And the whole "Calvinists team up with Muslims to bring down this godly man!" thing is wearing thin, too. I've never actually watched any of Mohammad Khan's videos. I've never questioned that Caner was a kid raised by a Muslim father. Not an issue for me.

"DJP caught abusing a kitten - says "All cats must die!" - Aw, that's old news... Have you heard about his position on hamsters in the rapture? >:-|

Squirrel

Mad Hatter said...

I'm a senior at LU, and e-mailed Dr. Towns prior to LU announcing it would investigate Dr. Caner for his statements.

Dr. Towns was addressing the firestorm between the Caner brothers and Founders blog, and between him and Dr. White in the past. I'm not sure whether CT took his quote out of context or whether Dr. Towns just misunderstood their question, but in an e-mail to me he plainly stated that the issue of the integrity of Dr. Caner's statements was a moral and ethical issue.

I agree with you that Jerry Falwell Jr.'s dismissive attitude towards blogs in general was uncalled for. Some blogs are reputable. However many are not, and that was what he surely was referring to. I cannot speak as to whether he was hoping this would die down rather than grow into a scandal, or if he genuinely did not know that it was reputable bloggers reporting the story. I hope that it was the second, though.

A rationally written, logically composed, and compellingly evidenced e-mail to Jerry Falwell Jr. probably would have been more effective than the blogs clamoring. I've had the opportunity to e-mail with him several times and have always been impressed with his responses. He hasn't been one to ignore students' concerns or issues raised by them in private.

Ergun deleted his blog post from www.erguncaner.com... he used to have one up describing his "testimony" - I went looking for it today and got a 404 error saying it was removed.

Fred Butler said...

If that is true that Towns was taken out of context, that should have been corrected immediately, especially with the seriousness of integrity at stake here.


A rationally written, logically composed, and compellingly evidenced e-mail to Jerry Falwell Jr. probably would have been more effective than the blogs clamoring.

James White did write a logically composed, and compellingly evidenced email. To all the folks involved. This isn't a scandal being generated by hacks.

Fred Butler said...

The MSM on the other hand have editors, which ensures accuracy and truthfulness...

Uhhh... Really?
If that CT article was taking Towns out of context, so much for that theory.

The Squirrel said...

Mad Hatter,

I assure you that I sent e-mails to Dr's Caner, Falwell, and Rev. Moore (media rep) I received no response. Ergun responded by blocking me from following his twitter...

"Ergun deleted his blog post from www.erguncaner.com... he used to have one up describing his "testimony" - I went looking for it today and got a 404 error saying it was removed."

If you're referring to the February 25, 2010 Statement, it was removed on March 12.

Squirrel

Al said...

Sure it does Dan...

Why just the other day the editors of our local news edited breathlessly a story of tar balls washing ashore on Dauphin Island, Alabama. They chose a camera shot that zoomed in real close to one of the tar balls so that it filled the screen. It was downright scary I tell ya.

Imagine if the editor of that bit off film had used the shot of the two lonely tar balls sitting on an expanse of white beach miles long. It would have given the impression that the world was NOT coming to an end. The camera lies and editors get at the truth. I am sorry that you cannot see that.

al sends

Sir Aaron said...

I think it's funny that they wont listen to blogs but the still, small voice...all over that!

Sir Aaron said...

I have to find the DJP watchblog. That would be quite entertaining.

Mad Hatter said...

Squirrel, I was referring to a post put up back in 2006 that was much more in-depth than the posted screenshot on your blog. I recall reading it after listening to him give his testimony in Campus Church at LU (I only went there three times - once he mocked Calvinists mercilessly [which prompted me to look into their theology and subsequently believe in it], once he mocked fat people, and once he gave his false testimony).

Ergun has quite the history of blocking people he disagrees with, if I remember correctly. Didn't James White have an argument with him, about "What you win them with is what you win them to"? One time I messaged him on Facebook to tell him that he had misquoted Spurgeon (from Spurgeon's famous "In Defense of Calvinism" sermon). He had taken it out of context to completely reverse the meaning of the quote. He unfriended me for that one.

I doubt that they even saw the e-mails you sent them, unless you happen to have their personal addresses, though I would bet Dr. White has Caner's personal address. Their secretaries filter their messages due to the large volume of incomings.

I'm going to contact CT and see if I can't get that article edited for clarity, since Dr. Towns believes it's incorrect.

Mesa Mike said...

>> The MSM on the other hand have
>> editors, which ensures accuracy
>> and truthfulness...

> Uhhh... Really?

Did I just hear a "whoosh!"

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

I know you mean your think piece here to go beyond just Liberty U. On that basis...

I remember when the Internet was brand new, there were many dire predictions that it would become a huge morass of error and would be useless as a source for truth.

True, it's easy to slap up some devious lie or other, or even whole websites of error (cults, e.g.).

But...

What has happened to an amazing degree is that it has self-corrected itself (a redundancy, I know) in a balanced way, so that you can check and counter-check "facts" through the use of super-accurate search engines like Google.

These search engines constantly hone their algorithms so that the "cream" of information tends to rise to the top.

And, for example, Wikipedia is shockingly factual, even though it has a great potential to be abused.

It may not be perfect, but it is usually FAR more accurate than, say, The New York Times or Newsweek Magazine or a typical teleprompter text for Barack Obama.

For the record, I'm not advocating a truth-by-democracy attitude, of course, because 10 million people CAN be wrong (Evolution is a perfect example, where the vast majority of "facts" online would support it -- but at least the case for Creation is well-documented online for study purposes).

Fred Butler said...

Wikipedia is shockingly factual

It's shockingly factual when it comes to the history of soap making. Other things, like the "facts" of anthroprogenic global warming, the kool-aid get passed around and all true facts are censored.

Solameanie said...

I can't help but remember the day the late Jerry Falwell slid down the waterslide at Heritage USA (the former PTL property). I also recall someone telling me about his alleged reluctance in the early days of the Moral Majority to share the Gospel with cultists if they were political co-belligerents. Since then, I've had difficulty taking things connected with him seriously.

Halcyon said...

Blogging is another part of today's (oh, how to put it) democratic media and communication. Like DJP put it, there is no longer a monopoly on news and information. It can spread like wildfire from multiple sources.

Like most democratic endeavors, there is a good and bad side. In the case of blogging, the good side is the lack of monopoly in regards to the facts. Previously suppressed/ignored information can now get a fair hearing, and misinformation can be challenged and corrected.

The bad side is that along with all the good sources comes a whole load of bad sources. For every Squirrel, there are ten cranks waiting in the wings (sorta like Crouching Crank, Hidden Squirrel). If we want this kind of free and open communication, then we have to be willing to take the good and the bad, and learn to distinguish between the two.

Oh, and those who dismiss blogs as irrelevant are idiots. There, I said it. I feel better now.

DJP said...

Can't disagree. Like I said, it's as if one dismissed all conversations.

Depends on who is doing the talking.

Now, picture the whimpering like a little girl, "Oooh, that takes too much discernment!"

So, better to let Big Brother pre-chew and pre-digest? Eek.

It smacks of a bit of elitism, doesn't it? Big names not liking that little names might get an audience?

Terry Rayburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry Rayburn said...

Fred wrote,

"Other things, like the 'facts' of anthroprogenic global warming, the kool-aid get passed around and all true facts are censored."

Partly true (and this is similar to my Evolution example), but even Wikipedia has a link in their main article to a List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming, with lots of further links and references.

And of course Wikipedia itself is counter-balanced by huge amounts of anti-global-warming stuff.

An example may be seen by Googling "global warming hoax", which at this writing results in 1,890,000 entries.

Fred, your point is well taken. I'm only saying that one can't legitimately use Internet error as an excuse for ignorance, if one just learns a little navigation skill.

Stefan said...

The morals of this story seem to be:

(1) Don't lie;

(2) Dismiss bloggers at your own risk.

Trevor said...

Dan, once again you write exactly what has been floating around in my head for the past few months. Well said good sir.

NoLongerBlind said...

I for one am amazed to learn that Pluto has a Monarchy.

Rupert said...

NoLongerBlind, yes it has done for about 1.3 million years now.

It was decided that Pluto needed one outstanding representative to deal with the cabal of disparate sheriffs ruling each of the rings of Saturn.

Following the wars which predated the precariously balanced truce which exists today, the entity who became the first monarch of Pluto came to fame for his outstanding success at dealing with a lunatic fringe element which existed at that time.

This notorious group of crazy-eyed, drug addled, homophobic, misogynistic despots had been weakened slightly by an internal power struggle. Leadership of the group was claimed by jesus, mohamed, buddha and a host of others and this allowed the old 'divide and conquer' tactic to succeed.

Rachael Starke said...

"...there was at least one blog created to "watch" me individually, and another to do the same to Pyro."

Well that settles it. You're officially a Big Deal. :)

DJP said...

Well, duh.

:^P






That, or some people have absolutely no life whatsoever.

Paula said...

Late to the party again...

I was just watching O'Reilly, whose guest was Sally Quinn from WaPo. They were discussing the fact that a CBS News blogger had described Elena Kagan as potentially the "first openly gay justice" on the Supreme Court. After pressure from the White House, CBS removed the blog post.

Sally Quinn, dripping with MSM disdain, said, "It came from a blogger that didn't have great credentials."

Of course, the uncredentialed blogger, Bob Domenech, was apparently one of the ONLY "journalists" to talk about this huge elephant in the room. Everyone else, conservatives included, seems to be terrified to touch the subject.

It's been fascinating to see even the cable news and talk radio guys reporting around the story today. They'll report that the CBS blogger mentioned it and debate whether it should have been posted. But nobody seems to want to talk about whether this should disqualify her for the SC position.

Imagine what, say, John Adams or George Washington would think? In their wildest imagination I don't think they could have conceived that a lesbian woman would be on the Supreme Court standing in judgment over our nation.

Mad Hatter said...

Look I may be demonstrating ignorance here... but if I got an e-mail, as the head of a university, getting hundreds of e-mails a day... and that e-mail was from a guy named "Squirrel" asking me to investigate a dean for lying... I'd probably ignore it too.

If blogs want to be taken seriously, ditch the pseudonyms, ditch the flame wars.

I'm not saying that Squirrel was wrong - I completely agree with him - and I'm not saying that blogs aren't very useful. I used to be a part of a now defunct political blog that broke several stories and impacted politics in my state in surprising ways. I'm just saying that there is a reason people don't trust everything that shows up on the blogosphere, and that most people are not going to take the time to filter through everything that pops up to make a decision on what is trustworthy.

Tom Chantry said...

MH,

Thus my comment at the top of this thread.

They may well have ignored some bloggers, but when they chose to ignore emails from James White (a respected scholar in Ergun Caner's field) and Wade Burleson (a major figure in the leadership of their convention) because they were theological adversaries, they made a huge mistake.

Those two communications should have been read closely. They should have led to looking at the controversy, which in turn should have led to a recognition that the bloggers were substantiating their accusations with hard evidence.

To fail to look more closely because White and Burleson are only theological adversaries, not MSM adversaries, is ludicrous.

The Squirrel said...

MH,

"if I got an e-mail, as the head of a university, getting hundreds of e-mails a day... and that e-mail was from a guy named "Squirrel" asking me to investigate a dean for lying... I'd probably ignore it too."

The e-mail wasn't from "Squirrel" it was from the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Montana...

Squirrel

Brad Williams said...

I'm late to the party, and so I deserve to be buried at the bottom of this comment section. So I shall pontificate to myself.

First, I am grieved about this entire affair. I know some good brothers who went to Liberty, and I believe it to be a fine school. The first time I ran into Dr. Caner's activities was, ironically, on a blog. I read some comments he put up at Dr. Ascol's blog and thought, "Oh my! This man is the president of Liberty??!"

Secondly, I think that this is what happens when people are not used to personal accountability. By the grace of God, I have true friends who will confront me when I act sinful. It burns my ears. But it is an indispensible grace. Just last night, in fact, my fellow elders' grace toward me caused me to evaluate some things in my life. The upshot of this is it has, I trust, brought about a kind of humility that helps me evaluate criticism from less loving sources. Bottom line: It doesn't matter if my dear brother says I'm being a lousy husband or if the devil tells me, if I'm being a lousy husband, I need to repent!

So yes, the whole, "Bloggers are hacks, but the MSM is serious business" is a red herring in this case. The fact remains that Dr. Caner lied. He lied often. I'm so saddened by it. So saddened! I sincerely hope that Dr. Caner repents and is changed by God's grace.

DJP said...

Talking about the thread where Caner signed a post "Elected because I selected"?

Honestly and no lie, that remains one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen a professed Christian write... to say nothing of a man in such a position of leadership.

Terry Rayburn said...

Side road:

There is another phenomenon worth mentioning here. But first...

1. Ergun Caner has not reached his position because of his theological accuracy and understanding.

I once attended a James White seminar in Florida where he did a mock debate with Caner (because Caner backed out of an actual debate).

James would play a recording of some ludicrous statement from Caner, then rebut it from Scripture. Highly entertaining, even if sad.

2. So why has Caner been brought into such an influential position?

In Salesmanship Traing there is a commonly known fact that if you really BELIEVE in what you are selling (or at least ACT like your do), and are PASSIONATE about it, you will sell well.

This is the phenomenon of what I'll call "The Power of Apparent Confidence".

People (read "sheep") will gravitate to and follow ANYONE who acts CONFIDENT about anything!

3. This isn't automatically bad. Even our Lord amazed people because of the confident authority in His teaching.

"When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes."

4. My theory is that it is Caner's apparent CONFIDENCE and PASSION (whether real or not) that has allowed him to rise to leadership.

5. This should be a reminder to all of us to be spiritually discerning when we encounter such magnetic super-confidence.

The spiritually discerning will have a spiritual "cynicism" that seeks real truth, not necessarily the "truth" passionately slammed out by Confident Guy.

They will be Bereans, not swayed by arrogant "confident" pounding and pleading, but calmly looking through the fire for the truth.

They will elevate Spirit-filled men, whose spirituality is measured more by

love,
joy,
peace,
patience,
kindness,
goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness, and
self-control, (Gal. 5:22,23)

than by outward appearance of confidence.

Brad Williams said...

DJP,

That was the one. My "favorite" was the part about Calvinists being barnacles on the SBC ship which needed scraping off.

Yikes. Offscourings indeed.

threegirldad said...

So, I'm reading a comment posted by someone masquerading as a character from Alice in Wonderland, and wondering if I should take said comment seriously...

Stefan said...

Yeah, or people in denominations that claim reformed theology is an alien influence, when it's in the marrow of their founding statements of faith. It seems to especially be an issue among credobaptists.

That's true for Southern Baptists, and also for the anabaptist denomination that I belong to. The parallels are eerie, although in our case, the "anabaptist" purists are on the left theologically, whereas in the SBC these days, they seem to be a mixed bag, but tending more towards the theological right.

Warren M. Lotter said...

I can't help but notice the multiple levels of irony in the LU statement: MSM = CT = truth. Or did I completely misunderstand that?

I remember discussing the de-merits of "The Shack" with a fellow elder (who had promoted it during the Bible Class we co-taught) after I had read some 'blogged' reviews (Tim Challies). The issues I raised were dismissed because apparently CT's review was favorable. Things that make you go, "Huh?"

DJP said...

Warren, you're seeing the same thing I saw.

By which I mean, I think you're exactly right. Or we're both wrong!

/c:

Tom Chantry said...

I'm not entirely convinced that Liberty had CT in view when they said that. The story has broken in newspapers around the South. The story mentioned that they had been contacted by the Nashville Tennesean, and we have yet to see their story or to know what they intend to report.

Stefan said...

My last comment was a reply to Brad's, not to Threegirldad's.

(Normally, it wouldn't matter, but it seems as if it would be an important distinction in this case.)

trogdor said...

There are still newspaper writers who don't consider TV people real journalists, is it any wonder they scoff at bloggers? Not only is it "new media", but more importantly, it's outside of their control. If you can't counter it, smear it.

As for Google being a great equalizer, it's already not entirely neutral. My company pays a lot of money to show up higher in search engine rankings (both to our web people to rig it, and to google/yahoo/bing directly), and I somehow doubt we're the only ones. But besides that, google is a highly political company which isn't above shifting results towards the dark side. It wasn't too long ago that the top several search results for "Goldman Sachs" all went to a White House press release touting the 'financial reform' bill, and favorable editorials. What's to stop them from getting even more biased and burying the truth entirely when the time comes?

Oh, and on Liberty. Is it normal for a Christian university to have a Mormon give their commencement address? Of course, last year it was a Jew, and several years before that were Gingrich and McCain. Ugh.

Oh, and the article says Ben Stein is "best known for his "Clear Eyes" commercials". Anyone know why that's wrong? Anyone? Anyone?

Stefan said...

Bueller? Bueller?

Annemarie said...

My husband showed me these videos this morning and I wanted to pass the fun on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFbcxn-MCx4

~Annemarie