A Conversation with Billy Hallowell: How to Discern Truth in Biased News
We all know that the news can be overwhelming. The headlines and sound bites are all meant to influence how we see the world around us. So, it’s critical to understand how we interpret it, what the news is really trying to say, and the agendas behind it. Billy Hallowell is a journalist, commentator, and digital TV host who’s covered thousands of the biggest stories and written more than 14,000 stories on faith, culture, and politics. He talks with My Faith Votes CEO, Jason Yates.
- Hear Billy’s #1 piece of advice in discerning the news
- Get practical tips to understand news stories
- Learn where misinformation comes from
- Know what’s NOT being told in news stories
Jason Yates: We all know that news is something we struggle with. It's the headlines, the sound bites. It's all meant to influence, impact us and how we see the world and we need to struggle with how we interpret it, when and how we synthesize what it's really trying to say and the agendas behind it and Billy Hallowell. I'm so glad you're with us. You're with CBN, FaithWire and a number of podcasts, and this is your life.
You're in this...and you're looking. I'm sorry.
Billy Hallowell: I know some days you're your head explodes a little bit, you know, as you're looking at it, it's just so wild.
Jason: I know people on my team are in this role where we have to be looking at what's happening. But just that day in and day out of looking at all the current events and trying to filter through it and just the impact it has even on your soul? How do you protect yourself?
Billy: Yeah, it's interesting. I walked away from it for a few years because, I did. I took a break, and until this October, I was able to kind of control what I did, and I walked away and I went into entertainment for a couple of years. And, you know, because I really needed that spiritual break after eight to 10 years of doing it every day. And then I really missed it and I wanted to come back to it because for me, it's your information is the most important thing, right? Obviously, the Gospel is the most important thing. That's information on how to live. But news the information around us, it's essential. And the problem is that nobody's really giving all of the information in one place, and that's the real struggle.
I can't tell you how many stories I will cover and I'll look at it and a way that doesn't make sense. What's going on there? And you read five other stories about the same topic, and you realize here are the other puzzle pieces that you need to put into this to really understand it. That's a tough call for people who don't have time to read six different stories, right?
Jason: Did we ever have unbiased news?
Billy: No, I mean, no. I think it's at a fever pitch right now for a lot of different reasons. I don't think we ever had unbiased news. I wrote a book about this in Twenty Sixteen, and so it's funny because back then I looked at media bias, university bias and Hollywood bias and how all three of those things have transformed culture outside of the church. We learn in the church, but outside of that, those are the arenas we learn. And so we're inundated with information. And for years, for decades, the polls show that people weren't trusting the media, they weren't trusting universities.
None of this is new. It's gotten worse. It's gotten far worse.
Jason: You talk about entertainment bias. So I mean, just take a company, a corporation like Disney. That is really choosing at this moment to say, you know, we're going to just keep investing in influencing the culture through how we make films. I mean, what are you seeing? I mean, that's fascinating. They, I think, see more power and influence. In the entertainment that they build in the news that's being distributed.
Billy: Absolutely, and this is something if you go back and you start to look at Hollywood and the things that people were saying in Hollywood for years when “Friends” did the infamous scene, you know, the gay wedding scene, that was a moment when they reflect on it, the directors, the producers and they talk about it. It was very clear they had a worldview. And I think as Christians, as citizens of matter what you believe, you pull yourself out and you say, OK, you're creating content. You want to have a worldview. One worldview is dominating, but they've done a very good job of saying this is the narrative we want to teach people and convince them to believe.
And now we're so inundated on our phones and tablets or computers with all sorts of entertainment content, and it's in everything that now that has been realized, right? They've been able to do that. And so it sort of is a tall order and a call then to Christians who are trying to do that now to figure out after kind of retreating from these arenas, getting back into it and telling those stories with the same goal in mind. It's tough, it's difficult, but it's something we have to do.
Jason: Thinking about even conservative news, you worked at Fox.
Billy: I did a lot at Fox, just, you know, going on shows, debating, talking. Worked at The Blaze for five and a half years.
Jason: As Christians, what do we need to be aware of, even when consuming what might be considered more conservative angles?
Billy: That's a great question, because here's the thing about bias bias is to me, bias is fine as long as you know it's there. If you're telling me that CBN is a Christian news site, right, I'm going to expect certain stories are going to be chosen because that's what is going to be focused on. If you're telling me that the Blaze is a conservative say, I know that going into it right. The problem is when the mainstream media and all these other outlets go out and say, “We have no opinion, we have no perspective, we're being fair.” And the reality is they live in urban areas. They're completely colored by the culture around them, and they're believing this lie that they've been fair when they're not. That's where the real problem is, and I would actually argue,
I think a lot of people assume this is intentional and some of it is right. But I think the vast majority of bias in some people may not agree with me here, but is actually unintentional. It's a result of our worldview around us. And if you only know a certain group of people, then you're going to think the other people are weird and strange. And so this is why Christians and others have been framed the way that we have been in those mainstream outlets. So bias. Your initial question, what do we need to do? We need to be aware of it.
And I think for me, if I'm going to read Fox News, I think it's fine for me, even if I don't agree to go over to MSNBC and look at what they're saying, because how can I understand what I really believe if I don't understand what the other side is saying about it and I don't want to miss those details, I want to understand that it's not going to change my view, but it's good to get that healthy balance.
Jason: I do that all the time. I'll go and look at a CNN or a New York Times story. I want to see how it's being positioned because then I can better understand the different approaches, the different perspectives, and it actually challenges me to then think about my perspective and whether or not it's truly understanding truth or it, whether or not I need to think differently about something, or how do I talk to others?
Billy: Absolutely, right. Well, and here's the thing if we're if you're going to walk around and say, I'm a Christian, right and this is the challenge to all of us, and we're willing to just believe things that are not true or create narratives that aren't true, that's a real problem, and we're all guilty of it. It should be convicting to all of us. We should know what we're saying. It's very easy to say this is what's going on. And I think this, but do you have all the details? You have all the facts, right? That is, as Christians, we're called to that. That's not something. I'm not just getting some silly opinion. We have to stand by truth.
And sometimes the truth might be that our side or somebody we like maybe got it wrong on something. And I think it's a healthy thing to be able to say, you know what? That wasn't OK or that wasn't right. I think we've lost that ability, and I think the media being so one-sided has really driven that loss of the ability to do that.
Jason: Occasionally, there's a story that I'll just see and I see. I don't know if that's right, you know. I mean, it sounds like this is just made up, and it turns out it is. Yeah. I'm flabbergasted on how stories can get out there and just be blatantly false.
Billy: And not just blatantly false, because that happens, too. But a narrative is chosen, right? Let's talk about Florida. The “don't say gay” bill. The bill doesn't say, “don't say gay” anywhere in it. Right, right. And I'm not saying you can't debate the bill, if you. But the point is, the bill is not what the media has said it is. But yet every reporter, every outlet, except for maybe one has actually been calling it the “don't say gay” bill. So now they've decided this is what it's called. This is the name of it. I have no idea who came up with that name. They've all embraced it. And most people, 90 percent of people are raising their kids running around didn't have time to dig into the bill. It's only five pages. But then it's time to dig into it, to actually read and understand. Nobody in the media says it's K- three. I mean, very few people are explaining that this is about. So you end up with a narrative created and endorsed.
And this is where the danger is with the Hollywood media university thing. All the information aligns. Everybody endorses everybody else, and you end up with this strange bubble that does not reflect. So it's not just the fake that exists, it's also the distortion or what are they not telling you?
And that should be this is my biggest piece of advice.
When I teach, I teach communications classes. I tell young people like, What are you not hearing if Joe Biden or Donald Trump or anybody gets up at any politician, any reporter and they're giving you a report or giving you speech? What didn't they say to you? That's where the information is that you want to make sure you know and you figure out, because usually there's a reason it wasn't said.
Jason: You know, it's interesting. You should say this. I just read an article about in World War II airplanes that were getting shot at and they were looking at places where they thought they needed to reinforce the airplane in all those places where it got shot. But what they then thought about in its. To what you just said. So I want to ask the question, what about all those planes that had shots in those? Well, those all crashed and burned.
So what they ended up doing was reinforcing where it wasn't shot up because that's what was causing those other planes to crash. And I think you're saying. What are we not hearing what is not being said, because that's as important information as what is being said.
Billy: Absolutely. I mean, you could have watched the State of the Union, right? And if you were an alien who came in from outer space and you land and you hear Joe Biden saying, we have the fastest job growth and this is just an example, OK, the fastest job growth we've ever had, you know, with the most jobs added and you're thinking. But the economy was shut down because of COVID and then reopened. That's why there were more jobs. It wasn't that, but the narrative and this is what every politician does, right? Yeah, that's not. What was not said is that there was a pandemic and things were shut down. And so you could walk away from that, believing that there was some amazing economic, you know, magic that happened when it was like, now we just decided to open things back up. Right? That's what was not said.
Jason: Give us practical ways to approach news. You know, we open up our tablets, we, you know, look at our phones. What are the practical things we should be doing as we do that?
Billy: Yeah, I think the big thing honestly is prayer. I mean, like as I'm looking at the news, I've actually been pausing and praying for Putin to have a changed heart. Are praying for, you know, you're looking at what's going on in the world and you're and you're taking that time to pray because I think we can have hardened hearts when we focus so much on the media and we're reading and we're looking at all these horrible things and we're getting scared and we're allowing all the things that we shouldn't as believers like fear to creep in and it's OK to have those moments. But I think reflecting on news and thinking about who you can pray for, I make a list of people and even if I don't know them or I haven't encountered them or haven’t interviewed them, oh wow, that's a person who needs prayer.
I think that's a simple step that actually prayer is powerful, but it also helps us keep it in perspective
On the informational side, making sure you are seeing if you read a partisan every day. Great. But what is the other side saying so that you can really refine what you believe you can change your mind? That gives you an understanding of that's how they got there. I think a lot of us are walking around, and if we're only looking at what we agree with, we have really no idea how they got to where they got. So then how do we how do we have any kind of counter argument to it? Then that's legitimate.
Jason: You've outlined, I think, a weekly news piece that we put out. We call it the Intersect. It's the intersect of culture and news, and we break each story, current events into three sections. One is pray. How can we pray about what's happening in this piece of news? How can we think biblically about it? Discern what's really happening and then how can we act? What are some actions we can take? So pray, think and act, that's the way we break it down.
I think it's a great formula, and I'm so glad to hear you reinforce it.
Billy: Yeah, I mean, when you guys do is wonderful, and I think acting is essential, right? This is our country. A lot of people died and fought for this country. And I think right now we're watching First Amendment rights across the board really in jeopardy for everyone. I mean, there's this assumption that it's just I always say like on a college campus. If you don't allow any conservative speakers right and you ban them everyone's upset that you're not allowing conservatives. But what about the liberal students who aren't actually hearing the other side? They're actually being deprived of the ability to understand why they believe what they believe in.
So we have to act in how we vote. We have to act. And, you know, we want good leadership in this country. Politics is downstream from culture. We've got a very sick culture and we're watching politics at moments kind of reflect that, right? So how do we fix it? We engage.
Jason: Yeah, that's right. So, Billy, we have nearly a hundred thousand elections happening in 2022. I mean, it's mind-boggling. Eighty-one thousand school board seats up for election. We've seen how important that has become people waking up to what's at stake for our kids. But every member of the house, a third of our senators, it just goes on. But yet one in three Christians isn't voting.
What's your encouragement? What's your words of wisdom when you consider what's at stake?
Billy: Yeah, and I won't lie to you. I've had moments where I'm like, I'm just not going to. And then I and then I'm like, That's crazy. I mean, when you think about the fact that people, we kind of we owe it to the people who have died for this country and have fought for this country to go out and vote and not just go and vote, educate ourselves on what we're voting for.
I mean, one of the scariest things is people just go out and they just like, Oh, OK, Democrat or Republican, you just go down the line. Why are you voting for this person? What values do they represent? Where do you want to see your country go? You mentioned school boards that might be the most important seat in the country that nobody talks about.
I mean, now we're talking about right? And with good reason. But why are we talking about it? People are freaked out by what they're seeing happen in schools. So it took actually culture getting really bad for people to start engaging. We need to do that on the front end before that happens, and we need to again educate ourselves, find out who are these people who are running, like, who are they? What do they believe and then act based on that.
Jason: Well, it's a hard task to really dig in and find information about all those candidates. That's what My Faith Vote is trying to help and equip Christians to do and provide that type of information. We want people to make those biblically informed choices, not just ask others “who should I vote?” for, but, you know, invest because I think that that builds up our own faith. It helps us in our convictions.
Billy: Absolutely. I mean, that's what this is all about, right? I mean, as Christians, we're looking right now at a situation where two percent of parents, OK, two percent of parents of pre-teen kids, these are parents whose kids are about to go into the teen years have a biblical worldview. People who call themselves Christians only two percent. So we have I mean, there's a lot of work to be done in the church. There's a lot of work to be done in culture. We have to engage and help people to understand because at the end of the day, winning elections is great. But winning souls is the most important thing.
That's that's better. And we want the people who have that worldview to be the people who make those big decisions for us, right on life and marriage. I mean, down the line.
Jason: Yeah, at My Faith Votes. My goal isn't that we win elections. My goal is that our faith is being made known around the world, and that's what I think you're saying
Billy: And that we reflect it in our laws and in our I mean, it's it's so amazing to me to watch the people who will say, Oh, you know, the Christians are just merging their faith with their... everybody's merging their faith. It's just a matter of what is your faith? What is your religious right? Are you? Are you a secularist or are you an atheist or what are you? Because everybody has a religion and they're all right. Yeah. But this is about really creating a healthy country and a healthy community at the local level. And right now we're seeing a lot of places are not healthy.
Jason: Our country sick, our country and we need our faith has something essential to contribute.
Billy: Absolutely. It's the healing, right? That's what we need. And so I love what you guys are doing.
Jason: Thanks. Thanks for joining us. I really appreciate your fascinating all that you're doing, and you've got a great perspective. Thanks for being here.
Billy: Thanks for having me.
To watch the full interview click here.
To learn more about Billy, visit www.billyhallowell.com
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My Faith Votes—is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.