We need to keep speaking truth in the public arena, despite how hard it is:
Trying to have a public voice to share our side of the story is getting progressively more difficult in the West, certainly when it comes to the mainstream media. And that is why the alternative media has taken off so spectacularly in the past few decades. Christians and conservatives especially are being squeezed out of the public square and barred by most media outlets, so using our own media is one way to go – and sometimes the only way.
Here I want to discuss my own experiences in dealing with the media – in this case overwhelmingly with the mainstream media. So this piece will be rather autobiographical in nature, as I talk about being a conservative and a Christian (read: ‘controversial’) commentator in a mainly hostile media, and how things have changed over the past several decades. As such, you might call this: “Bill’s Adventures in Medialand” – or something like that.
I arrived in Australia – on a permanent basis – in August of 1989. Over the next few years I worked at several conservative organisations. In January 1992 I began work with the Australian Family Association – as the National Secretary no less.
The gal I was replacing was still away when I first arrived, and the overall boss – the late great B. A. Santamaria – basically just said I should do two things: have a read of some of the material in the file cabinet, and try to get in the media as much as possible. That was it. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end!
So that was my baptism of fire, and soon enough I was being contacted by the media to comment on a broad variety of issues. That year I had some 60 media appearances, including 7 radio interviews, 1 TV interview, 6 newspaper interviews, and 22 published letters to the editor. Things took off from there. The media was after me all the time while with the AFA.
Although I had 4-5 years where I worked with Focus on the Family and Salt Shakers in the late 1990s – also doing media work and speaking engagements – I returned to the AFA in 2000 for another 5 years. When I started my own ministry CultureWatch in 2006, the secular media activity (interviews, debates) began to subside. But for a full 15 years there I had a very busy run indeed with the media.
The busiest year was 2004. All up I had around 300 interviews, comments, letters and so on. There were around 70 radio interviews, 20 TV interviews and 90 newspaper interviews and comments. Sometimes a controversial issue would take off around the world, and I would end up doing interviews with the BBC and various other overseas media bodies. And on some days I could do anywhere from 5 to 10 interviews on some really hot potato issue.
While much of the MSM contacting me for commentary started to peter out after I left the AFA, some things continued, such as speaking engagements, Christian radio interviews, and so on. For what it is worth, having kept tabs on all this for the past 30 years, here is a rough tally of all that I have done until now:
Over 1100 radio interviews, 130 television interviews, 250 published letters to the editor, 675 newspaper interviews and comments, and some 620 speaking engagements. So I have kept a bit busy with all this over the past three decades, especially during the first decade and a half.
One standout moment
There were plenty of notable media appearances that I could single out here. For example, once when I was on a crowded train heading home, one media outlet called to interview me. The topic was all rather delicate, so I hopped off the train at the next station and concluded the interview in a bit more of a private surroundings!
But one hardcore 60 Minutes debate on IVF, singles and homosexuals that went to air on Sunday night August 13, 2000 on Ch. 9 is worth mentioning. It centred on single woman Lisa Meldrum who had won a High Court case to get access to IVF services even though she was not married. I wrote about it at the time, so if you want all the juicy details, have a read of this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2000/08/15/heated-ivf-debate/
However, let me mention a few things not found in that article. The show was taped four days prior. All up around 75 minutes were spent on this debate, with around 20 of them going to air on the Sunday night. As with all these things, it was a real spiritual battle. Thus plenty of prayer went into this.
Of interest, I and Peter and Jenny Stokes from Salt Shakers, and Christian counsellor Daniel Fengler shared a taxi ride into the Ch. 9 TV studio. Incredibly, it turned out that the taxi driver was also a Christian, so we could pray freely on the way in. I recall Dan saying, “If Jesus doesn’t show up, we’re all toast.” We all laughed at that. And it was quite true.
Another point of interest – at least to me – had to do with being with the various guests in the waiting room prior to going in for the recording. One of the folks on our side was Anglican Bishop Paul Barnett from Sydney. I got into a chat with him, since I had a number of his books.
We ended up discussing our fave commentaries on 2 Corinthians. He said he was quite keen on the 1984 AB volume by Furnish, while I said I quite enjoyed his own 1997 NICNT commentary. So there was a bit of light relief in the form of a theology discussion – in the bowels of a secular television studio – before entering the lion’s den!
The debate itself was recorded by us on Sunday night with an old VHS recorder – technology that is now long gone. But not too many years ago I had a friend digitise some of these old tapes of mine, including a number of my TV debates and interviews. You can find some of them here: www.youtube.com/c/BillMuehlenbergCultureWatch/videos
And you can see me and the others slug it out in the 60 Minutes debate here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=edYGEkfABEg
Things have changed
The very fact that I and other conservatives could get on to a secular media outlet to give our side of the story back then was one thing – it is much harder today to do the same. Back then I not only had heaps of letters to the editor published, but I also had entire articles printed in the secular newspapers of the day.
For example, back in 1994, during the International Year of the Family, I even had full articles pushing a pro-family line published in hostile outlets such as the leftist Melbourne Age. I actually had a piece on why lesbian tennis star Martina Navratilova was wrong to want to have and raise children printed on July 4 of that year. That would never happen today.
So while I and other conservatives could make a pro-family and pro-life case with some difficulty back then, today it is almost impossible for our point of view to get a fair hearing in most of the secular left media outlets. Times have changed – for the worse.
One final ‘complaint’
Well, it is not quite a complaint but something I do tell other conservatives and Christians who are more recent culture warriors and who manage to get the ear of the media. I always tell them that they have it easy today. Now if a Martyn Iles or a Lyle Shelton has to do some MSM interview, they can alert a whole legion of supporters instantly, via email, the social media, Twitter, and so on. Within seconds thousands of people can pray for them as they wade into the fray.
Things were quite different back then with my very busy media presence. For example, I might get a call from the ABC or Ch. 7 saying a TV crew is on the way over to interview me about something. All I could do was take a quick look in the mirror to see if I was looking halfway decent, and perhaps find time to call my wife and ask her to pray for me, and maybe she could call a few of her friends and ask them to pray as well. That was it!
So hey, these culture warriors today got it made – they are too soft! I had to duke it out usually all on my own, with almost no prayer cover and the like. Those were hard and lonely days back then. But sure, it is hard today as well for any conservative and Christian who does interviews and debates with the secular left MSM. But at least they can notify countless prayer warriors in a matter of seconds to help back them up.
So the fight to share truth in the public arena continues. In some ways this is easier to do with the various new technologies and so on. But in other ways it is much more difficult, as Western cultures have continued to go downhill at an alarming rate over the past half century and more.
Regardless of the pros and cons, we need to keep speaking out as best we can, and in as many ways as we can.