Doing the ABCs of the “faith factor”

The human cloning story is back, complete with a minor-key reprise of the “playing God” theme.

The moral and ethical questions are not, however, getting much attention in the first wave of coverage of the supposed breakthrough in South Korea.

Yesterday’s New York Times story did include one doubting quote from a usual suspect in Bush White House circles, and the following from the precise source to whom you would expect them to turn:

Richard M. Doerflinger, deputy director for pro-life activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “This is a move toward creating new human lives solely to destroy them in research.” He termed cloning “the ultimate way of treating life as an object, as an instrument to an end.”

There is no such quote at all over at USA Today, and it seems that there is no room at all for religious questions in the second-day story at the Times.

Perhaps, for most journalists, there are no questions left to ask. The template is set — science in white coats vs. clerics in black cassocks (or worse, wool-and-polyester Bible Belt suits). This will be a story worth following on the God-beat beat in the days ahead.

I bring this up because of another minor whirlwind in the blogosphere the past few days about a remarkably candid item posted in ABC News’ political blog called The Note.

According to ABC:

Like every other institution, the Washington and political press corps operate with a good number of biases and predilections.

They include, but are not limited to, a near-universal shared sense that liberal political positions on social issues like gun control, homosexuality, abortion, and religion are the default, while more conservative positions are “conservative positions.”

I found it interesting that cultural issues rooted in religion and moral questions topped the list. In addition to biases on the usual positions on government programs, etc., these cultural and religious notes kept coming up — big time. The press assumes that “new things are more interesting than old things” and that “President Bush is ‘walking a fine line’ with regards to the gay marriage issue, choosing between ‘tolerance’ and his ‘right-wing base.’”

At the same time, the press has trouble understanding why W Bush remains so popular with the conservative grassroots, despite grumbling about deficits.

The religious nature of this divide is obvious to people on the left, as well. The bloggers at the Center for American Progress did their own tribute to ABC’s list, turning it around. Thus, the first item in the list of biases on the right was:

. . . a near-universal shared sense that conservative adherence to the positions of the NRA, the National Right to Life Committee, the Family Research Council, and the Christian Coalition are mainstream positions, and liberal positions are “elitist,” “immoral,” and “radical” attacks on Christianity and the beliefs of most Americans.

Yes, it would seem that the most divisive issues in American politics, these days, are essentially moral and cultural. What issues will jump to the top in any nomination battle at the U.S. Supreme Court?

If so, this means that it is crucial that mainstream media at least attempt to offer fair, even-handed coverage of the religious groups — left and right — that address these issues.

This is not a time to start editing the faith-factor out of the page-one stories, even if the voices of religious believers make journalists more than a little bit nervous.

The religious themes cannot be avoided.

Come on. Interview the experts on both side of the religious divides. Be fair. Just do it.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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