That gap between newsrooms and pews

padpew.jpgThe anti-Borg here at GetReligion does not go out of its way to comment on op-ed page columns, unless they are directly related to how the press is covering a particular news story.

In this case, Washington and Lee University scholar Edward Wasserman has jumped right on top of this blog’s Ground Zero with a Miami Herald column about why religion news is so controversial. He thinks all kinds of thoughts about this, some of them — in my opinion — quite muddled and some of them right on the money.

However, there is no doubt about what makes him mad:

. . . Steven Roberts, a 25-year New York Times veteran, said, “I could probably count on one hand in the Washington bureau of The New York Times people who would describe themselves as people of faith.”

So the connection was drawn: The media neglect religion because journalists themselves are impious.

No, no, no, no. Both sides of that debate are being too simplistic.

Wasserman later says the key is that journalists who cover religion have to respect the beat and try to get their facts straight. GetReligion will continue to say “Amen!” to that sentiment, as often as we can. But as I noted in a lecture at the Poynter Institute, that does not mean the gap between newsrooms and pews is meaningless.

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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.

  • ECJ

    The problem isn’t so much respect as it is presumption. The media presumes that religious belief is founded upon a false assumption – that false assumption being that there is a knowable metaphysical reality. And this attitude bleeds through in what they write. In effect they end up covering religion as an exercise in anthropology. The story centers upon man instead of God, and the unspoken premise is always discernable between the lines: “How can anyone believe this stuff?”

    The media constantly refers to “people of faith” when describing religious believers. And this is logical from an anthropological perspective. The locus of faith is man. But it has the effect of leveling the objects of faith into one blurred mass. Yet what is important is not faith itself, but the object of faith. Unless of course the objects of faith are universally illusory. Then it becomes a crutch, a means of comfort, a way for the weak-minded to deal with the difficulties of life. And that is pretty much the sub-text of every story about religion that I encounter.

    Demanding respect of the media is not going to fix this. What the media would need to respect is not believers – but rather the truth claims underneath the religion. And this the media will not do. It would be like demanding of them that they show respect for the claims of people who teach that the Earth is flat. Now of course they can respect or disrespect whatever they wish. But it should not be a surprise when people object to constantly being patronized as idiots. Hence the controversy. This is exactly the reason I stopped subscribing to any newspaper about 10 years ago. I got tired of paying for the privilege of being insulted.

    Unless and until the media takes seriously the idea that religious belief is founded upon a credible description of metaphysical reality, this controversy isn’t going away.


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