Here is another one of those situations in which I’ve read something in column A and that connected with something in column B and then that produced questions about some hard-to-define issue over in column C.
Stay with me for a minute.
Did you see Richard Cohen’s “Digital Lynch Mob” column in the Washington Post? In a column on May 4, Cohen wrote that Stephen “Truthiness” Colbert’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner wasn’t very funny.
Cohen isn’t a big President Bush fan, but he thought the comic was a bit out of line. Before Cohen knew it, he had 3,506 emails lined up in his computer telling him that he was a brain-dead GOP lapdog, and lots of things worse that than. All of this made Cohen worry that the wacko far left in the Democratic Party was going to scream so loud in the months ahead that it might freak out Middle America and save the GOP’s Congressional neck.
But that is not the point of this post. Here is what got my attention, as a journalist and professor who now spends many hours a day in cyberspace. Cohen writes:
What to make of all this? First, it’s not about Colbert. His show has an audience of about 1 million — not exactly “American Idol” numbers. Second, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there’s no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue — seven more since I started writing this column.
But the message in this case truly is the medium.
Now stop right there. I truly believe that the blogosphere has a role to play in helping the MSM learn more about what its customers — they can also be called “citizens” — think about the news and what it all means. I wouldn’t be sitting at a keyboard typing these words into blog software if I didn’t think that. This blog would not exist if I didn’t think it had a small chance to make some difference.
Which brings me back to that Neela Banerjee story in the New York Times about the election to pick a new bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of California. To refresh your memory, this is the report in which she wrote:
The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.
Yes, ’lil ’ole Orthodox me is still a bit miffed about that.
You see, there are 1 billion or so Roman Catholics in the world, with one pope, and there are 70 million or so Anglicans in the Anglican Communion, which has many patriarchs and bishops and is led — symbolically — by the first-among-equals Archbishop of Canterbury. The problem is that there are 250 million believers in the global communion of Eastern Orthdox Christianity, which has many patriarchs and bishops and is led — symbolically — by the first-among-equals Ecumenical Patriarch in the city once known as Constantinople. Facts are such pesky things.
Now, I am sure that the Times has not received 3,528 emails from Orthodox believers (“How many Orthodox people does it take to change a lightbulb? Lightbulb? What is this lightbulb?”) complaining about this error and requesting a correction in the world’s most important newspaper. However, I did go through the Times process — see this page for Banerjee’s work and contact info — and sent email noting the error. I have heard from several other GetReligion readers who have done the same thing.
So what’s the point? People were screaming at Cohen because they disagreed with his opinions and his beliefs. The blogosphere has allowed lots of people to channel their rage in this manner. And, let’s face it, many if not most of the comments deep inside the GetReligion site are full of people arguing with each other about their religious and political beliefs.
That’s OK, I guess, but that is not the purpose of this blog. Our goal is to seek examples of ways in which journalists “get” the religion angle of stories wrong or “get” it right.
If you choose, you may join me in my mini-crusade to see if the Times will correct this error. However, if you do so, please do so because you think this is a fact that needs to be corrected and journalists are supposed to care about things like that. The blogosphere can provide heat and light. We are more interested in the latter.
P.S. I just left a telephone message at the Times national desk.