For our fifth anniversary, we’re picking our top five posts from the last year. So I’ve reviewed all of my posts, a fruitful exercise that reminds me I’m still partial to stories about doctrine, the liturgical calendar and unlikely stories of how faith changes religious adherents. Even though these are my favorite topics to write about, they rarely elicit as much feedback as political posts. I normally dislike writing about politics but this last year was a huge exception.
As I mentioned in last year’s Year in Review, I don’t do rankings very well. And I picked the five areas of coverage that influenced me the most instead of individual posts (sorry!). Here we go.
The earlier parts of last year were filled with mainstream media coverage of Mormonism. This was due in large part to the strong — but ultimately unsuccessful — candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the death of Gordon Hinckley, the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the raid on the Yearning For Zion ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints. The FLDS group broke with the Mormon church a century ago over the issue of polygamy.
Anyway, I learned a lot about Mormonism over the last year or two — from well written articles, poorly written articles and the excellent discussions that ensued over both. Our Mormon and Mormon-knowledgeable commenters are awesome. This post and discussion of a lengthy New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on the religion and how it might better be mainstreamed into American culture provoked a fascinating discussion. I found it interesting that I was more critical of the piece than most Mormon readers were. But it led to fascinating insights into how to cover Mormonsim — understanding the difference between established theological systems versus those with ongoing revelation, seeing the difference between secrecy and sacredness, and applying external values to a unique religious group. It’s one aspect of writing for GetReligion that I particularly enjoy.
The truth is that this last year changed my views about this profession. I was deeply disappointed in and permanently affected by how journalists neglected their obligations to provide news in favor of spinning news. This wasn’t just a religion coverage problem, but it was a significant part of it. The first week after Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination to the Republican ticket, I actually felt like a second-class citizen with so many journalists openly questioning whether a woman with young children could work in any significant capacity — questions that I never heard about male candidates with young children. The mocking, the anger and the complete abdication of even-handedness have made me doubt everything I read and see in mainstream media. You can take a trip down a rather painful memory lane with posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc. Here are two posts about non-wretched coverage, if you’re interested.
How do you pick a favorite post? Almost everyone was a disaster! I think I was particularly disappointed in the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz water-carrying for bad journalism as it related to misquoting Palin during broadcast interviews and then demanding she defend religious quotes she didn’t say. Or maybe it was the Los Angeles Times calling Palin a fundamentalist Christian on page one of the paper even though it violates the Associated Press stylebook and is, well, also untrue. Good work, mainstream media!
Here’s another area of mainstream media epic fail, albeit one that led to quite a bit of personal growth: same-sex marriage debates. As a libertarian, I never gave two hoots about the issue since I have always seen marriage as an area that should be outside of government control. But I sensed early on that advocates of traditional marriage were getting the shaft in media coverage. Well, I sensed that because our inbox was overflowing with people who were angry or saddened at the apparent media blindspots. So I studied the issue and learned a great deal about the philosophical and religious arguments for and against state sanction of same-sex marriage. You can revisit some highlights or lowlights here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Which is my favorite post on same-sex marriage? That would be the same as yours, judging from the e-mail: Lisa Miller’s Newsweek cover article attempting to make the religious case for gay marriage. Here‘s the series on the matter. The piece, as I noted, was a “post-frontal lobotomy exegesis of Scripture” but worse for just poor reporting. No traditional Christians — or religious adherents of any other stripe — were consulted for the article and it showed, to put it mildly. And who knows what editor Jon Meacham was thinking when he said the aim of Newsweek‘s coverage, in essence, was to be as unfair as possible when covering covering same-sex marriage debates? But God bless him for being honest, unlike most everyone else on the beat!
Of the many, many, many political-religious stories we covered this year, the one I keep reflecting on is the coverage of Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama’s former pastor. We looked at coverage of Wright prior to the broadcasting of some of his more incendiary statements, but I’m happy with how my first post on the brouhaha has held up. I highlighted how political condemnations are a regular feature of many Protestant church bodies and how the media had failed by noting only right-wing examples of this. I continue to wonder about the fall-out of investigating the sermons given by politicians’ pastors. I imagine that the media will find certain religious rhetoric to be acceptable, certain unacceptable. I worry they’ll work overtime to place certain sermons in context while searching congregational archives for “gotcha!” moments. I assume this is unstoppable but I’m not sure how much it adds to the culture. (Other Wright coverage is here, here, here, here and here.)
Ever since I became a mother a few years ago, people keep asking me to write stories on “mommy” issues. The general topic area doesn’t interest me in the slightest, particularly since I don’t actually feel any different most of the time (one notable exception being when I stayed up all last night with my daughter who has the croup — I even referred to myself in the third person as “mommy” at one point). But one topic area that has become even more interesting to me since my first pregnancy are issues dealing with the sanctity of life. (It was also one of my favorite topic areas in last year’s review.) This past year saw quite a few stories about religion and abstinence education, birth control, abortion, surrogacy, and the whole range of human life issues. You can review some here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Two areas stand out, the first being the statistically questionable media theme that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Far worse was the media coverage of abstinence education, another issue I hadn’t really studied prior to this year. The two stories collided when reporters used a false statistic to advance Planned Parenthood claims about the ineffectiveness of abstinence education. It was a hot mess of statistics ignorance, advocacy in search of evidence and generally poor reporting.
I wish my list had more positives but the fact was that last year was a rough and disappointing one for media coverage. I suppose the good news is that some in the media are aware of their problems and are working to correct them. I also have some favorite stories — and other highlights — from the last year that I’ll try to mention this week.
Thanks to all our readers for adding so much to this community. Traditionally, fifth anniversary gifts are made of wood. You’ll be receiving yours shortly.