Hooking up with CNN

Religion is overrated. Here in the bubble of GetReligionland, we sometimes forget that. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

For those of you trapped in the Stone Age — a bygone era back before students at Caveman University started drinking and having sex — we live in an era when “at least 75 percent of women have engaged in hooking up on campus.” I know that because CNN told me so:

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) — Almost every weekend, there is a tradition called raging at Vanderbilt University.

It’s a recurring, drunken activity that isn’t the proudest moment for student Frannie Boyle. After consuming large quantities of alcohol before a party, her night would sometimes end in making out with a stranger or acquaintance.

But there is wonderful news: Some young ladies are bucking this trend and demanding that, um, guys “at least invite us to dinner before expecting us to get down and dirty!” And the best part of this backlash: It has nothing to do with religion!:

“Right now, people conceive the idea of what they think from the media and friends — that the only options are to extremes: to deny everything fun, including sex, or just to hook up,” says Emily O’Connell, a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

After observing the hook-up scene as a freshman, O’Connell is starting a nonreligious group to talk about alternatives to hooking up.

“There’s definitely a middle ground, and it’s not that outrageous,” she said.

Because, of course, if someone were to deny casual sex because of religious beliefs, that would be, like, totally uncool. And so not fun. But secular abstinence — that’s where it’s at!

I could go on, but since GetReligion focuses on journalism, I probably should heap some specific praise on this piece. What makes the CNN report work? At least three main things:

1. The one-source-knows-all approach. On a subject this nuanced, a reporter could waste valuable time interviewing a number of students and experts. Much better to focus on one Vanderbilt University student and let her speak for an entire campus and an entire generation:

At Vanderbilt University, a pristine campus defined by elegant, Southern-style architecture and manicured lawns, the hook-up culture can be hard to avoid, Boyle said. The Greek scene also can create more pressure to hook up, added Boyle, who is a member of a sorority.

Boyle explained the warm weather compels some students to engage in “day fratting,” imbibing for hours in the front yard of a fraternity. Day fratting can result in “afternoon delight,” noncommittal physical activity between two people that can include casual sex.

2. The you-better-believe-this-is-a-trend method. Cite “various academic studies” to back up the stat that 75 percent of college women have hooked up, but avoid specific attribution. Credit the assertion that alcohol precipitates these activities to “studies show,” but again, remain vague. And then follow up with this:

Evidence of the backlash on hooking up on campuses can be seen in the growing popularity of the Love and Fidelity Network, a secular, nonprofit group dedicated to helping college students open the discussion for a lifestyle that doesn’t involve casual sexual activity with anonymous or uncommitted partners.

The organization, which promotes sexual integrity and defends marriage though discussion and speakers, has gained a presence on at least 20 schools from Harvard University to the University of Notre Dame since its inception in 2007. There is no official count on the number of students who participate in the Love and Fidelity Network. But at Princeton University, about 40 students have joined.

Wow, 40 students! If the group keeps growing like that, will there be a room on campus large enough to contain all the members?

3. The don’t-muddy-the-waters technique. This is perhaps the most important aspect of this piece. To make a story like this work — one that portrays all men as pigs, most Vanderbilt students as horny drunks and all young people who abstain from premarital sex for religious reasons as boring — the reporter has to avoid a lot of potential voices. This report succeeds on all counts.

Religion is overrated. So, apparently, is quality journalism. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    Bobby, I knew I did not like CNN very much except for real time coverage of disasters, but I want to thank you for the masterful deconstruction of their (lack of) journalism. You’ve underlined why I never watch cable news of any sort unless there’s something happening in real time when the reporting consists of pointing a camera at something going on which we can evaluate on our own.

    I’ve also found that keeping the sound off usually helps even in those cases.

    There are a few exceptions, of course, as every haystack has a needle, but it’s not worthwhile looking for it unless one is totally bored.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks, Jerry. :-)

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Awesome post.

  • Passing By

    Irony is actually my favorite form of wit, but sarcasm is a reasonably close second. You are good at Bobby. :-)

  • Passing By

    at IT, of course.

  • http://bojopayne.blogspot.com Brendan

    Over the past 6 years or so, I’ve noticed that CNN has become more and more like it’s main competitor, FOX, even though a CNN exec compared CNN to Rolex and FOX to Timex.

    This piece of junk journalism expose is delightful, but I’m afraid a cable channel competing for the “Timex” crowd is looking for width, not depth.

  • Stephen A.

    warm weather compels some students to engage in “day fratting,”

    Another example of rampant Calvinism (joke, sort of.)

    Nothing “compels” students to engage in binge drinking or casual sex. Nothing. The blame-passing – to the weather, Nature, God, OUR “nature” or whatever – is subconsciously coming out even in this interview with an licentious, immoral student.

    There really is no excuse for this, and it is actually the fault of administrators, who could simply insist that rampant orgies take place on campuses. This did not occur on this scale in previous generations (I mean pre-1960s, obviously) and it need not be permitted now.

    Regarding the post, this is an excellent exposure of many flaws of liberal journalism today. Well done! Too often people take these news reports as Gospel, and they are clearly not.